Derek Trucks on What He Learned From Allman Brothers - Rolling Stone
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Derek Trucks on What He Learned From Allman Brothers

Guitarist talks new Tedeschi Trucks Band LP, chemistry with Warren Haynes and why Allmans never made final studio album

Derek TrucksDerek Trucks

"It's a different level of stress," says Trucks of his post–Allman Brothers working life.

Harmony Gerber/Getty

“There was a spirit and reverence they brought to it,” Derek Trucks said in a recent interview, marking the one-year anniversary of his final performance with the Allman Brothers Band, at New York’s Beacon Theater on October 28th, 2014. “I hoped it would be that way,” the guitarist went on, “but I didn’t know how it would turn out. People have a tendency — you let your ego get in the way of the big moments,” he adds, laughing.

“That night everybody got out of the way,” Trucks said, with gratitude and pride evident even over the phone from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. The group’s suriving original members — singer-organist Gregg Allman, drummer Jaimoe and Derek’s uncle, drummer Butch Trucks — “were all thinking about those first days in Jacksonville when they formed the band. I could see my uncle between sets — you could see the wheels turning. It was all in the right spirit. That night was one of the few times you got off stage and feel, ‘That’s how it was supposed to go down.'”

Trucks, 36, was speaking for a story, also featuring fellow Allmans guitarist Warren Haynes, in the current issue of Rolling Stone about their respective lives since the end of that band. Like Haynes, Trucks was talking between gigs — after an extensive summer tour with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the R&B big band he co-leads with his wife, singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi; on the verge of a TTB spectacular at the recent Lockn’ Festival in Virginia, honoring the 45th anniversary of Joe Cocker’s historic Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour; and a few weeks before TTB’s own two-weekend run at the Beacon, now a fall tradition in New York City. The Tedeschi Trucks Band has also signed a new deal with Concord Records and completed their debut for the label, Let Me Get By, out early next year.

“I was watching that movie the other day,” Trucks said of the Mad Dogs & Englishmen documentary, fimed on that 1970 tour. “It was kind of the end — maybe the peak, the remnants — of the hippie movement. They did all the drugs, had all the sex, all the fun,” Trucks noted, with another laugh. “And it spun Cocker out for a bit. That tour wore his ass out.”

So when does Trucks relax now, with so much on his itinerary, even without the Allmans?

“That’s a good question,” he replied cheerfully. “There’ll probably be a few days off after the Beacon.” He paused, as if catching his breath. “But then we gear up and head overseas. Mixing the new record, touring, playing — it’s all work.” But after the Allmans, Trucks concedes, “It’s a different level of stress. It’s lower most of the time.”

Do you have more or less time off since the Allmans ended?
In some ways, it’s really close. There is so much going on. But the ability to focus has been really nice — just not having to think about that dynamic, changing hats musically. The Mad Dogs thing — that was a one-off. Outside of that, it’s been nice between touring and working on the record, to keep that in your head at all times.

How would you characterize the new album?
It’s more adventurous sonically and in some of the places it goes musically. It’s more of an extension of what we were doing with my solo group but evolved in a different group. I heard the record for the first time last night, with everything mixed, and I feel like I can see everybody — everybody’s personality in the band — a lot more [laughs]. It feels like hanging on the tour bus.

Was there a point when you wondered if a band that size was economically feasible?
The first few years, it was certainly touch and go. Me and Susan are pretty stubborn — musically, idealistically. “Whatever! It’ll be fine.” But there was defnitely a time when we really had to think about it. It was like going back a decade or so, the early days with the solo band, where everyone makes a living but you.

Did you and Susan have to take out a second mortgage, for instance, to keep the tour bus rolling?
It was right on the edge. But it worked. The momentum for the group caught just in time. Another year or two in the same place — it might have been tough, with hard decisions. We just added a 12th member, and we went out this summer for the first time with our own PA and production. As it builds, you put that energy and cash back into it. You’re feeding the beast.

When did you come to the conclusion — for yourself, Susan and your family — that it was time to leave the Allmans? You and Warren announced your departures together in January 2014, but he said it had a long gestation.
When I was out playing with Eric Clapton in ’06, that was the first time I sat down with the band and said, “This is going to be my last [Allmans] tour.  I want to focus on my solo band.” I was trying to find a way out that was comfortable with everybody, because it’s family and friendships. Not that I felt leaving would slow the train down. But when the momentum is there, you don’t want to rock the boat too much. I basically gave my notice a few times. And the family loyalty pulls you back in.

