ArleneWeiss - 7/29/2014 at 02:59 PM
This interview with Derek Trucks discussing his album, "Joyful Noise" was conducted June 2002. It was originally published as the October 2002 Cover Story titled "Strumming A Joyful Noise" in Vintage Guitar Magazine. It was RE-Published ONLINE 12/10/2011 in GuitarInternational.com (See Link Below).
Derek Trucks Interview: “Be Completely Free To Do Whatever You Want”
By: Arlene R. Weiss Copyright 2002-2014 All Rights Reserved
After over a decade of paying his dues, a fountain of good fortune is flowing endlessly for slide guitar virtuoso extraordinaire Derek Trucks. During these years of nonstop, grueling touring, he has built a name for himself as the bottleneck boogie guitar player to be reckoned with. Trucks has coordinated countless tours and recordings, playing with his own group, The Derek Trucks Band, played alongside mentors and kin The Allman Brothers Band and has appeared on numerous side projects and guest work from the Frogwings to Phil Lesh.
When you come from a lineage as musically diverse and rich as Trucks does, (Derek’s uncle is Butch Trucks, both an original founding member and drummer/percussionist for The Allman Brothers Band), the dues and inherent talent eventually pay off. Trucks and his band first established themselves and gained prominence with their 1998 independent release Out Of The Madness on the House Of Blues record label, three years ago.
But this spring 2002, The Derek Trucks Band was signed to Columbia Records, who are now releasing Joyful Noise, Trucks’ new record and debut release on the major label [Editor’s Note: The album was released September 2, 2002]. The appropriately titled album is the ultimate expression of Trucks’ informed adoration and esteem for, and range and remarkable talent at, implementing the slide guitar to articulate an amazing array of nearly any and every music genre….blues, rock, progressive jazz, World, Latin, and Indian Classical. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Derek’s progression as a supreme slide player in the time period between Out Of The Madness and Joyful Noise is astonishing. He’s developed from a burgeoning guitarist still honing his chops into a mature artist in total control who has perfected his craft. Seamless, silken, full-bottomed tones emanate from his fleeted fingers and slide work. He’s literally on fire as his guitar trades licks of dialogue with a venerable who’s who of guest vocalists lending their sparkling talents to the album.
Sparring in crescendos of incendiary blues with soul master Solomon Burke on “Home In Your Heart” and “Like Anyone Else” and with blues songstress and guitarist Susan Tedeschi on the sweltering, smoldering romantic sensual interplay of “Baby, You’re Right,” Trucks also then effortlessly darts light years away on the serious Pakistani traditional oratorio “Maki Madni” with the esteemed Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. He also effervesces to the joyous exuberance of the hot Latin salsa celebration of “Kam Ma Lay,” fronted by the always wonderful artisan, the great Ruben Blades.
The title track, “Joyful Noise” showcases Trucks’ reverential Gospel influences, and always one to experiment and surprise, Trucks creates a whimsical vibe on the sci-fi influenced, “Every Good Boy.” Dispensing an eerie yet bouncy tone on slide on the song that harks back to the themes of the outer space, paranormal sixties TV classics, one expects Rod Serling to announce, “You have now entered the Twilight Zone” at any given moment. Trucks creates a world of language with his guitar and slide. Chuckles, solemn hymns, praises and exclamations of celebrating life all emanate from Trucks’ multilingual guitar voicings, spoken via a world of diverse musical styles and cultures.
But Joyful Noise and his band’s signing to Columbia Records aren’t the only cause for celebration for Trucks. Derek also just finished working on the new Allman Brothers Band record, [Editor’s Note: 2003’s critically acclaimed album by The Allman Brothers Band, Hittin The Note], and Trucks recently married the incredibly gifted six string blues maven Susan Tedeschi. Their marriage resulted in both a union of uncompromising artistry and in the birth of the couple’s newborn son Charles, with whom Trucks is more than looking forward to teaching, encouraging, and experiencing the wonders of music, and especially the guitar.
Arlene R. Weiss: Some really exciting things have happened for you since the last time we spoke for our January 2001 interview. Since then, you’ve recorded and released a brand new album, Joyful Noise, and you were just signed to your first major record label, Columbia Records, which is releasing the record as your debut album on the label, for you and The Derek Trucks Band. Explain how this wonderful chain of fortunate events came about for you and the band.
