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|This interview was conducted with Derek Trucks in January 2001. It was published in the April 2001 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine. It was RE-Published ONLINE 12/12/2011 in GuitarInternational.com (see Link Below).|
Derek Trucks Interview: ďGenuine Music Has Never Been EasyĒ
By: Arlene R. Weiss Copyright 2001-2014 All Rights Reserved
I have been deeply honored to interview slide guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks three times, in January 2001, June 2002, and July 2003. Lauded as one of musicís most gifted and extraordinary guitarists, Derek has come a long way from his musical beginnings as a child guitar prodigy who first picked up the guitar at a mere nine years old, going on to grace recording studios, albums, and international music festivals and stages with some of musicís most esteemed artists.
Derek first honed his chops and began establishing himself as a preeminent guitar player by performing at local clubs throughout Florida, where the Jacksonville native was born and raised. Having first seen Derek perform live back in 1991, when the budding guitar prodigy was still in his formative years at just eleven years old, his remarkable talent and grace were already beautifully evident and ever present and he quickly made a name for himself.
One of the hardest working music journeymen in music, Trucks has spent his career pulling triple duty writing, recording, and performing with his own acclaimed Derek Trucks Band, as a member of the legendary Allman Brothers Band (Derekís uncle is ABB original founding member, drummer, percussionist Butch Trucks), numerous side projects with Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Phil Lesh, and many more venerable artists.
Derek also has collaborated many times with his talented wife, fiery blues singer, songwriter, guitarist Susan Tedeschi. The two have crafted soundscapes on each othersí stellar solo albums, live, in the studio, as part of their Soul Stew Revival project, and currently, in their newest band incarnation, The Tedeschi Trucks Band, which released its debut album, Revelator to great acclaim this year.
Derek once again, has just made Rolling Stone Magazineís list of ďGreatest Guitarists,Ē this time coming in at sixteen, a distinguished honor that is very much deserved.
For this first interview I did with Derek, in January 2001, he was still an emerging artist at a mere twenty one years old, who had just released two records with the Derek Trucks Band on independent record labels. Touring relentlessly, he was in that stage where artists are building a grassroots following, generating great buzz and word of mouth on the tour circuit of small clubs. He graciously took time from writing and from preparing to embark on a national club tour opening for Eric Johnson to discuss his creative process and musical beginnings.
Hereís a fond look back with Derek Trucks.
Arlene R. Weiss: A hallmark for you as a musician is your personal esteem for blues, jazz, and rock music styles as well as Eastern Indian, Pakistani and world music, and successfully melding these musical styles. How did you become involved with Eastern music and how have you drawn from it to incorporate it into your traditional Western influences, especially the blues?
Derek Trucks: I think I was drawn into it just by being turned on to the music of other musicians. I think the more you listen to other things, the more you see what itís all about musically. It all comes down to the same thing, which is intention and emotions, and trying to create that through music. The more broadly you can see it, at least for me, itís easier to really pinpoint what youíre trying to get across musically. Hopefully it takes down all the walls between different types of music. Too much music is divided up intoÖ.
Arlene: Thereís too much labeling and categorizing of music nowadays.
Derek Trucks: Definitely. Unfortunately, most so called ďmusic listenersĒ decide to stick with one type of music which really narrows what theyíre listening to. The hardcore blues fans donít want to listen to jazz guitar when essentially itís the same thing, and vice versa with jazz fans with the blues. So I think you really have to go beyond all of that.
Arlene: You have to open your horizons because music is a universal language.
Derek Trucks: Definitely. Itís just different ways of expressing the same thing. When you decide that youíre only open to listening to one type of music, youíre probably not even listening to that correctly because if you canít listen to something openly, youíre not really hearing whatís happening. Youíre narrowing it down to your perception rather than what it really is. Real music is much broader than a category. Son House and John Coltrane are essentially the same thing.
Arlene: I understand that youíve been influenced by Indian and Pakistani virtuosos Zakir Hussain, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and that you studied the sarod with sarod master Ali Akbar Khan. How did you gain awareness and become involved with these acclaimed Eastern musicians?
