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Derek Trucks Lets the Hype Slide


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Derek Trucks lets the hype slide

Much-praised young guitarist transcends showbiz trappings and musical boundaries


Derek Trucks has been called the finest guitarist of his generation, but the bottleneck slide master knows music isn't about who's No. 1.

"You want to be able to step up and play with anybody on the planet; I think that's healthy," says Trucks, who traded licks with Eric Clapton as an invited guest on Clapton's 2006-07 world tour. But straight-up competition? No way.

"Music isn't sports," Trucks says. "It's supposed to be a higher art form."

The pony-tailed Floridian, who exudes a Zen-like calm on the phone as well as on the concert stage, brings his Derek Trucks Band to town Tuesday for a gig at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

The nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, Derek Trucks grew up steeped in blues and rock. He began sitting in with the Allmans at age 11 and has been an official member since 1999.

But as the leader of his own band, Trucks has transcended musical boundaries. He has studied South Asian devotional music and Latin rhythms, and his band performed last year at the Detroit International Jazz Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

"I think with our band at this point it all feels pretty natural," Trucks says. "It doesn't feel like a stretch to do a Coltrane quartet tune or a qawwali tune. It's all music we've lived with for a long time."

Trucks says it took some time to grow into the role of bandleader. By the mid-'90s, he had already found an experienced rhythm section of bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Yonrico Scott, who is nearly 30 years his elder.

"As I've grown older and I've been around these guys longer, I feel much more comfortable taking a direct leadership role," he says. "You can't do it at 14 when you're playing with guys 30, 35. It just doesn't make sense."

Over the years, the band has expanded into a versatile sextet, with keyboardist-flutist Kofi Burbridge, percussionist Count M'Butu and lead singer Mike Mattison.

With two successful bands and two school-age kids back home, Trucks hasn't always found it easy to balance everything, especially considering that his wife of eight years, singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, is also a busy touring performer.

To simplify things, he built a studio at his home outside Jacksonville, Fla. New CD "Already Free," released in January, was his first project at the new studio, and Trucks says the homey environment brought a new feeling to the recording process.

"Between all the different bands and the constant touring, it was just nice to be home," he says. "I could let my guard down for the first time in a long time and really just relax and enjoy being with my family and enjoy being home and also be productive at the same time."

With Trucks working for the first time as his own producer, the songs started to flow, many written with Mattison or old friends like Doyle Bramhall II, who coproduced four of the tracks. Wife Tedeschi sings lead on "Back Where I Started" and chimes in on harmonies elsewhere.

"It really got into a great routine. I would drive my kids to school in the morning, and we'd write a tune in the morning, hammer it out till about midday and then start tracking it," he says. "What I really enjoy about this record when I hear it is all the ideas were captured right at that first moment. It's the birth of the song that you're hearing."

While some earlier records have veered from jazz to Indian to Latin to blues, "Already Free" is a comfortable mix of blues, gospel, soul and laid-back rock 'n' roll. It opens with a version of Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood," a song from the first great home recording, "The Basement Tapes."

Trucks' status as one of the elite guitarists on the scene today was underscored last month when Carlos Santana joined the band for 30 minutes of fiery guitar interplay at the Grand Ballroom in San Francisco.

Trucks, who turns 30 Monday, already has outlived many of the guitar heroes of a previous generation, men like Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix. While on tour with Clapton, he took in the older man's stories about these men and the other rock casualties of the previous generation. It's a fate he intends to avoid.

"Sometimes the biggest lessons you learn are life choices," he says. "You actually want to be around to tell the tale. There's a romantic thing about going out when you're blazing and peaking, but I think I'd rather be around for the swan song."

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Improvisation gives Derek Trucks Band an edge

Susan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

Go to a Derek Trucks gig and you'll see a slide guitar whiz who slips into a zone where nothing seems to exist outside of his guitar, sweat-soaked flannel shirt and the music.

At last year's Detroit International Jazz Festival, Trucks and his band played as the sun set and a blue twilight descended on Campus Martius Park, a time the French call l'heure bleu. He was so lost in his music, playing fluid, gorgeous slide guitar with an unmistakable tone, that he appeared not to notice.

"You notice," Trucks insists. "Those are the best times to play outdoor shows, right when it's getting dark, that magic hour. I think it draws everybody in, you kind of feel the attention focus up from the whole audience and the band. Some of the best sets I've ever been a part of are during that time."

Trucks, who performs at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Tuesday, has been part of some incredible sets in his 29 years on the planet. (He turns 30 on Monday).

At 20, he joined the Allman Brothers (his uncle Butch is the drummer), standing in the shoes of the late guitar legend Duane Allman. He also tours with Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana, all the while keeping his own Derek Trucks Band percolating.

Somehow he managed to fit in marriage to singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and two children, Charlie Khalil, 7, and Sophia Naima, 5.