Derek Trucks: It was just hitting the road forever and waiting for the right person, the right ears, to be in the crowd. We were playing a show on Long Island and an A&R guy from Columbia was there. He took interest and it went from there as far as us signing with Columbia. We went in the studio in Bearsville, New York at Bearsville Studios. We got to work with a few great people like Craig Street and Russ Kunkel, who are two great producers, so it was a really relaxed occasion. Everyone just set up and played. We were very fortunate to work with a few extra vocalists too that really sent the album in a few exciting directions.
Arlene: How did you come up with the very exuberant and appropriate title for the album?
Derek Trucks: That’s one of the tunes that we’ve been doing for a few years. It seemed like a great album title, especially since there’s so many different genres of music on the record. I thought Joyful Noise was a nice way to tie it all together. “Joyful Noise” is kind of a gospel tune, it’s got that feel. I figured with the Indian Classical sounding tune and a few of the other things, I wanted it to have a gospel, world feel, so I felt that Joyful Noise was appropriate.
Arlene: You’ve progressed dramatically as a premier slide guitar player as showcased on the album. Your tone, chord structure, and sustain are dazzling. What steps, studies, etc. have you been undertaking in the last few years to improve and develop your slide guitar playing and your overall guitar playing?
Derek Trucks: As far as the sound of the record and the playing on the record, it comes with being more comfortable in the studio, with the band. You start to learn how to get your sound in the studio and just play the way that you normally play, rather than a lot of times, you get in the studio, and it’s a completely different feel. Then what you end up with on the record is a different representation of what you really do. This time we came closer to really capturing what the band and what everyone’s individual playing is truly about. That was a huge step….and being on the road for two years, getting a chance to play with all the great musicians we play with. As far as where you’re coming from musically, it really deepens what you’re doing.
Arlene: Do you do practice, study or do scales?
Derek Trucks: All the time. We’re on the road close to three hundred days a year, so we’re playing every night and every day. In the bus we’re always listening and playing, so it’s a constant learning process for us.
Arlene: You’re well known for implementing your guitar to play many styles of music which embrace and encompass the many cultures of the world. Joyful Noise is probably your best expression to date of your grasp at blues, rock, progressive jazz, and world music styles. Can you detail the creative process of this eclectic mix involved in your song selection process for the album?
Derek Trucks: For us, this band is always a representation of what everyone is listening to, what everyone’s into in, individually. With a band as diverse as what we’re trying to do, you have to show where everyone is coming from, rather than just show one side of the group. We really try to keep it wide open that way. This record is the first chance, the first time that we took the opportunity to let it go wide open and try as many things as we could. We recorded probably sixteen tracks, and ended up using ten. We wanted to piece it together to the strongest variations of what the band does. With the Pakistani tune, we were very fortunate to have Rahat come sing, which gave it the authentic flair and the family stamp of approval, because that tune has been in their family for generations. So it definitely was an experience.
Arlene: Did he write that song?
Derek Trucks: His Uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I’m pretty sure wrote it, but it could be a traditional tune.
Arlene: Did you, or a combination of people get involved in the songwriting?
Derek Trucks: A lot of the tunes are band tunes. Kofi [Burbridge], our keyboard player, was the catalyst for a lot of band tunes. “Joyful Noise” is completely just everyone playing and that evolved over time. One of the tunes that Solomon Burke sings was one of his tunes that he recorded in the early 1960’s I believe, “Home In Your Heart.” That was a tune written by Otis Blackwell, I think is his name. The Latin tune is a band tune and Ruben Blades wrote the lyrics to that.
Arlene: How did you become so well versed in adapting the guitar and your guitar playing, especially on slide, to articulate and create the actual musical and cultural style of each of the songs on the album?
Derek Trucks: It’s from going into each type of music from a listening standpoint, rather than from a practicing standpoint. Once you can feel the essence of a type of music, or of a song, then I think you can truly play. You can play anything as long as you can truly get at where a song is coming from. It doesn’t have to be completely traditional, but I think you have to understand where it’s coming from.
Arlene: What were your main studio guitars for the album?
