Hi all, sorry for the delay in posting. Here is a transcript from an interview that was aired on 7/19/2008 on the Forests of Fenario with the amazing Derek Trucks. Please remember that this interview is from 2008, as far as I know there are no DTB or Soul Stew shows scheduled for Portland this summer. Enjoy!
Phil G: Welcome to the Forests of Fennario, welcome to KBOO radio, and welcome to virtual Portland.
Derek Trucks: [Laughs]
PG: Where are you guys today?
DT: We’re in Boulder, Colorado, in the middle of the never ending tour but it’s going well; it’s been a good run so far.
PG: And you’ll be here Thursday with the Soul Stew Review at the Crystal Ballroom.
DT: Yeah, man, looking forward to it; the tour is really starting to get going. It’s kind of a new band; we did shows last year with a slightly different line-up; this year we have a three piece horn section. It always takes about a good week for everyone to feel each other out but the last three or four shows have been really strong so by the time we get to Portland it should be full on.
PG: The horn section is new for the last week? Or have you been with the horn section for a bit?
DT: They did the New Years shows with us the last two or three years at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta but we’ve never had them on the road so they’ve been out full-time for about six or seven shows now.
PG: Do the horn players actually show up for sound check? They’re notorious for that…
DT: Yeah, we make ‘em work [laughs]
PG: Right on. For folks who are familiar with the Derek Trucks Band, this is the Soul Stew Review; so this is a little different than the 6 piece group. This is what, ten pieces, eleven pieces?
DT: Yeah, this is eleven. My younger brother, Duane Trucks is also playing drums, so we have two drummers. Count M’Butu is still playing percussion, [there’s a] three piece horn section and, obviously, my wife Susan [Tedeschi] so it’s a full stage.
PG: A lot of sound and, I imagine, a lot of opportunities for improvisation?
DT: Oh yeah. And when it gets going it has that thing that the Allman Brothers rhythm section has where it’s just a train; it can’t be stopped once it gets going. It’s a lot of fun; it started as an excuse for me and Susan to hit the road in the summer with the kids and it’s turned into a full-fledged band that is starting to, I think, make really legitimate music.
PG: For folks who aren’t familiar with you and what you do, I know a little about your background; as I mentioned when you first called we’ve met each other many times. The first time I saw you play was at a NAMM show in Anaheim, California, for a company called Washburn and I think you were sixteen at the time and the host told everybody your SAT score, which were quite impressive, by the way, folks; you have a musical lineage in your genes, your uncle plays drums, was one of the original drummers with the Allman Brothers Band. How did you get into playing guitar, what were your early influences, and what inspired you to pick that up instead of the drums like your brother and your uncle?
DT: I wasn’t around that scene at all growing up, I mean, the music was always in my house but I wasn’t around those guys at all. It was really listening to the [Allman Brothers band at] The Fillmore East and the Derek and the Dominoes records and it was, I think, the sound of the slide guitar that interested me first. So, when I started playing at around nine years old that’s what I wanted to hear when I played so that’s what I went for.
PG: So, one day you said, “Dad, I want to play guitar or mom, I want to play guitar? Or was there a guitar there and you picked it up?
DT: [Inaudible] There was maybe a five dollar guitar there and one thing led to another and then I was sitting in with local blues bands at nine years old and started travelling with them on the weekends and then by eleven or twelve years old put a band together and started hitting the road pretty solid; not full time ‘cause, y’know, there was elementary school and things [laughs] to balance with touring. The rhythm section of this band has been together since I was fourteen so it’s been a long, long crazy road.
PG: Your career is one of a story book; you’re playing with legendary bands, you’re playing with Eric Clapton, you’re playing with the Allman Brothers. There are folks who have said, if Duane Allman had lived, you’re kind of what he would have evolved in to. How does this kind of thing happen, do people just call and say, hey man we hear you’re a great slide player, or do you actively seek this stuff out, like playing with Eric, for example. Tell us how that happens.
