Derek Trucks Looks Beyond Life With the Allman Brothers Band
At just 34 years old, he’s already developed a reputation as one of the most innovative, soulful and authentic guitar players on the planet, racked up a couple of Grammys and appeared on countless “top guitarist” countdowns. But for Florida-born prodigy Derek Trucks, it’s not about lists and awards. It’s about the music. He made a splash earlier this year when he announced (along with longtime bandmate Warren Haynes) that he was leaving the Allman Brothers Band to focus on the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he fronts with his wife, Susan Tedeschi. As he explained to Ultimate Classic Rock, that will be more than enough to keep him busy.
Derek, what were the first records you remember as a kid that helped shape your musical destiny?
My brother and I shared a bedroom and we had a little turntable and we would play the Allman Brothers albums ‘Eat a Peach’ and ‘Live at the Fillmore East.’ My parents made sure we always had good music to listen to and those were the albums we would fall asleep to. I can distinctly remember going to bed with ‘Mountain Jam’ playing. Those songs are just so good. And there was no way for them not to get ingrained in your head. Later on in life, like when I was playing with the Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton‘s band, it struck me that even if I never actually played the songs before, I knew them. It wasn’t muscle memory. I just knew the next move; I knew the next change. That’s the kind of impression that music made on me. I was ruined by nine years old (laughs).
Did you ever feel pressure when you did start playing those songs on stage? That you had some sort of legacy you had to live up to?
I was just so respectful of what that band done before and especially what Duane Allman had accomplished. So for me, even though I would be thinking about what the audience was expecting, the pressure was more internal for me. I wanted to pay respects and do right by those guys but I did not want to just copy the riffs note-for-note. I wanted to get to the heart and think about what they were listening to when they created that music. I wanted to become a part of what had inspired them in the first place. That’s the thing with me. I don’t think you should shy away from letting people know where you get it from.
Is there anybody that you haven’t played with yet but you would like to connect with?
Me and Susan have both been fortunate in that we have already played with most of our heroes. When it comes to what I dream about these days it really comes down to the 11 people we have on stage in our band. There’s so much going on in so many distinct musical places from where everyone is coming from that I get inspired every day. It’s so good that I’m really not longing for anything else right now. That said, there are exceptions to the rule. Not too long ago I got a chance to play with B.B. King on stage. He was the top of my list of someone I hadn’t been able to play with and we had a musical exchange where I go to play some phrases that were obviously inspired by him. You could immediately hear him scream and start playing back those same notes to me. It was an awesome musical conversation. That was one of the highlights of my life. That’s one musical exchange that I’ll never forget.
In terms of having a band as large as yours, what are the challenges with managing so many sounds on stage?
I’ve been in training for that for a long time (laughs). One thing I’ll say is that a band of that size keeps you from relaxing too much. Everyone we have is happiest when they’re improvising and keeping each other on their toes. It keeps us hungry and it keeps us moving. I love when there is work to be done. That’s the thing, I’m most comfortable in a situation where you’re not able to coast. We have too many moving parts to ever allow that, which I think is a really healthy place to be right now. It’s never easy, but that’s a good thing.
How is it at home with Susan? Is it hard to put the music aside and focus on family life?
It depends on the week (laugh). We just got back from a tour of Europe and this is our longest break off of the year. We have almost three weeks, which never happens. So we get home, we reconnect and start paying a mountain of bills (laugh). My son just got started on his All-Star baseball team five days a week and my daughter is in gymnastics so it’s a mile a minute with school and everything else. My mom helps us out when we are on the road but when we get home we just jump in and pick up where we left off. And the band just came down so we started writing and recording some more and then we head out to play a residency in Vegas. We know how to juggle. It’s the life that we’ve made for each other and I think we know how to keep moving and keep an eye and everything. As crazy as it can be, it’s also a lot of fun for everyone and that’s important to us.
You’ve got a festival coming up called Mountain Jam which sort of conjures up the glory days of the Allman Brothers. Are shows like that still fun for you?
They can be. I’m happiest and I think the band is happiest doing our own tour. Or, if you’re on the road with the band that you like. Festivals can be a challenge because you jump up on stage with no sound check and you’re thrown in front of a crowd that has had music blasted at them for hours at a time. But then it can be magic. You find the right audience and they’re waiting for something to happen and when they do react, it’s off the chart. That’s when it’s the best. When you do your own tour, it’s great to rehearse and write tunes during sound check. You don’t get to do that with festivals but there are other aspects, like seeing old friends that are really nice. Certain festivals like Mountain Jam become like a big family reunion.
How do you see the next year or so going for the Tedeschi Trucks Band?
The band is in a really unique spot right now. We are in a very hungry place and a very creative place and the more time we spend writing and feeding the beast the better things will be. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to just focus on this band and not having the Allman Brothers on my plate is actually a great mental relief. This is the first time, since a bit about 13 years old, that I’ve one band to tend to and so I’m really excited to see where things go this year.