Derek Trucks: I mainly used a Custom Washburn and a Gibson SG on a few tracks too.
Arlene: Do you still have and use your 1936 National that once belonged to Bukka White?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, I still use that! We didn’t record on this album with it. But we used it on The Allman Brothers record that we just finished. We finished it about the same time as my record. I think their record will probably come out early next year. I’m not sure what model my Custom Washburn is. I think it may be a 2000.
Arlene: Are you still a fan of vintage guitars and equipment?
Derek Trucks: Oh Yeah! All the stuff at my house is old vintage amps and vintage guitars.
Arlene: What slides did you use on the album to achieve your very rich tone?
Derek Trucks: Just a Coricidin bottle, an old glass slide.
Arlene: Is it one of the same Coricidin slides that Gregg and Red Dog gave you that you had told me once belonged to Duane Allman?
Derek Trucks: Yeah! I still have those. I don’t carry those on the road as much because glass breaks! [Laughing] So I have a few other old Coricidin bottles that I take out.
Arlene: The original Coricidin slides were actually the bottles for Coricidin cold pills medicine. Now that they make Coricidin cold medicine packaged in a box, and they stopped making the bottles, how do you get the bottles?
Derek Trucks: You can’t get the glass anymore. You either have to buy from this company that reissues them, or you can track them down at antique stores.
Arlene: Why and how has slide playing become your main focus as a guitarist?
Derek Trucks: For me, what I’m hearing and what I want to get out is better represented with a slide. To me it’s more lyrical and more vocal. You can emulate the human voice much closer with a slide. I like the fact that you can really sustain a note and manipulate it that way with a slide, much more than I can without a slide.
Arlene: Because of the many styles of music and guitar work on the album, what were some of the unique playing techniques that you used, including tuning, chordal modes, and chromatic methods that you implemented throughout the album?
Derek Trucks: We tried a few different things. There’s a track, “Lookout 31,” that is pretty much completely improvised. There’s a lead that everyone plays and then it’s off to the races. So on that one, the guitar ended up detuned, [Both laughing] and I ended it up with no tuning at all! On this record we took a lot more liberty to try completely random things, so there’s no telling what ended up happening on the record!
Arlene: Did having so many genres of music on the album, especially World music, create any special challenges for you on your guitar, to actually recreate the tones and the sounds of these often centuries-old instruments and many styles of music from around the world?
Derek Trucks: Yes. You want to definitely not stray too far from that, but with our band, we realize that it’s an electric band. The people who come out to see us perform are from Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Jacksonville, Florida. We understand that we’re not going to completely replicate Pakistani music that’s three or four hundred years old. We give complete respect and reverence for the music, but we understand that we’re putting our own spin on it as well.
Arlene: Did that also create any special challenges for your engineer S. Husky Hoskulds and your producers, Craig Street and Russ Kunkel?
Derek Trucks: They were great! They set up and they used all vintage equipment, all old tube compressors, two inch tape, and old Neve Consoles. So they were using a lot of old vintage equipment. They were great about setting up and getting great sounds, authentic sounds, and just letting things happen. They were a big part of the sounds on the record. It was great to work with people that were really quick at getting all these natural sounds. But it felt like genuine instruments and not like something you do in a studio necessarily.
Arlene: Can you detail some of the gear, amps, and your rig set-up that you used in the studio to achieve your many different music styles and sounds on the album?
Derek Trucks: My sound was probably more of a constant, because I used a 1963 Super Reverb amp, an old Fender Black Face amp, and the Washburn for the whole record. I might have used an old Deluxe, like an old ’40s Deluxe Fender amp on a few tracks. Yeah, I used an old, funky, crazy looking amp. A lot more of the variations were the keyboards, drum, and bass sound.
Arlene: What strings and gauge do you use?
Derek Trucks: DR strings with an .11 on the top and a .46 on the bottom.
Arlene: How long did it take to record and mix the album?
Derek Trucks: We did the bulk of the tracks in about a week, in Bearsville. Then we did two extra days of recording on the west coast with Solomon Burke and Ruben Blades, so all in all, the recording took maybe a week and a half, two weeks, tops, and the mixing took about a week or so.