DT: It’s all really strangely fallen into place; the Eric thing was really random. Doyle Bramhall, who also plays guitar, has been playing with Eric for the last eight years. Eric was looking for a third guitar player for a tour and Doyle just threw my name in the hat. I had never met Doyle; the first meeting with him was on the JJ Cale/Clapton record. I just got a phone call from Eric; somebody had passed along my cell phone to him. I got a call and I didn’t recognize the number so I just let it go to voice mail and [laughs] check your voice mail and you have a message from Eric Clapton who I met once briefly when I was young but not enough where he would remember me. So, it was, you know, a surprising call to get.
The Allman Brothers was the same way; I’d sat in with them over the years but I never expected that the guitar chair would open up again. I think I was eighteen at the time. Luckily for me, they’ve always been; the gigs where I’m a sideman have always been gigs where I love the music and I can jump into it with both feet and not feel like I was not playing the music I really wanted to play so I’ve been fortunate that way.
PG: You’re kinda part of this southeastern United States guitar mafia; you, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, all you fellas from the southeast. Is there something about the water down there or what that is building these amazing guitar players?
DT: With me and Jimmy, and Warren; I’ve known both of those guys since maybe I was eleven or twelve and playing with them since then. I think everybody in that area was kinda raised on the same music; everybody was raised on the same records that I was kinda weaned on. Then you have that deep tradition of Otis Redding and James Brown; a lot of great American music came out of five or six states in the southeast so I think that simmering in that for a number of years has something to do with it.
PG: Is there any chance you’re ever gonna get in front of a microphone?
DT: You never know, man, stranger things have happened [laughs]. You know, being married to a world class singer doesn’t make me want to get in front of a microphone, though. She can cover that.
PG: I noticed when I first experienced the Soul Stew [pause] I’m sorry; its Revival not Review, right? Or is it Review?
DT: It’s Revival.
PG: You guys played the Portland Zoo last year; it was a wonderful show and the Zoo is as good a place in this area as you could ever hope to see a concert; all I could think of was Delaney and Bonnie and Friends; it just happened over and over in my head. Do you guys get that comparison a lot?
DT: Yeah and you know the first year that we did that tour that was one of the influences for sure. Just coming off of the Clapton tour I was in the headspace; when I first started doing that gig I started listening back to his early stuff and the Delaney and Bonnie stuff was definitely high on the list of my favorite stuff that he did; that and the Dominoes and the Cream stuff. So, I was listening to that music quite a bit and so was Susan, so we decided to break out a few tunes from that catalog and it became an early template for the band.
PG: You have... Well, I don’t know if the Eric Clapton thing is still current in your life but, for the sake of this discussion, you have the Eric Clapton project, you have the Allman Brothers project, you have the Derek Trucks Band project, you have the Soul Stew Revival project; how is your approach to the guitar, to what you’re going to play, and how you’re going to sound, how you’re gonna shape your tone, how is it going to change for you? That’s kind of a vague question, I know, but do you get where I’m coming from?
DT: Yeah. A lot of times it can be from song to song but there is definitely a different approach and, when you’re jumping from gig to gig; obviously with your own band you’re leading the charge quite a bit more your approach will be different. With the Allman Brothers it’s somewhere in the middle; there’s times where you lead and times where you let other guys in the band lead; it’s much more…it’s much more in the middle. In the Clapton band, you know, it’s his group; you’re adding when you can but you’re very much in the sideman role, so it’s good for you; it makes you learn how to be just an accompanist at times and it makes you learn how to be a band leader at times; you have to be a musical director at times. With the Allman Brothers it’s kind of a combination of all of those things; there’s times where you step aside and you let Greg lead the band, there’s times when you step aside and it’s Warren’s thing, and there’s times where you have to step up and, you know, lead the charge. It’s a great learning experience to have all of those different roles.
PG: How does that shape your approach to your tone? Are you using the same gear whether it’s DTB or ABB or Soul Stew?
DT: The Allman Brothers are a lot louder so I have to use a different rig with them. When there’s more guitar players on stage you definitely have to alter your tone; when there’s only one guitar player and one drummer you can have a little fuller sound but there’s other times where you really need to just cut through everything going on so you definitely have to adjust.
