Double Trucking pays for Allman Brothers member
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Even more rarely does the same kid, at age 13 and regularly gigging with The Allman Brothers Band, form a world-music-influenced jazz-blues band made up of cats 10 and 20 years his senior that eventually gets signed by Columbia Records by his 21st birthday.
The chances of our prodigious young axman also being asked to permanently join The Allman Brothers Band at age 19? You'd have a better chance of hearing "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" on your car radio during afternoon H-1 traffic.
But such is the semi-charmed life story of 23-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., guitarist extraordinaire Derek Trucks. Trucks and his aptly named Derek Trucks Band are headlining a trio of Hawai'i performances this weekend as part of the Rhythm & Blues Mele 2003. The live shows are in support of DTB's 2002 Columbia debut "Joyful Noise," an accomplished sonic jambalaya of Southern-style blues and soul, jazz fusion, world music and tasty country-rock.
Recorded before the band in addition to Trucks, bassist Todd Smallie, drummer/percussionist Yonrico Scott and keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge hired newest member Mike Mattison to handle lead vocal chores last May, "Joyful Noise" wears its musical eclecticism proudly with funky guest leads from Solomon Burke, Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, Rubén Blades and Susan Tedeschi.
(Tedeschi, the Billboard blues chart-topping vocalist/guitarist whose smoldering 1998 debut "Just Won't Burn" gained her an out-of-nowhere Best New Artist Grammy nomination, is also Trucks' wife and the mother of their year-old son Charles Kahlil Trucks.)
Much to Trucks' amusement, the category-defying DTB has been called everything from a jam band (a la The Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead) to a world-music collective with rock leanings. Here in Hawai'i, the band is headlining its umpteenth R&B fest. But Trucks preferred to classify DTB's oeuvre, at least thus far, as "world soul music."
"It's all music that's somewhat devotional, in one sense. But it's all soul-based, roots-based music, you know?" said Trucks, his pleasant, aw-shucks voice and demeanor carrying a barely detectable teaspoon of gentlemanly Southern charm.
His definition of devotional soul?
"It's when somebody's not just playing through the changes (but) laying their emotion out where you can really feel their vulnerability through their instrument," said Trucks. "When you listen to Otis Redding or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, you come away with the same thing from both. And our music is soul-driven."
An amazingly gifted guitar improvisationalist with an awe-inspiring slide, Trucks' soul has been steered by a deep passion for music ever since that fateful garage sale.
Learning the craft
"We were playing a show down in Miami where they were recording, and Greg, Warren and Butch came out and sat in with the band I was playing with," recalled Trucks, matter-of-factly, of one significant day in his 11th year of life. "After that, I got an invite to come and sit with them."
The "Greg, Warren and Butch" in question were the duly impressed trio of Greg Allman, Warren Haynes and Derek's uncle, Butch Trucks. The "they" in question were The Allman Brothers Band, of whom all three were members. Derek with his musician father's blessing had already been sitting in and hitting the road with a handful of Jacksonville blues bands for a couple of years, having learned much of his craft listening to Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Bobby "Blue" Bland axman Wayne Bennett, and the late Duane Allman.
After that initial Miami gig, Derek sat in with the Allman Brothers whenever both found themselves in the same town. Already a familiar face with Florida-area Allman Brothers fans and the leader of an early DTB lineup for six years, Derek was asked to join the legendary rock band full time at age 19. He agreed on the condition that he wouldn't have to leave DTB, which was already gaining its own notoriety for accomplished live performances.
"For me, it was really the first music I was ever conscious of hearing," Trucks said of The Allman Brothers. "I had sat in with them quite a bit, but I'd always sit in on the same one or two songs. I'd never got a chance to really play the tunes I wanted to play with them 'Elizabeth Reed,' 'Dreams,' 'Blue Sky' and all the great tunes where I could really stretch out on and say something."
The invitation to join was an honor, but "I don't think I would've done it if it would've been one or the other," said Trucks by way of explaining his devotion to DTB. "Everyone had invested so much time and energy, and so much of their lives, into what we were doing. I wasn't really willing to just say, 'Thanks for the three or four years! I gotta go!' "
Trucks is currently The Allman's right stage lead, slide and acoustic slide guitarist to Haynes' almost-similar left-stage duties.
