Derek Trucks Q&A: on Jamming With Legends and Covering Dylan

"Playing with Clapton and Santana makes you step away from your own work and judge it harder"

By |

Derek Trucks might be the luckiest dude in rock. The guitarist is a few months shy of his 30th birthday and already he's been playing with the Allman Brothers for a generation. His uncle, Butch Trucks, is the band's founding drummer, but the group is a family enterprise built on talent rather than nepotism. The guitar wunderkind — it's almost too tempting to call him Duane Allman reincarnated — jammed with Buddy Guy before his 13th birthday, has been nominated for Grammys, befriended Eric Clapton and married singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi. On Already Free, his sixth studio album as the driving force behind the Derek Trucks Band, Trucks' prodigiousness shows signs of mellowing. Recorded in his new home studio, Trucks' playing on the solid blues-rock disc is tasteful, truncated and reliably deep in the pocket. Rolling Stone's Brian Braiker recently called up Trucks, who was in Atlanta rehearsing with the Allmans, to discuss the new album, married life and a couple of jazz giants.

Tell me about the new album.
I'm excited about it. This one feels different than the others. I think part of it is that when you build a studio yourself from the ground up with your own hands, with family, you feel like you birthed the whole thing. It's in our backyard, it just feels organic. It was nice to be able to wake up in the morning and drive the kids to school and hit the studio and write.

The album definitely sounds different — the songs are more concise, there are fewer expansive solos, it's more mature sounding.
A lot had gone on between records, a lot of maturing as a human being, being around great musicians. Playing with Willie Weeks, Clapton and Santana and even being around the Allman Brothers makes you step away from your own work when you're recording it and judge it harder — the chord changes, the content, everything. It was also nice to not focus on a guitar record. I think this one was much more song- and feel-oriented. I've always been pushed in the other direction of doing more guitar records because that's supposedly what people want to hear. When I see someone live I want it to be expansive but with a studio ideally I want to hear the birth of ideas and the sound and not necessarily extended soloing.

Your wife sings on this record. Do you guys work well together or do you get on each others' nerves?
It's a nice situation. We're both bandleaders in our own right and both pretty stubborn people but we work pretty well together. We haven't done a record completely together yet so I don't know how that'll work. [Laughs] We write pretty well together. The studio is a new thing for us so I'm excited to expand on that and see what can happen. I think we can do a really great record together. It would be really nice to spend four, five, six months and keep writing till we have some great tunes. I am hoping we can do it by 2010, 2011.

You play a Dylan song here, "Down in the Flood." Do you have a special approach to covering someone like him?
I don't know if it's naivety or being stubborn, but when I hear a tune like that it doesn't always register with me who wrote the tune. I don't think of it as "You better be careful doing this song." It's similar to when I did Coltrane tunes on the first record. If you approach a tune and you're doing it out of a love of the song and what you think you can bring to it, it's generally safe. But there are a handful of songs that were done so perfectly its blasphemy.

Like what?
A Love Supreme. If you're going to do that, have a different approach or be on your A game that day.

Speaking of Coltrane, you played on the last record by his pianist, McCoy Tyner. How was that?
That was amazing. He's the last member of that quartet. I've seen McCoy at the Blue Note a few times. He's still an unbelievable player. Before I did the record I went by his apartment and hung out with him. Obviously he didn't know much of my music or where I come from, so he was just feeling it out. It was an honor to be in the room with him, much less record with him.

Anyone you want to play with who you haven't yet?
B.B. King is high on the list. I got to meet him a handful of times. My wife has sat in with him a number of times, but I haven't made it onto the stage yet. Wayne Shorter is another that comes to mind, either to play with or converse with. I am fascinated with his solos and the way he thinks. You know that statement "You never want to meet your idols?" I think that's mostly true but there are a handful of them that you come out of it feeling better than you did before. It was that way with Willie Nelson and even B.B. King. You feel they're such gracious human beings. Those guys after a show will meet with hundreds of fans. After 60, 70 years of doing it, it's fascinating. I put Wayne in that category.

What are you listening to now?
I've been on such a vinyl kick lately that I've been listening back a lot, a lot of Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone records. Part of that is having built a studio. I've been listening to a lot of great albums, great records, as opposed to great performances. Also stuff my parents raised me on like early Joni Mitchell records. Someone recently gave me a Johnny Jenkins record called Ton Ton Macoute! — it's basically the Allman Brothers with Johnny Jenkins. It's just a funky record. I think the sample from that Beck song "Loser" came from "I Walk on Guilded Slippers," which my uncle played on. Which is funny. I've been digging into Eddie Hinton recently too.

This is your sixth album. You were playing with the Allman Brothers before you were 20, you're married to Susan Tedeschi, you've jammed with Clapton and Santana. You're not even 30 yet. Basically, I hate you.
[Laughs] It's been a long road but sometimes when I do get a chance to stop and look back, you feel amazingly fortunate. We've worked hard as a band but so much of it is about being at the right place at the right time.