PG: So, for you, is that just fingers? Or are you just guitar, cable amp, or…
DT: Yeah, it’s small tweaks but usually in your hands; usually just your attack and your approach to it. The more people on stage, the more you have to really dig in when you wanna be heard.
PG: As I mentioned, you’re playing with some of the best in the business. Jimmy Herring once told me that playing with Oteil Burbridge is kind of like water skiing; you just grab the tow rope and hold on for dear life…
PG: Is Kofi [Burbridge] as much of a monster as his brother?
DT: Yeah, in a different way but for sure; those guys are both just total masters; two of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. With Oteil being a bass player, a lot of times when I’m soloing with him in the band, he instinctively goes where I’m going next; if I take an odd turn he’s right on the case and then other times he can lead it without it feeling like you’re being pushed in a direction you don’t want to go in. It’s great playing with him and Kofi’s the same way where his ears are just so big and his musical knowledge so you can throw anything at him and he’s right there with it and with a curve ball to throw right back at you so it keeps you on your toes.
PG: A lot of folks have asked me, “Derek Trucks, what’s the Grateful Dead and Friends connection?” I said, “Well, Derek played with Phil Lesh; you did some stuff with Phil & Friends, what, 6 or 7 years ago, now? It’s been a while.”
DT: Yeah, I think it was ’99-2000 when [Steve] Kimock split Phil & Friends; I got a call from Phil to do maybe 15 or 20 shows. He got introduced to my playing through a mutual friend who had given him this record we did called “Out of the Madness” where it was me and Jimmy Herring. Jimmy played on three or four tracks on our record and I was doing the Allman Brothers so I couldn’t do the Phil thing full time and I remember, on the last day, he was asking me; he’s like, “this other guy on the record, Jimmy Herring, do you think he’d be a good fit for the gig?” and I was, like “yeah, here’s his number [laughs]; I think he’s your man.” So it all fell into place through somebody giving Phil that record; I got the gig through it and Phil asking me about Jimmy, that was that initial connection. It lead to, I think, quite a bit of things; Jimmy did the Phil gig for quite a while and the Dead later on. I wish I would have had a chance to play with Phil and friends with me and Jimmy; I think that would’ve been a lot of fun, I mean, I sat in quite a few times but there’s nothing like being on the road for a few weeks and having to learn a hundred tunes together.
PG: Oteil [Burbridge] told me a story once about the three of you; you, Jimmy, and him, when you were in the Allmans and Jimmy was playing [in the band] as well. You got to this place in the jam where you were all de-tuning your instruments and just playing them as if they were [still] tuned regular; you just kinda did that until Gregg [Allman] had, well, a little bit of trouble with that…
PG: Oteil said that was all a result of [playing with] Colonel Bruce Hampton.
DT: Y’know, the Colonel’s responsible for a lot of musicians in our circle being slightly damaged [laughs] in the most beautiful sense.
PG: Could you talk about that a little more?
DT: In a way, I feel like Colonel is kind of the farm system for the whole new jam scene; there’s so many musicians who came through him and he introduced a lot of musicians to the right music at the right time. He really is kind of a godfather of that whole movement that was going on in the early to mid nineties, Everybody; the guys from Phish, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Widespread, obviously, and everybody that came through the A.R.U, which is Oteil, Jimmy Herring, and Jeff Sipe, and we were doing shows, my band, was doing shows with the Colonel at twelve years old so a lot of the music that I got turned onto early was through him. Whenever me, Jimmy, and Oteil get together and play there’s always that risk of us, um, detuning and [laughs] taking it as far as we can. I remember that specific show that Oteil was talking about; it was a blast. Afterwards, I remember Gregg was a little bit unsure about it and he went to the back of the bus and it was kind of an awkward moment. And then he came back up and he was, like, “you know, me and my brother used to go round and round about that, you guys play whatever you want.” [Laughs] He went to the back of the tour bus and then he remembered Duane busting his chops about that thirty-five years ago and he came up and gave us free reign again so we ran with it.