Derek Trucks barely skipped a beat when asked to compare the experience of playing with both bands.
"With the Allman Brothers, it's like a fast moving train. You have to just get in and go with it. There's so much energy and sound coming off stage that you really have to, I don't want to say force it, but you have to be a little more aggressive. With my band, I feel there's more subtlety for me. I can bring everything down around what I'm doing and take my time that way."
Trucks insisted he didn't prefer one experience over the other, and always attempts to keep both tribes satisfied when scheduling the separate touring schedules that combined keep him on the road more than 300 nights a year. Still, it's clear that Trucks holds a special fondness for his own musical creation.
"I think that for this band as with any great band or great musician the goal has to be purely musical and not career-oriented," said Trucks, explaining why even signing up DTB with a major label like Columbia gave him some initial apprehension. "When groundbreaking records are made, 90 percent of the time ... it's for musical reasons and not the thought of how many records are gonna be sold or what talk shows you're gonna be on. The goal has to be deeper than that musically."
DTB's "Joyful Noise" hasn't sold as much as prestigious Columbia peers like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but the CD's near-unanimous critical praise has kept a consistent buzz tailing the band's touring schedule.
"I really didn't have any expectations for (the CD) so, for me, it's doing what it's supposed to do," said Trucks, laughing. "It's done well, and I think it has a lot of legs. A lot of the music is unique enough and timeless enough where it can last for a little while."
Searching out inspiration
Listening to Trucks excitedly tick off his ever-growing list of musical influences is a lot like listening to a pimply-faced pre-teen gush over his most recent comic book acquisitions.
"I've been listening to Glenn Gould, the classical pianist, a lot lately. He's done so much amazing stuff," said Trucks. "Wayne Shorter's early Blue Note stuff and his last two or three records have been amazing, too."
You can add to that list the Indian classical music and qawwali vocals that impressed Trucks early in his career, and more recently the Indian classical mandolin of Shrinivas and tenor sax of Sun Ra sideman John Gilmore. Trucks' bandmates recently introduced him to some early Cuban and more recent Afro-Cuban music styles.
"At the stage I'm at musically right now, I feel like it's fuel for a musician," Trucks said of his fascination with absorbing new musical influences as fast he can gather them. "If the inspiration isn't right in front of you all the time, sometimes you have to search it out, throw on a great record and let it take over."
Derek Trucks on ...
... playing in a band with as much well-documented internal turmoil as The Allman Brothers Band:
"I try to remain pretty neutral in the dramatic situations. I wasn't put here for that. ... I'm not too worried about the career and ego clashes. If there's something that (I) really need to stand for, that's one thing. But I try to pick my battles wisely."
... lessons learned from the Allmans:
"You definitely realize that you can stay around if the music is pure enough or powerful enough. With a band like the Allmans where it's not about image, per se, but more about the music being played as long as you focus on that, you can keep it rolling."
... what's wrong with the music industry:
"It's the same thing that's wrong with most industries or anything today: It's just purely profit-driven. There's no real consideration for the long term and the damage done to society by putting out pathetic music all the time. You're inundating young minds with trivial thoughts. Because people spend so much time watching television and listening to music, I think it's really key to the growth of the human mind that there be great music out there. The arts are a big part of people's lives."
... the advantages of being married to a fellow musician:
"It definitely helps because you don't have one person at home dreaming up what it's like to be on the road and making it more than it really is. If you're out there, you know the daily grind and that it's not all the glamour that people crank it up to be."
... wife Susan Tedeschi's musicianship:
"I don't know what it is with her. I don't know if it's admiration. It's more of a mystery. I don't really know where those notes come from. Her voice kind of surprises me sometimes because I know what she listens to and I know the way she thinks. And it doesn't all add up. (Laughs.)
... the chances of Tedeschi joining him on stage in Hawai'i:
"It depends on how needy the baby is. (Laughs.) If she's around ... she usually gets on stage."