Derek Trucks Interview

Derek Trucks is one of the best guitarists in the world. Trucks is the cofounder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and was also a member of the Allman Brothers Band. Derek recently talked about what got him interested in music, the challenges of trying to get his preferred songs on an Allman Brothers Band setlist and his love of Jazz Fest. For more info on the Tedechi Trucks Band, check out http://www.tedeschitrucksband.com/


What first got you interested in playing guitar? How did it get going for you?

For me, I think the interest started before I ever picked up an instrument. It was always around the house. My parents were always spinning vinyl and the stories of my dad going AWOL from military school to go the Allman Brothers Fillmore East shows, seeing Hendrix helicopter in at the Atlanta Pop Festival. All that stuff was, for me, it was mythology. It was all things that happened way in the past, things that may or may not have happened, but I love the stories. I didn’t play at that point and I wasn’t really all that interested in playing. I loved the music, but I was doing kid shit like little league. I got a guitar at a garage sale at nine years old and it just happened. At that age, you don’t over-think things. If something is fun to do, and it comes to you somewhat naturally, then you just roll with it. I don’t think I was on the road at nine or ten. It happened pretty quick. It wasn’t until probably thirteen or fourteen, around that time, it hit me that if you’re going to do it, you should probably start digging in and make it count. A lot of the stuff just happens naturally. You’re just surrounded and you’re soaking things in even when you’re not paying attention.
Absolutely. Coming from such diverse musical family, too. Music was just around all the time. I’m sure as a kid, you just had so much fun. I’m sure hanging out with Butch just pushed things to a whole new level. I think that family connection made it seem a little more real and, I guess, possible. I wasn’t around that scene a whole lot. When I first started playing, they were on hiatus through most of the 80s. They weren’t even really a band at that point. I would see my uncle maybe once a year, around Christmas time, and I would hear those stories. Once I started traveling and playing, you start running into people more. A lot of the musicians I met really early on became huge influences. Col. Bruce Hampton was probably the biggest one. The Colonel and Jimmy Herring, I think I was eleven or twelve when I met those guys. They changed things for me. That whole crew with Jeff Stipe and Oteil. I learned a lot from them, but the Colonel was amazing about turning me on to the right record at the right time and just exposing me to different types of music. You just go down the wormhole and it becomes a life-long obsession. Whether it was delta blues or Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, or Indian classical music, it was just the right introduction to the right music at the right time. That was my education as a musician, meeting some of those characters.
Bruce is one of those guys, he is so tapped in. I interviewed him one time and he is just on another planet. He jokes about it. He says, “I’m just a minor-league baseball coach.” He’s prepping people for the majors. It’s more than that, he’s been around forever and so many of my musical friends and colleagues and even people I grew up admiring went to the Colonel Hampton School. They’re all better for it. You can almost hear a musician and know if they’ve met the Colonel.
Because it’s that weird slant on things. It is. It’s this thing of, there’s a zero percent bullshit tolerance, which is great. You take the work serious, but you don’t take your self too seriously. He doesn’t allow for a lot of pretension. That hangs me up, too, when I see musicians that take themselves a bit too seriously. When you’re playing, there should be nothing else you’re thinking about. When you’re offstage, if you’re too precious about it, you lose me.
That’s because your music comes from a real place. That’s the idea and I think that’s the beauty of the Colonel. He surrounds himself with people that just have that natural instinct. Then he points the way to other people. He’s very much the “Seven Degrees of Separation” in our scene.
Obviously, you’re influenced by a lot of different sounds. This year, you have some big shows coming up. You’re playing the main stage at Jazz Fest this year. What are you looking forward to about that? Obviously, you’ve been a big fan of NOLA music for a long time. You covered the Meters. I went to school down there and I saw you play a few times wit the Funky Meters. You crushed those gigs, you killed it. It melted my face off. It was a Meters thing, but you came in and you did your slant on it. You could bring the funk. That was fun. I remember when they called me about doing it. I think George Porter Jr. sent me a twenty song setlist. I did my homework. I showed up and I think we played maybe two of those. It was just all other tunes. It hits you how memorable that music is, because you realize you know it already. Whether you’ve learned it or not, you know it. That was a lot of fun; to be onstage with that crew was pretty amazing. You just try to give it the reverence it deserves and then do your thing on top of it. Doing the main stage is going to be pretty amazing for this band. We’re certainly excited about that. I think about all the great shows I’ve seen at Jazz Fest, from Ornette Coleman to just a bunch of people at the gospel tent. That’s getting to see Snooks before he passed. I think about that stuff. Jaimoe brought the great drummer Earl Palmer out before he passed away. Just characters you get to meet that you forget are still around. Whenever you’re in that area, those ghosts that you think about.
Absolutely. You’ve played Jazz Fest shows before, with the Allmans too. You played to 100,00 people one year with the Allmans. Yeah.
That was an insane show, too. The thing is, when crowds get that big, it’s almost easier to play for them than a small room because it’s not very intimate. If you play in front of twenty, thirty people in a small room like any move you make you just feel like everybody’s on top of it. In a situation like that, it almost becomes a totally different thing. The nerves go out the window; you don’t really even think about it.
You don’t feel like you have anybody directly staring at you right in the eye.Exactly. This is happening with or without me.
For sure. Those shows were definitely, definitely happening.Those were fun. The whole band stepped it up for that show. I was proud of the group.