Derek Trucks: I became aware of them through a drummer in Atlanta, Jeff Sipe. He played with Colonel Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit, which I guess in the late í80s and early í90s were kind of a staple in the Atlanta music scene. They started a lot of the movement along with Widespread Panic and Phish. Now their bass player, Oteil [Burbridge] plays with The Allman Brothers Band. Jimmy Herring, who was their guitar playerÖ.he played this last one with The Allman Brothers and he also plays with Phil Lesh. Jeff Sipe has played with everyone. Bruce Hampton is still doing his thing. Everybody in that band were just simply virtuosos. They really opened me up to the higher forms of music. They turned me on to Sun Ra, Coltrane, and a lot of the Eastern music, and a lot of the really deep blues as well such as Son House, Bukka White, the early Delta stuff.
Arlene: Though you grew up surrounded by Western traditional influences, you embrace and have equal regard for literally all music styles. How did this come to be so important to you personally, and do you also find that many of todayís musicians, in particular, guitarists, are also venturing down this very fully rounded, multi-influenced musical path?
Derek Trucks: I think itís starting to pass where people are listening to everything in the world, and it kind of comes with the times. Itís 2001, and everything is available. You can listen to anything, at anytime. Nowís the time to really open up your ears more than ever because thereís not a Kansas City scene, a Chicago scene, and a New York scene which is completely independent of anything else. Itís all coming together.
Arlene: Right. All music, all around the world is really world music. Itís universal and a broad spectrum.
Derek Trucks: Definitely. I think that the more that I listen to the music of the world, the more I realize that some of the traditional African music is not much different than the blues.
Arlene: And thatís where the blues actually came from.
Derek Trucks: Exactly. You can really hear the lineageÖ..and reading books like Robert Palmerís Deep Blues: A Musical And Cultural History Of The Mississippi Delta really opened that up to me. He even traced it to down to what slave ships landed where and what sections of Africa they came from. Itís pretty amazing the way he broke it down. He also did a video of Deep Blues. He went through Mississippi and videotaped a lot of the backwoods blues artists that are still there.
Arlene: Can you detail how a sarod is strung, played, its actual history, and your own personal technique for playing it?
Derek Trucks: Itís got twenty five strings. Thereís four melody strings and thereís about eight strings that you keep rhythm with, that you keep time with. The rest of the strings kind of ring independently. You keep a drone under the instrument. Itís a pretty ancient instrument. I think the one that is played now is only maybe three hundred years old as far as the exact look of it now, but itís been around for eight hundred, a thousand years or so.
Arlene: How satisfying is that to study and play different music and instruments whose tradition and history literally goes back centuries?
Derek Trucks: It makes you realize how far there still is to go. For me, my interests are musicians that are really hardcore. Theyíll spend twenty, thirty years studying before they go out and play, so it makes you feel like you have a long way to go. At least it makes me feel that way. It also makes me feel that a lot of the western music, the rock and pop music has really got a long way to go! [Laughs] I realize how much dedication and how great these musicians truly are. It makes you feel very lucky to be in any position to go out and play music and where people want to hear it.
Arlene: On your 1998 album, Out Of The Madness, you wrote a fascinating, detailed piece, ďDeltaraga,Ē combining Delta blues with Indian classical music. How did you achieve and gravitate back and forth, from playing slide to playing ragas on a National steel bodied guitar?
Derek Trucks: For the last five years, Iíve been listening to Indian classical music really heavily, almost every day, and at that time we had just done a tour in Mississippi . Thatís when I read ďDeep BluesĒ and I really got turned on to Delta musicÖ.Son House, Bukka White, Skip James, and the real old stuff. I found Bukka Whiteís National. Thatís the guitar that I play on the record. I was listening to Jack Owen and the way he was playing the National or his acoustic guitar reminded me of the Indian classical music as far as the droning and the continuity of the whole thing. There was one section of his that just kind of flowed back and forth and that bridged the gap for me between the Delta blues and Indian classical music.
Arlene: What playing technique did you implement to achieve the sitar like sound that you had on the National?
Derek Trucks: The same technique I always use. Just finger picking with my right hand. It was just one of those moments when youíre hearing something in your head, and you find a way to make it come out through your instrument.
Arlene: I understand that you have a special fascination with acoustic instruments and their unique tones.
Derek Trucks: Yeah. I would really like to be able to do more of that on the road. Itís really difficult, especially the venues that you play, and usually the crowd will come out and expect an electric setting. But I would like to explore that more. Especially when youíre practicing and playing by yourself, the acoustic instrumentsÖ You can really hear the tones much better. You can hear what itís all about. Itís very hard for me to practice with an electric guitar. It doesnít feel the same.
Arlene: Do you practice more often on an acoustic guitar rather than an electric?
