Derek Trucks Talks about Finding Out He Was Named After Eric Clapton's Band - from there to working with him, playing those songs nearly 40 years later via a stint with his Uncle's Band (The Allman Brothers) and A Lot of Work Honing his own Sound, finding his voice...
Derek Trucks is the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. He was named after the band Derek and the Dominos. To this day that group’s seminal Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is Trucks’ favourite album; an enduring influence. He even had the pleasure and “thrill of a lifetime” playing several of the tracks live as a touring member of Eric Clapton’s band.
“That was amazing”, the slide guitar virtuoso tells me down the line from his home studio, “it was definitely a pinch-yourself moment – or several pinch-yourself moments. But the kicker for me was getting to invite my dad backstage to meet Eric Clapton. That was when I realised something really special, something surreal was happening. I mean here’s my dad, this Roofer from Jacksonville, Florida and he’s just having a cup of tea with Eric Clapton. My name takes its spelling from the Derek and the Dominos album. That album is 40 years old now, older than me, and my dad – this total music fan – is there with the guy who created it. And I’m part of the band”. He breaks off into a chuckle, adding, “as far as moments go, happy memories, that is definitely one of them”.
Trucks was a child prodigy. Still in his 30s he is into his second decade of touring and recording. Before starting his own band he was a touring member of his uncle’s famous jam-band, The Allman Brothers.
It’s clear that the spirit of Duane Allman came through those vinyl grooves and now moves through Trucks.
“Well, I listened to that Layla album a lot you know. And both Eric and Duane’s playing was really important to me. I still find new things in Duane Allman’s playing – he was one of the greats”. Of course Trucks was taking on the Allman and Clapton playing at a very young age.
“I do have to remind myself that my career is a little different”, he says with a slight giggle. “It is funny because when I picked up the guitar I remember being so frustrated with it, thinking I was never going to get it”. By the age of nine he was considered a prodigy.
“I definitely put in the hours”, Trucks laughed. “I was just so obsessed with music. I listened over and over to the Layla album, to so many old blues albums – I became obsessed with Indian music, with the music from Pakistan too. In fact I would just pick a label, research it and listen to anything I could find on that label”. He was a little different to most nine year olds.
Derek Trucks never had any musical guilty pleasures. He can’t recall listening to any cheesy pop songs in the 1980s. It was always about jazz, blues and soul. And then there was qawwali music – particularly the sounds of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan. The Derek Trucks sound, now a signature coil of serpentine soloing, seems to mimic the voice and sarod playing (Trucks studied the sarod) of the qawwali and Indian music. The Ravi Shankar sitar sound is as much an influence as the stinging lines from Freddy King and B.B. King.
Trucks says that he never worried about being “different” as a kid – he was obsessed with these musical masters and preferred this “fine dining” over any “junk food”. Once you’ve tried it there is no point in going down a less rewarding path, according to Derek. “I mean, Sam Cooke come on! It’s just something special hearing something like that. Once you’ve heard that you don’t bother with the cheap impersonators”.
Trucks might have been a little different in his approach to music, a purist from the earliest age, but it was, as far as he can tell, normal. “My childhood was happy. I didn’t know any other kind, I am pretty sure I didn’t miss out. And I didn’t think anything I was doing, or listening to, was not normal. I mean, my god, I had Charlie Parker records and Sonny Rollins and Coltrane and Miles Davis. It was just an amazing world of sound – it was everything. All of that and all of the blues players and records too – and then what I guess is now called ‘world music’ too. All of that was just a constant source of inspiration”.
And you can still hear it in Trucks’ playing – his solos build and unfold, adding laps and layers, rising, falling. Sometimes his guitar mimics a Coltrane or Rollins sax solo.
By 15 he had formed the first version of The Derek Trucks Band and was still touring with the Allman Brothers.
In 1999 he met Susan Tedeschi – a blues singer/guitarist and the owner of, according to Trucks, “a deeply soulful voice”. In 2001 he and Tedeschi were married and started a family. Since then the two have worked together and carried on with their own careers. Recently they formed The Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band.
“What we’re going for here is, I guess, the sound of The Band – that’s certainly one of the touchstones. I’m not saying we’re there of course; The Band is one of the all-time great bands for me. But that’s the hope”, he breaks off in to laughter. “That’s always the hope. It’s a big band, we have about 12 of us on stage and we’ve been working on creating a huge groove, Susan’s voice is just perfect and we’ve been working really hard on the writing; trying to create something soulful, something interesting”.
The home studio means that Trucks and Tedeschi can take turns working, laying down tracks, writing, and can still be home to meet the children after school; walking them to and from.
“It’s been a great thing, building the studio. It’s been the biggest development for me – just having the chance to explore and constantly create”.
Trucks has generally captured everything live, working spontaneously with few overdubs. Now he is combining his fearsome technique and traditional approach with modern technology. And it is, he tells me, “exciting; interesting”.