PG: Is that where stuff like “Instrumental Illness” comes from and things like that?
DT: No, less so. I think instrumental illness was, that was a tune that Warren [Haynes] came up with initially and I think Oteil added a few parts but the Colonel influence is a little more free than that, I would say.
PG: Ok, I have a couple more questions and I know you’ve got to get going. You’re playing Thursday night (7/24) at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland [Or] with the Soul Stew Revival; what should folks expect who are saying, “Hey what’s this Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi thing? I mean, I know Susan from her blues-rock stuff and I know Derek from the Allmans but what am I gonna see?”
DT: You know, it’s a pretty amazing band. Taking myself out of the equation there’s just a boatload of talent onstage; you have Susan, who is, for my money, one of the best vocalists on the planet now doing it and then you have a band of total pros that can go in any direction. You throw a horn section on it and everything else; there’s a lot of room for fireworks and…I mean, we see a lot of bands; we’re on the road constantly and I don’t see many that have the potential that this group does. It’s a lot of fun and it’s just starting to get its own legs and become its own thing so it’s an exciting time for the group. We will continue to do our own thing; Susan will go out and do her tours and I will, as well but I think this is something that we’ll always come back to and we’ll make a few records and see where it goes. It’s at that stage now where it’s just turning into what it’s gonna be.
PG: You mention that you like to do this in summer because you like to take the kids out. You and Susan have two kids, right?
PG: Have they started picking up instruments yet?
DT: Yeah, a little bit. They’re into everything; they’re six and three so it’s hard to know what’s gonna stick but they have the brain for it. They’re surrounded with it. If they decide to do it, they will have a head start, for sure.
PG: In some cases, nepotism is a good thing, right?
DT: Yeah, but it only carries you so far. But it doesn’t hurt [laughs].
PG: All right, so, last question for you, Derek, and that is: Let’s look at your resume. Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, Eric Clapton, your own thing; you’ve played with some of the greatest names that there are. What is your unfulfilled goal, your unfulfilled dream today? What is something that you can’t wait to do that you haven’t done yet?
DT: There’s quite a few things. We just finished building a great studio behind our house and we have some really nice, vintage, recording gear out there and I really want to get into making great records. We just finished our first record, my group did, that we produced ourselves and recorded ourselves. I really think there’s a vacuum, especially in this scene…
PG: Is that “Songlines?”
DT: No, no, it’s unreleased. It’ll be out in January. We have no title, yet. We just finished mixing it up at Electric Lady Studios, in New York. I really feel there’s a vacuum of really, well, talented musicians making really great records. I mean, there’s people out there making good records but it’s usually not the bands that are great live and I feel like a lot of the great live bands somehow haven’t figured out how to bridge that gap between making a great record and playing a great show. I think that bands like the Allman Brothers, early on, were great at that; they have a handful of records that stand up against anything. And then you have guys like Hendrix; you know, there was a while when you had great live artists that also made great records and I’d like to at least try to do something in that realm. Up to now, it’s always been recording live in the studio and just trying to capture that instead of using the studio as a separate medium and really digging in, so that’s gonna be the next few years, trying to create, write tunes, and make a few great records.
PG: Derek, we certainly look forward to seeing you next Thursday, the 24th, at the Crystal Ballroom. There’s a band called Scrap-o-matic, opening for you, correct?
DT: Yeah, it’s Mike Madison, the lead vocalist in our group. He has a duo; sometimes full band but mostly duo and they’re out on the road with us, too. That’s been a lot of fun.
PG: Excellent. Well, we look forward to it. I really want to thank you for taking time from your schedule. I’m sure that whatever comes out next from ya we’ll be playing it on KBOO and we can’t wait to hear it. If you want to check out something really good, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, and the Soul Stew Revival next Thursday at the Crystal Ballroom. Derek, thanks so much for spending time with us today and I hope you have a great show tonight.
DT: Thank you man, I look forward to seeing you