When it came to your creative process, in the Allman Brothers Band, how did you guys approach creating a setlist?It was usually a day or two in advance, especially for the Beacon Theater runs. You’re trying to think about the whole run and the amount of tunes you want to play over the run, and what guests are going to show up. It was a process. Usually me and Warren would get on the phone around noon or one every day before a show or meet for lunch. It would just be this loose process of putting a setlist together, thinking two or three shows out sometimes. Then you run it up the chain of command and see what songs get vetoed. Usually it’s really good songs that get cut from the list, so you’re figuring out a way to try to get them back on the list. If you’re like Warren, you’ve got to call in today and see if he wants to sing this, or is it me? It was a process. You have to use a little bit of “band child” psychology. You’re like, “Maybe if we don’t ask for this last song today, we can get it tomorrow.”
Exactly. You’d be up there and just start teasing notes of a song you want to hear.See if that works or, “Man, it was written on our setlists. A clerical mistake.”
Right? That’s got to be rough because, of course, there’s stuff you’d be dying to play and you’re like, “Come on!” Would Gregg just be like, “No, not happening.” You never know the reason. There’s 45 years of history there, so it could mean something to him that it doesn’t mean to anyone else. You have to respect that stuff, especially songs that he wrote. There’s no forcing that hand.
I’m sure there are just so many songs that he’s just like, “I’m never playing that one again.” Absolutely.
Too many bad memories. Some of them, “That song’s chauvinistic.” I’m like, “We’re way beyond that, dude.” Those people read the book.
He laid it out. He really did. Good book though. It’s funny. I say people read it. I didn’t. I was on the road with Clapton and with the Allmans when Gregg put out on his book. I was like, “I’m going to wait until I’m off the road with these guys before I want to know all of it.”
Your book will be a lot less stressful and heavy. You seem a bit more laid back. We’ll see, so far. It’s still early. It can still get dark.
You seem like you’ve got a really nice family going. You’ve got the wife on the road and you’re out there killing it. I’m going to try to steer it clear. We’ll see. So far, so good.
That’s good. You could use their books as a guideline. I have been. Don’t worry. People ask all the time, “What do you learn from being on the road? Do they ever sit you down and give you good advice?” I was like, “The best advice is usually those big, glaring mistakes that people make. You’re like, ‘Nope.’ You don’t have to drive through that pothole. Already saw them drive through it. Go around that one.” Especially with bands like the Allman Brothers and groups that were there for that first wave of unhinged rock stardom. Some of that shit was fine, but not all of it was worth doing.
Exactly. That’s right. You can learn from their mistakes without having to make the mistakes. Yeah, that’s the plan. We’ll see.
That’s good. That’s some quality advice right there. I think you could have a nice career on the side as a motivational speaker. Self help book.
Yeah. You’re like, “I’m here to help you achieve your goals.” With a healthy amount of irreverence, then back off before there’s deaths in the family.
Right, right. You’ve got to back off before the death. You gotta feather the brakes a little bit.
That’d be a big key to success. That’s funny.
How does your song writing process work within your own band now?We’ve gone about it in a bunch of different ways in this group. The first few records we did, I think the nature of us being so busy and the timing of it all, me and Susan would get together with friends of ours that we had written with in the past. We just spent a few days just holing up in the studio and two or three of us just writing tunes. We wrote some pretty amazing stuff, and you learn different people’s song writing process. I always enjoy that. It’s a different muscle to use. We’re in the process of making one, but we realize that there’s so much creativity inside the band that that was really going to be what we go after. We’ve been getting together for rehearsals with the band and writing tunes as a group. We’ve been recording ideas and sound checks, things that happen spontaneously at the show and just piling that stuff up. When we get some time away from the road, get together and delve into those ideas. We have an album worth of tunes of just that stuff and it’s pretty great. Between Kofi and Mike and JJ, there’s some really musical minds in the band. It’s been flowing pretty easily.
Absolutely. Having so many people in the band and being able to bounce off so many ideas off each other is essential. You feel like there’s a good creative balance where, if something is just bullshit or not heavy, weighty enough, that somebody’s going to speak up. You’re not going to get it through the whole corps of the band. It’s an idea that isn’t sound. It’s going to fall by the wayside. It’s a pretty healthy editing process too, where certain ideas are just obviously right for the band. When you’re writing with the band, those things seem to happen a little more freely.
With so many different ideas, you guys are able to create so many quality songs. Live, you’re just able to make something totally different out of them, really stretch them out. I think having the studio here, we’ve made four or five records here. Every time we get in there, we get a little more comfortable with it. As a band, making the records and the way you perform a song live are two distinct things. It doesn’t have to be the same arrangement. It doesn’t have to be the same soundscape. We can use the studio for a different thing. My son is thirteen and my daughter’s ten and they’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles records, a lot of Zeppelin records, Hendrix and Sly Stone. These records are just in the house all the time, playing. You realize that they were using the studio in ways that people really don’t use it anymore. It was really experimental. A lot of stuff, there was no way you would recreate it live, but there’s a beauty to that. That’s why you make records.
Because it’s a totally different animal. Absolutely. With this band, with the amount of talent onstage, with an eleven piece band, I don’t worry about being able to reinterpret a song and make it legit. II like the idea of just having different ways of exploring the same songs.
With that many people onstage, you guys are really able to get really soulful, too. Horns and everything, really get with it. There’s some great vocalists on stage aside from just Susan and Mike. Marc Rivers and even Saunders, who plays trombone in the band, he’s got an amazing voice so there’s a lot of things that the band can do that they’re really just starting to explore, I think.
Yeah, for sure. It’s awesome because there’s so many different areas you guys can go into when just crafting songs. Live, you can really get deep on songs. Yes. Absolutely.


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