Derek Trucks: Well, I usually practice on my electric guitar because thatís the instrument that Iím going to be playing live. When Iím writing, itís usually acoustic.
Arlene: What acoustic guitars do you play?
Derek Trucks: I play the National that I played on the record, and I recently got a Martin. Itís a newer Martin. Theyíre great sounding guitars.
Arlene: What years are they from?
Derek Trucks: The National is from 1936.
Arlene: It has a wonderful sound to it, almost a chimey ring sound to it and it resonates beautifully.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, that guitar definitely has got its own little thing to it. When I first got it, being such a classic model and being originally owned by Bukka White, I was scared to play it for awhile! [Laughs] The Martin is brand new, probably a í99.
Arlene: For you creatively speaking and as a guitar player, do you see certain universal similarities in the blues and Eastern Indian music, specifically in a creative, spiritual, and emotional sense?
Derek Trucks: I definitely do in the Delta Blues and pure blues. To me, thereís a big distinction between the real thing and what it has turned into. Younger musicians growing up in the suburbs trying to play and imitate the music of people living on plantationsÖ.Itís hard to recreate that. You can take the essence of it but I donít think you should try to act like youíre one in the same. The genuine stuff is no different than any other music in the world, because every music has its time. Itís the same with jazz in Harlem in the í40s and í50s and the Delta Blues and the Chicago blues. It all has a definite moment.
Arlene: A certain watershed point in time where it marks the cultural, historical, and political times and impact of whatís going on.
Derek Trucks: Exactly. Itís all a mirror of whatís going on. When you try to take just one element of music and then recreate the whole thing, itís a lost cause. You canít just take the words and the chord changes without living a life and decide thatís who you are. You have to be totally honest with what youíre doing, but I do think you owe it to the people that youíre taking your music from, to keep their music alive.
Arlene: What motivated you to first start playing and become a musician at nine years old?
Derek Trucks: It was pretty random for me. I got a guitar at a garage sale because there was nothing else there interesting to me! [Laughs] It was a really cheap acoustic guitar. I donít even know the name of it. I didnít think about it much or have much of a desire to play before then. And it even took a long time beforeÖ even after I was on the road playing that I decided thatís what I wanted to do. It just came pretty natural in the beginning. When youíre nine or ten or eleven, you just do things that feel right and thatís that. I didnít give much thought to it.
Arlene: Youíve been around musicians all of your life, who play all kinds of instruments. What made you specifically decide to play the guitar professionally?
Derek Trucks: Itís just kind of the first instrument that I picked up. Since then Iíve tried to get proficient on a few different instruments but that seems to be the only one thatís working so far! [Laughs]
Arlene: Who are your main musical influences?
Derek Trucks: In the beginning it was Duane Allman and Elmore James. Duane was the one that I heard first that really struck me on a level other than just music as entertainment, music as wall paper. He was the first one that struck me on a different level where it made you feel and think different things.
Arlene: Right, the history was there and the depth, emotion, and spirituality.
Derek Trucks: Exactly. Later on, I learned that he was listening to the same things. He was really heavy into Coltrane, Robert Johnson and Indian classical and he was starting to open it up and bridge all of that. Then for me, it was Elmore James, and from there it was a lot of the other blues artists, Howliní Wolf, Bobby Bland, and B.B. King.
Arlene: I saw you perform at a little club when you were just eleven years old as a regular in the local Florida music scene. I think at that time your band was called Derek and The Dominators? When did you assemble your first band and decide to play professionally?
Derek Trucks: I think I was nine, maybe ten. It was pretty early, and we did it locally around the state and the southeast for a long time. Then one thing led to another.
Arlene: How have The Allman Brothers Band served as mentors to you through the years?
Derek Trucks: It was mainly their musical influence more than really being around them. I was definitely moved by their music, especially the early stuff.
Arlene: When and how did you start touring with them?
Derek Trucks: Well, Iíve been sitting in with them since I was eleven or twelve maybe. It was just a matter of nature taking its course. I think they would have been uncomfortable with a thirteen year old in the band, so I had to wait! [Laughs] I would sit in and play two or three songs if I was around.
Arlene: How did you find the time and creative energy to tour with them in the last year or so and record their current release Peakiní At The Beacon while still remaining true to The Derek Trucks Band?