Derek Trucks: Yeah! We try to be. This was the first time we actually had a chance to use more time if we wanted to. In the past, when it’s on your own budget, you have to go in and do it quick. We’re kind of used to that.
Arlene: What mixing process did you use?
Derek Trucks: We mixed most of the record while The Allman Brothers were doing the Beacon Theater run in New York City. So every night after the show, before the show, we’d go down and we’d mix, and then the engineer and producer would mix throughout the day. I would get in a cab after the show on 62nd and Broadway, and head down to the studio and ok or remix one of the tunes. The mixing process was pretty wild! [Laughs] It was a busy week! It’s not a Pro Tools record. It was mixed down from two inch tape to half inch tape, all analog. When I think about all the records that I listen to on a regular basis, it was all recorded on two inch tape. So I figure, why mess with it if it’s working. When I hear a great digital record, then I’ll think about recording on digital!
Arlene: “Every Good Boy” is an imaginative song that I liked on the album. Where did the idea originate for the song and your playing? It almost sounds like it could be the soundtrack or theme song for “The Twilight Zone” or some TV show about outer space.
Derek Trucks: That’s funny because Kofi, who wrote it, is way into all of that stuff. I could easily see him doing soundtracks for sci-fi movies someday! [Laughs]
When we did a tune like the Pakistani tune and the Latin tune, which are meant to be taken pretty seriously, I think we needed a few tunes that were light, and not too serious. Because I don’t think the band….we didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously on the whole record. We had to have a little break, a little relief. A tune like that is really good for that because you can just play and enjoy it, and there’s not too much expected out of it!
Arlene: It really brought a smile to my face when I was listening to it. I said, “Wow, this sounds like an old sixties TV show!”
Derek Trucks: That’s funny, because that whimsical sound….It’s an old ’50s solo box. It’s a Hammond made synthesizer from really early on that’s supposed to go on the bottom of the B3. It’s got maybe ten notes on it and so that’s Kofi playing that high note with the flying double on top of it so it has that really squirrelly sound! It’s pretty funny! [Laughs]
Arlene: What effects did you use to achieve that really eerie sound out of your slide guitar on that tune?
Derek Trucks: That’s a slide guitar doubled with that solo box keyboard.
Arlene: My favorite song on the album is “Kam Ma Lay” with Ruben Blades, who is just amazing. It’s absolutely gorgeous. How did you come by that song?
Derek Trucks: That’s a tune that Kofi had the chord changes in, in high school. He’s had that tune sitting around for twenty plus years, and so we turned it into a Latin tune and the band has been playing it for a few years. It’s always been one of my favorite tunes to play, but we never had the lyrics nailed down. So we sent a tape to Ruben Blades and he came in with his own lyrics written out, and it was so much closer to what we had envisioned. He came in and sang it and it felt really authentic and what the band was going for. It also was a great chance for Kofi to pick up his flute and get to do that thing too.
Ruben Blades is amazing. He’s done so many different things. He came in and was completely on fire. He recorded twelve tracks of hand clapping, and all the background vocals that he did. It was pretty amazing to watch some of it go down. He came in completely with an idea of what he wanted in his head and he was not leaving until it was there. It was great to see.
Arlene: How did you achieve the wonderful slide tone that you achieved on that song?
Derek Trucks: That was just being in the room with the Super Reverb and the Washburn.
Arlene: You brought in a number of wonderfully eclectic guest vocalists on the album. And Solomon Burke….he’s absolutely wonderful on both “Home In Your Heart” and “Like Anyone Else.” How did you come to know Solomon?
Derek Trucks: I had seen Solomon the day after he was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He was playing at The Village Underground in New York City. We just happened to be hanging out and saw him play. That’s the first time I’d seen him sing and he obviously left a huge impression. Then our engineer had just recorded Solomon’s record maybe a month before he was recording our record…so he was listening to that in the studio, and it hit me. I was like, “Let’s get a hold of Solomon and see if he’ll sing a tune on the record.” It was pretty random that it worked out, but he came in and it was an amazing experience.
Arlene: The two of you definitely create a very improvisational, intuitive dialogue where you push one another to a higher level….your playing and his singing. You can hear your regard for one another through your playing. Discuss how your playing represents that creative camaraderie so well as it crescendos and climaxes on the song.