Me and Warren had talked quite a bit. He didn’t want to reinvent the band again. So if I was going, he was gonna go too. That factored in to me hanging around. I didn’t want to push him.

How much of your decision to go involved work load, like the time and energy that went into the Beacon residencies each year? And how much of it was about the room left to grow in the band?
Honestly, for me, it was a lot more than that, especially since the band wasn’t in the mode of writing tunes or interested in making records. I love that [classic] material as much as anyone on earth. But I knew you can only do it so many times and feel like you’re making a statement. That’s one of the reasons I put my Derek Trucks Band aside [in 2010]. It wasn’t out of gas yet, but I could feel it coming. I could feel my interest waning.

Warren said that he felt there was half of a new Allmans studio album in the works, in terms of material he had and songs already in live rotation. The problem was getting it past the concept, to something concrete.
A few of the guys just weren’t into making records with the Allman Brothers. My uncle would always say, “This is a live band.” He hated being in the studio. And I get that. But the Allman Brothers made some great studio records. To me, the one big missed opportunity with that [last] incarnation was not making another record. Hittin’ the Note [released in 2003] was good, but there was a better record in there. Having a studio in my backyard where we could have easily recorded the band — between me and Warren, we would have crushed an Allman Brothers record. It only takes time. Get people down here, writing, focused. You have to be mentally into it. And it never came to pass.

“Between me and Warren, we would have crushed an Allman Brothers record.”

What did you take away from your Allman Brothers experience that has influenced the way you and Susan run your band now?
There were some things the Allmans did conceptually that were forward-thinking and high concept. Any of the music the band performed live — it was communal. It wasn’t like because this guy’s been here longer, he gets a different share. Those things, without a doubt, they did not have to do. It was very much in the spirit of the way the music was made. 

Tedeschi Trucks

Even when the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award came up [in 2012], they insisted that me, Warren, [percussionist] Marc Quiñones and [bassist] Oteil Burbridge be included, which was an incredibly gracious thing to do. There’s a way you think things should be, and there’s a way the music industry does it. And they are pretty far apart. I’ve always been of that mindset — when you’re writing tunes with people, there’s a traditional way of chopping things up, and then there’s the way that feels right. If people contribute, you hit ’em accordingly.

The other part I took away was the things you don’t do — just the grudges and the saga with [original guitarist] Dickey Betts, the lack of communication at times. Susan and I have been really forward with our band. When things come up, you deal with them. However uncomfortable that is, let’s have this discussion right now.

Why do you think you and Warren connected so profoundly, as soloists and partners, in your time with the Allmans? There was quite a gap in your ages.
The first time I met Warren was when they were making Seven Turns, the [1990] reunion album. I was 9 or 10, down in south Florida playing this bar called Tropics International. Gregg, Warren and [then–Allmans bassist] Allen Woody came and sat in. I remember it because there was this great photo taken. The stage was above a bar, so there’s all these liquor bottles at your feet. My grandparents hung that picture in their living room, but they put a piece of paper over the liquor bottles because they were super-conservative. I always thought that was funny.

Warren and I dove into the Allman Brothers gig at different times, but we both dove into it pretty hard and headfirst. There was so much love and respect for the Duane parts, the Dickey parts, the whole history. That was a pretty big book that we absorbed, and we lived it for awhile. He was there for several years before I joined; then I was there before he rejoined. But having known him since I was 9 or 10, there was enough respect and trust already. It took a few years for us to work through having both played the same role and having to relearn it. But once that settled in, it got really good. There were a handful of years where you didn’t have to think about it at all.

When the Tedeschi Trucks Band does their fall Beacon weekends now, is that your way of keeping the Allmans spring residencies alive in your own way?
It certainly is. It feels like home — and a new tradition. But it’s firmly rooted in that [Allmans] time. You feel those moments and the way it resonates. And for me, the sixth-floor dressing room was where I was, always, for 15 years. My wife and son came up when he was seven days old. The kids have been in those dressing rooms since they were babies. It’s a way to mark time — every time I come up to the Beacon dressing room.


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