Derek Trucks: It was a situation where I couldnít pass up the opportunity to play with them. They were a big reason that I started playing in the first place, so it was just something that I couldnít pass up. Everyone in my band has put so much time and blood, sweat and tears into it that itís something I canít let dissolve either. So you just do what you know you have to do. Hopefully, I will be playing with my band for thirty plus years. It was just realizing that opportunities donít always come and you have to take them when they do. Oh, I also got the call from Phil Lesh, and I squeezed that tour in there too! [Laughs]
Arlene: Constant touring has always been a very vital part of your career. What steps do you take to keep your playing and performances fresh on such an often grueling schedule?
Derek Trucks: For me, listening and trying to keep it new every night, trying to approach everything differently every night and always realizing that thereís a thousand miles to go musically. Thereís so many musicians that are light years ahead of where I am that I realize that itís always a forward moving thing. You can never just rest on what youíre doing. Also doing a lot of reading, keeping your mind moving too really helps.
Arlene: Tell me about your current 2001 tour. Howís that going?
Derek Trucks: Weíre kind of putting it together now. Weíll have about a week and a half off, and I think a few of the guys are going to come down here and weíre going to get together and write and work on some tunes. Then weíre heading out with Eric Johnson for about a month and a half, so that should be an interesting tour.
Arlene: What about your many creative side projects, such as playing slide guitar on the Frogwingsí Croakiní At Toadís?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, that was something that my uncle [Butch Trucks] put together. I got a chance to play with Oteil and Jimmy again. Oteilís brother Kofi is now playing with my band. It was really my first chance to play on the road with him as well. It was definitely a great opportunity.
Arlene: As a songwriter, what about your compositional process, is that usually on acoustic guitar?
Derek Trucks: When Iím trying to hear new things itís usually on the acoustic guitar. It can happen at any time, while youíre playing the organ or the piano, the drums or whatever. Something gets in your head and you try to get it out where other people can hear it and play it with you.
Arlene: Is there anything in particular that inspires your songwriting process?
Derek Trucks: It can be anything. Listening to somebody new. It can be taking a long walk. It can be a million things.
Arlene: What guitars do you use in the studio and for the live setting?
Derek Trucks: Usually just the Gibson SG that I use now. I play it pretty much all of the time.
Arlene: What gear, rig, amps, and setup do you use in the studio and live?
Derek Trucks: For my group I use a 1964 Fender Super Reverb. Itís like a little combo amp, and thatís all that I use. I plug straight into that. Iíve never been one for too many effects.
Arlene: Playing both traditionalist Western and Eastern music styles, do you find yourself playing more vintage instruments from both cultures?
Derek Trucks: Yes. Iím always drawn to the vintage sound much more. Our group carries a Hammond B3 on the road and all vintage equipment. Thatís always what strikes me.
Arlene: What vintage equipment do you use?
Derek Trucks: The B3 is probably from the late í50s or í60s and standard equipmentÖ.an old clavinet from the í70s which has strings and pickups underneath. Itís an instrument that Stevie Wonder used a lot. I hope we can get our next record out really soon because itís a bit of a brand new band now with Kofi Burbridge and our new singer Javier Colon.
Arlene: Are you working on the new album right now?
Derek Trucks: Yeah! Well weíre kind of in limbo with our record company. Weíre waiting. We have a record that we already finished, but itís been so long that weíll probably record another one before we release it. [Editorís Note: The Derek Trucks Band album referred to here by Derek is Soul Serenade, released in 2003].
Arlene: Can you elaborate on how improvisation and experimentation are an integral element of your playing and your band?
Derek Trucks: Essentially, what weíre trying to do is have different songs be a launching pad for improvisation to where everybodyís listening in and keying in on each other. The ability to have conversations, to carry on a dialogue with the other musicians onstage, playing and sparring off of one another is what weíre trying to do, and itís a very important thing. Thatís what makes bands stay together, playing music for a long period of time. Itís that creative spark. When youíre only concerned with writing a tune and getting it on the radio and selling records, you can only carry that so far. You get bored with it.
Arlene: What elements do you creatively draw from as you play and perform?
Derek Trucks: A lot of times itís the other guys onstage. Iím lucky enough to have everyone onstage just beÖ Theyíre amazing musicians. I learn so much from them all the time, especially onstage. Theyíll pull things out that really keep me practicing, moving, trying to keep up.
Arlene: Who are the current members of your band?
Derek Trucks: Itís Yonrico Scott on drums, Todd Smallie on bass, Kofi Burbridge on flute and keys, and Javier Colon on vocals.