"For the most part if I'm home, she's touring or if she's home, I'm touring," Trucks says of his family arrangements. "It's finding time for all four of us to see each other; that's the rub." He's calling from a tour stop in California, and, despite his serious on-stage demeanor, in conversation Trucks' laugh is always just below the surface.

The guitarist is touring with his band to support a new album, "Almost Free," recorded in his new home studio in Jacksonville. The album is much like the band's live set, an earthy mix of blues, jazz and Indian sounds.

"I wasn't really planning to do a record but I wanted to experiment, get sounds and really learn how to use all the gear, learn the room," he says. "I thought, we're not going to say we're doing a record, but I'm going to imagine that we are."

He didn't tell the record company or management that they were recording, so there were no bosses hovering nearby with timetables. Trucks served as producer.

"We did it without talking to the record company or management, just sort of tracking and doing it. It was nice, there were no outside forces, no pressure. It happened because we wanted it to happen, not because we were under some schedule or time restraint. It's the only time I've ever done that. It was definitely the most enjoyable recording experience I've been a part of."

Trucks' guitar playing has a bluesy/soulful sound that defies description. That he's currently on a Sly Stone and Bobby Womack kick in his personal listening is no surprise.

But the Indian influence is one of the most intriguing threads in his music. When he's in the San Francisco area, he occasionally sits in classes at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, and he plays the sarod, an Indian stringed instrument. On the new album, he's playing sarod on the lead line on the track "Back Where I Started" he did with wife Tedescho.

Trucks' guitar technique is of particular interest to guitar geeks. As a child prodigy on guitar, Trucks developed an idiosyncratic technique; he hand-picks and always uses an open E tuning, both while playing slide and regular guitar.

After concerts, if Trucks finds himself out in the open, the guitarophiles will descend upon him. Why doesn't he run?

He laughs. "I'll answer the tuning question, but I try not to get into those discussions too much. It really distracts from the whole point, which is trying to communicate a feeling or a sound or an emotion. The technique gets in the way, unless you're teaching. Even then, I've found that I learn most from people just from listening to them, or watching them live their life.

"People think if they just get the right gear or setup, it will all magically come together," Trucks says. "But when you think about those early blues guys, they were taking the metal off a broomstick, hammering it to a wall, playing with a Mason jar. It's really inspiration first and whatever you have around, you make do with."

With the Allman Brothers, Trucks has come into his own, not worrying so much about copying the late Duane Allman's leads exactly.

"Maybe in the beginning I did, in certain situations you might be a little more true to the originals. But 10 years in, the band and the crowd kind of expect you to do your own thing," he says. "The music is pretty wide open, too. That's the beauty of it and why a band like this can still be playing on a high level, there's so much improvisation. They were always stretching the boundaries."

The gritty, soulful Allman Brothers had a long and storied history with Detroit audiences, and now Trucks does, too. He's noticed the bond. "There's a weird connection between Detroit and the South, it's that working mentality. I think we feel at home there," he says.

He's anxious to experience that "edge" again after being on the West Coast for a string of dates.

"I'm excited to get back because for a long time Detroit has been one of the three or four cities that has supported the band. From the very beginning, when we were doing the Magic Bag, it was one of the first venues we would consistently sell out. The audience was always just rowdy enough. Our drummer Rico is from Detroit, too, and he always loves getting back home. I'm ready to get back."

swhitall@detnews.com (313) 222-2156

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See them this Wednesday :).

First noticed him when I saw the Allman Brothers 2003 DVD, he and Warren Haynes are just amazing one leads. More than worthy to be in the best guitar band ever.

I do wish he would change his guitar, style, or tone sometimes though. I don't particularly prefer his tone, at least not all the time. But I commend him for not trying to just duplicate what Duane sounded like, he has made his own unique sound.

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I just saw him tonight and it was so great! Was an awesome surprise when Susan Tedeschi joined the stage , I wasn't expecting that! I think she is gradually becoming my favourite singer. Man, what a voice.

All I can say is, GREAT band, and GREAT show.

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I just saw him tonight and it was so great! Was an awesome surprise when Susan Tedeschi joined the stage , I wasn't expecting that! I think she is gradually becoming my favourite singer. Man, what a voice.

All I can say is, GREAT band, and GREAT show.

:D So happy you enjoyed it!!! I hope to catch him live at some point as well. What a cool treat to have Susan join him on stage!!!!!

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Thats a good sign, I really hope Susan joins them on Wednesday. She has a great voice for that type of music and she can really play the guitar too (seen the Crossroads 2007 dvd?)

Yeah I have both of the Crossroads DVDs. I'm not a huge fan of her guitar playing, but it is pretty good. I have tix to see her in TO on July 3rd, maybe Derek will join her there too!

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