Derek Trucks: Being with and having him on the record, it’s so church when he’s singing. You believe every note. He’s one of the few soul singers from that period that are still really doing it. Sometimes you hear him singing and it feels like Otis Redding is singing or you get that amazing feeling. Just having him in the room is such a thrill for everybody.
Arlene: You brought in one of your mentors Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on “Maki Madni.” How did the two of you meet?
Derek Trucks: We haven’t even met yet! [Laughing] Because of all of the traveling problems since September 11th, it’s hard for a lot of the Indian Classical and Eastern musicians to travel, or it was when we were recording. So we got in touch with him through people in the States that he worked with.
Arlene: You said he’s related to Nusrat?
Derek Trucks: He’s Nusrat’s closest male descendent. He’s Nusrat’s nephew. So we got a hold of him and did a conference call with an interpreter in Pakistan, and ended up sending the tape to Pakistan and he recorded in Karachi. We finished the tracks and sent it to him and told him to have at it, and he did!
Arlene: Have you studied with Nusrat?
Derek Trucks: I actually went to the classes of Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod player. I never got a chance to see Nusrat, but I’ve listened to that style of music extensively.
Arlene: How has their music influenced your guitar playing, including your technique in creating Eastern, Indian Classical sitar tones and oratorios on the guitar?
Derek Trucks: Between Nusrat and Ali Akbar Khan, that whole thing opened me up to so many things. It made me realize that you can go one thousand percent and not be overboard. A lot of times I would hear guitar players and it seemed sometimes, that maybe they were giving too much. But I think that maybe it just wasn’t channeled in the right direction. When you see someone like Nusrat sing, you can tell they’re not holding anything back, but it’s not going too far either. As for the sitar tones on guitar, a lot of it is the way you slide over the notes. A lot of it is ornamental notes. They’re just passing tones. You hit the strings once, you maybe catch four, five notes before the note stops ringing. So it’s a lot more of a vocal style when it comes to that. You’re doing a lot more interplay. There’s a lot more subtlety with the notes that you’re playing in. Every note isn’t empathized as much, but there’s still a lot happening.
Arlene: Did you play your sarod on the song?
Derek Trucks: No, it was just my electric guitar.
Arlene: Are you still playing your sarod?
Derek Trucks: Yeah I have been playing it, but I didn’t want to hack away at it in the studio! [Laughing]
Arlene: On “Baby, You’re Right,” discuss your fiery, smoldering, blues rock duet in which you also spar off in a creative camaraderie with your wife, blues guitarist, singer, songwriter Susan Tedeschi.
Derek Trucks: Yeah! That was a lot of fun. We did the track with Susan, the tracks with Solomon, and the track with Ruben in a two day period in Los Angeles, so that was a great time because she was hanging around and we have a three month old baby. He was probably a month and a half old at that point. It was a great experience. I was glad that they could come out and hang on the road and see the whole Solomon Burke session go down. We had some time, and we had been thinking about “Baby, You’re Right,” the old James Brown tune. The band set up and played it and Susan came in. It was really the first time she had sung since giving birth.
Arlene: I want to congratulate you on the birth of your new baby. I know it’s still early. He’s just a baby now, but are you thinking of encouraging your son Charles to go in the footsteps of becoming a musician, an artist of some sort, and especially, perhaps becoming a guitarist?
Derek Trucks: There definitely will be encouragement. Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see what his demeanor is and what he wants to do, but if he decides that music is in his realm, he will have plenty of encouragement, a lot of opportunity, and plenty of music around to be turned on to. I definitely look forward to the chance to start teaching him things, because it will be great just to relearn everything from the beginning anyway.
Arlene: How has your marriage to Susan, being the marriage of two guitarists that have the same influences, particularly blues, traditional, roots, and World music, in which both of your guitar playing reflects these many diverse music styles….it’s a creative collaboration as well. What has that done to influence and inspire both you and Susan creatively?
Derek Trucks: For me, just hearing her do her thing and hearing her sing and get through to people the way that she does is definitely a huge inspiration. There are definitely things that I’ve picked up, more from her vocal thing than her guitar playing. But there’s a lot of vocal lines that she sings that I’ve ended up trying to cop on guitar, so that’s been a great thing. I think for her, being around our band and our scene, and just being turned on to a lot of different things, has really opened her up to some things too.