Arlene: How do each of them compliment you, and you them, creatively and in improvisation?
Derek Trucks: Itís definitely a nice mix because Kofi grew up classically trained and is essentially a straight ahead player. Yonrico grew up in Detroit with the gospel church scene and ended up doing Broadway. Iím coming from more of a blues, roots background. Javierís got the whole Latin thing going on and adding him has been a nice change. It incorporates the World thing more authentically than before.
Arlene: How did you develop your premier slide playing technique, and can you detail it?
Derek Trucks: Iíve been doing that since I was nine. Thatís when I started playing, so I think it feels the most natural to me.
Arlene: What slides do you use and which ones do you feel have the brightest, richest tone?
Derek Trucks: I use a Coricidin bottle. I have a few of Duaneís that Gregg and Red Dog have given me, so I play those.
Arlene: Do they still make them? I heard that they were hard to find.
Derek Trucks: They have copies that they make, but you canít get the real thing anymore. You have to look for them.
Arlene: Yeah! I heard the originals werenít actually musical instruments. It was actually a cold pill bottle!
Derek Trucks: Yeah! Coricidin medicine. You can still buy Coricidin but it comes in a box now! [Laughs]
Arlene: What slide players influenced you?
Derek Trucks: Duane, Elmore, and Bukka White. Actually, I donít listen to a whole lot of guitar players. Usually theyíre horn players or vocalists.
Arlene: Which ones influenced you?
Derek Trucks: Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, John Gilmore, who was Sun Raís tenor saxophone player, Cannonball Adderley. Thereís so many horn players. Vocalists, a lot of gospel singersÖ.Mahalia [Jackson]. Actually, a lot of the other slide players that I listen to are gospel slide players.ÖAubrey Ghent, he plays the lap steel, and itís kind of the lead voice in the church. He plays in a small Baptist church in Central Florida . When he plays, youíd swear itís a woman singing. Itís pretty amazing.
Arlene: Youíve performed with many multi-styled artistsÖ.Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, and Phish. How did these creative collaborations come about, and how have these creative experiences influenced you?
Derek Trucks: It usually has come about by being on a show with these artists and getting a chance to sit in with them. But people like John Lee Hooker have been a huge influence the whole time. Heís definitely one of the last of the real deal, him and B.B. King and a few others.
Arlene: At only twenty one years old now, you have a full decade behind you to inform you artistically. How do you continually, creatively push yourself, and what roads do you hope to explore in the future as a guitarist and with your band?
Derek Trucks: Being on the road, listening and playing for over half my lifeÖ.It feels like it only just started. I feel so far behind musically in a lot of ways, and so I think that keeps you moving, pushing yourself.
Arlene: What other creative projects do you plan on working on or recording in the future?
Derek Trucks: The next thing that I want to do is get in the studio with the new band and record a new record, plus thereís the one that we already finished that weíre waiting on.
Arlene: Are you doing more songwriting?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, Iím working on it. I havenít lately. Sometimes it just happens in spurts. With songwriting, itís usually about confidence in your songwriting, and so it comes
and goes! [Laughs]
Arlene: Many of todayís younger artists are pop or electronica artists, downplaying true musicianship. Yet you continually study and evolve as a crafted musician, embracing the great traditionalist music forms and history. How much of a challenge has it been for you to forge ahead staying true to pure musical roots, craftsmanship, and integrity?
Derek Trucks: I donít think that itís very difficult. Thereís always been a fine line between people that are interested in playing music and people that are interested in being a star and being a big part of the music businessÖ.dealing with that madness. I donít think itís difficult to overcome if youíre not concerned with it. You have to realize that itís never been easy. Genuine music has never been easy or necessarily popular. When Charlie Parker was playing, and Miles, Coltrane, they were playing in fifty seater clubs making no money. All the great music has come out of that, and it makes it easier realizing that to keep you on your path. It always makes you feel that youíre doing the right thing. When you look at that and then when you look at a lot of the early blues artists jumping on trains to get from town to town, you realize how easy it is no matter how difficult you may think it is.
Arlene: Think about people like Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and they were lucky if they had food money.
Derek Trucks: Exactly. And that music is timeless. Itís going to be around forever. So if you realize that, then the rest just falls into place.
By: Arlene R. Weiss Copyright 2001-2014 All Rights Reserved
[Edited on 7/29/2014 by ArleneWeiss]
[Edited on 11/3/2014 by ArleneWeiss]
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