Six-string specialist Derek Trucks started playing guitar at age 9, and by 12 he was sitting in with such legends as the Allman Brothers and Buddy Guy. Now a ripe old 25, he's a full-time member of the Allmans and has five solo releases under his belt -- including the new disc, Live at the Georgia Theater. When Trucks and his band pull into the Eclipse Theater in Waitsfield this Sunday, expect searing sonic explorations that are more Jeff Beck than jam-band.
Trucks is the nephew of long-time Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, but the familial connection wasn't as integral to his musical development as you might think. The guitarist makes his own mark through thoughtful, intense slide work, as well as an uncanny ease with Eastern musical idioms. While Southern rock and blues were the launch pad for Trucks, there's much more to the guitarist than rehashed barroom riffing. His broad musical palette is reflected in his solo work, which runs the gamut from soulful r&b to Indian-tinged ragas. Jazz greats are also major influences on his playing, and it shows.
Trucks married blues queen Susan Tedeschi in 2001 and has since become a father -- talk about musical genes! Seven Days spoke with him before a soundcheck in Alabama.
SEVEN DAYS: You were on the road a lot while finishing high school. Was it difficult? Did your peers treat you any differently?
DEREK TRUCKS: Not really. When you have something to focus on, that's just what you do. I really didn't feel like I was missing out, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. My friends were pretty oblivious to what I was doing -- we never played my hometown. I was going to classes three or four days a week and playing on weekends. I managed to stay awake for most of it!
SD: How did you respond to people calling you a prodigy?
DT: I've always tried to avoid putting too much stock in what people write or say about me. If what you're doing is gonna have any depth, it's gotta come from a deeper place than worrying about what people are gonna think about it. I never read too much into it.
SD: So now that you're a little older, you don't miss it?
DT: No, no, no.
SD: Did being [Allman Brothers drummer] Butch Trucks' nephew inspire you to consider the life of a professional musician or was it something that you stumbled into on your own?
DT: Other than the Allman Brothers music itself, it really didn't have anything to do with me wanting to take that road. I wasn't around those guys at all until I started touring myself, and then it was just running into them on the road once or twice a year. Maybe my name helped out a bit, but that can be a double-edged sword, too.
SD: What's it like playing with a group as legendary as the Allman Brothers? Is it intimidating?
DT: I really just wanted to get it right when I first joined the band. Learning all those tunes in, like, a month or two was really the only intimidating thing. When you're on stage with those guys you really don't think about the age difference -- you're just trying to make music together. If you think about it in terms of how long people have been doing it or what level of recognition they have, it's hard to get down to business. You just have to have the confidence in what you do, but not so much that you're not going to get any better.
SD: Have you found that older fans of the group have embraced your involvement?
DT: Yeah, I mean, people were excited to hear the new blood. I think the first six months I was in the Allmans, it was really growing, and people were into the new feel of the band. Really, my intention when I joined was to try to get it back to where it was originally. Those were the records I listened to -- the ones with Duane on them.
SD: Are you completely self-taught? Who are your greatest musical influences?
DT: I don't think anyone is completely self-taught. I haven't had any formal training, though. Elmore James and Duane Allman were my first big influences on guitar; then later, it was blues singers like Howlin' Wolf and Bobby Bland. After I got turned on to John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Sun Ra, it seemed like there were thousands.
SD: One thing that strikes me about your own band is the wide range of styles you're able to voice -- particularly Eastern music. Was non-Western musical tradition something you were always drawn to?
DT: Yeah, at about 15 years old, I got turned on to Ali Akbar Khan and a lot of Indian classical music, then Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Middle Eastern music. From there I started listening to more world music in general. After a while you start hearing the common thread in all roots-based music.
SD: It seems slide playing might afford you the luxury of imitating the microtonal scales of Eastern music. Do you find this to be the case?
DT: Definitely. There are things that you can do with a slide that would be really hard to do with a lot of conventional instruments. You can also emulate the human voice -- there are so many places you can go.
SD: Much of your work harkens back to the 1970s -- I hear tinges of Santana, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis in some of your songs. Yet you're 25 years old. How did you discover music from that era?
DT: It's all out there. No matter what decade it is, I think any musician starting out listens back to the masters on their instrument, the masters of their genre. It's kind of a search, but if you're really intent, and check it out, I think everyone kind of gets led to the same sources.
SD: Do you consider the DTB to be part of the "jam scene?" What do you think of audiences that aren't exactly there for the music, but more for the party?
DT: Maybe by default, but not really by mentality, I would say. I've always been pretty turned off by that whole [show-as-party] thing. When you have guys on stage trying to keep the integrity of the music tight but there's people listening with less respect and a different intent, it can be a little frustrating. Luckily, in one sense, our audience has been small enough that people come out to listen, not to party. They're moved by the music and respect what the band is trying to do, and they tap into that.
SD: Do you have a grand unifying theory regarding music? How do you approach the creative process?
DT: No matter what genre you're dealing with, it's about emotion. That's where music comes from, anyway -- it's all the same human emotions. You find forms that excite you as a musician that you want to explore, but when you're playing, you should be trying to tell a story. As long as you're not up there practicing scales or whatever... No matter what style, you've got to say something.