Arlene: Didn’t the two of you meet when she was opening up for The Allman Brothers Band a few years back?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, in New Orleans a few years back.
Arlene: You are now an official member of The Allman Brothers Band, who you have also worked with continuously many times throughout your life, and Duane Allman is one of your main influences. How much of that did you intentionally or even subconsciously bring with you in terms of your musical influences, into the studio when you recorded Joyful Noise? And how and when do you know to intentionally distance yourself, and put that influence aside, so that you can create your own distinctive voice as a guitar player and musician?
Derek Trucks: There was a period, probably when I turned fourteen, around that time, where I was very adamant on distancing myself from that whole scene, trying to break away from that stigma because it was becoming….. People were more interested in that, than the music that I was actually playing. It was a conscious effort at that point to completely break free of that so…
Arlene: You can be recognized for you and what you do.
Derek Trucks: So you can grow as a musician and not be chained down to any one sound or something that happened thirty years ago. You don’t want to be stuck there when you weren’t around for it the first time. It was a liberating thing to get away from that, but things do come full circle. And when I got the chance to start playing with The Allman Brothers, it reinforced my roots that way. The timing was perfect for that. Any time I’m playing with another group, and I’m headed in that, it’s going to reflect in what our band is doing, because it’s the music that you’re hearing, the music that you’re playing…it changes the way that you play. And so it’s been a delicate balance with our band, between their sound and what we’re trying to create. It’s been really nice to have both, to have the strong roots to fall back on, and then be completely free to do whatever you want, when you’re looking forward.
Arlene: Who are some of your influences, not just from your formative years as a guitar player, but also some of the newer, current artists that you’re listening to?
Derek Trucks: A lot of the gospel slide players. Aubrey Ghent is a huge influence. He actually married me and Susan, so that was a special thing. He was the first lap steel player that I heard in that realm. When you hear him play, it’s like a woman singing, you’d swear it’s a woman singing. Robert Randolph also, who is in that realm. That whole scene is wonderful. I’m still listening to so many different random things. It’s hard to pinpoint. But also, Sun Ra, John Coltrane are still huge influences. And I’m starting to get into the Latin side of things.
Arlene: I could tell that with “Kam Ma Lay.” It’s a very exuberant tune. That’s why it’s my favorite song on the album. It’s very happy and spirited.
Derek Trucks: That’s a great tune. It definitely has that epic feel, sometimes where you can feel it boiling and rolling along on its own path.
Arlene: Let’s talk about the current tour that you are doing to promote Joyful Noise. Will any guest vocalists be showing up to perform on vocals?
Derek Trucks: We haven’t hammered that out completely. I’m sure there will be some guest vocalists. I’m sure Susan will show up here and there, just so we can be together, with the baby on the road. So she’ll be around. There’s no telling. I’m sure we’re going to try to hook up with Solomon and Ruben if we can. If Rahat makes it to the States any time soon, we’ll most certainly be trying to make that happen.
Arlene: Will you be performing your very well renowned, extended, improvisational jams when playing live?
Derek Trucks: Oh yeah! Always! [Laughs]
Arlene: What guitars, slides, equipment, gear, and playing techniques will you be incorporating into your live shows, to recreate the very unique multi music genres, their tones, sounds, and your slide and overall guitar work of the album?
Derek Trucks: The band is pretty good at recreating not note for note, but in as far as the vibe and where the album is coming from, because that’s what we’ve been doing live for the last few years. As far as the equipment, I’ll be using the same set-up that I was using in the studio, a Fender Super Reverb, the Washburn, and the Gibson SG.
Arlene: Will you continue your regular, creative side projects such as the very much acclaimed Frogwings’ “Croakin’ At Toads,” on the side?
Derek Trucks: Yes, if time permits. But this project, Joyful Noise, and this band is my number one emphasis for however long we can make it happen. If there’s time away from that, I’m into doing anything.
© Copyright July 29, 2014 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
© Copyright December 6, 2011 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
© Copyright June 5, 2002 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved
[Edited on 7/29/2014 by ArleneWeiss]
[Edited on 11/3/2014 by ArleneWeiss]