Trucks and the family soul
August 31, 2007
Despite his low-key and overall pleasant demeanor, Derek Trucks might not be the easiest guy to hang with. Trucks has been breathing in and absorbing music since his teens, an appetite that accounts for the enormous vocabulary expressed in his slide guitar-playing. His passions run from the 60s jazz of Miles Davis and John Coltrane to Pakistani qawwali, from old Delta blues to the vintage soul of Donny Hathaway and Jackie Wilson, and those influences are heard not only in his music, but in his everyday conversation. Talking with Trucks is bound to yield information and insights on some corner of the music world.So when Trucks made the acquaintance of singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, by hearing her fiery take on electric blues, his ears pricked up. That was definitely the first connection, listening to her do her thing, said Trucks, who first heard Tedeschi when she was opening shows in 1999 for the Allman Brothers Band, which Trucks had joined that year, as a 20-year-old. But the relationship didnt fully take off until the two guitarists had their first backstage encounter, and the subject of music came up.Theres not many women you can hang out with who know the Howling Wolf, Magic Sam, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Guitar Watson catalogs, said Trucks. That kind of sealed the deal.
Two years later, Trucks and Tedeschi were married, and the baby-making phase of their lives began soon after. A son, Charlie (named for jazz guitarist Charlie Christian), was born in 2002, and a daughter, Sophia, followed two years later. Having two young children hardly put their careers on hold: Trucks carried on as a member of the Allman Brothers and continued to establish his own Derek Trucks Band, which he has led for more than a decade, by releasing several albums and touring when the Allmans were off the road. Tedeschi eased up some on touring (though she did appear twice at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival over the last few years), and managed to release the excellent 2005 CD Hope and Desire.Naturally, the Trucks-Tedeschi relationship has included musical interaction. Tedeschi contributed to the Derek Trucks Bands 2002 album Joyful Noise; Trucks returned the favor by appearing on Hope and Desire, as well as his wifes 2002 album, Wait For Me. And there have been many occasions when the two found themselves trading licks onstage.This past spring, the couple deepened their commitment by forming a band, the Soul Stew Revival. The band is co-led by Trucks and Tedeschi, and features all of Trucks band bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott, percussionist Count Mbutu, keyboardist Kofi Burbridge and vocalist Mike Mattison as well as saxophonist Ron Holloway. The band toured much of the late spring and into midsummer, took a break while the Allmans toured, and are reuniting for a final summer show on Monday, Sept. 3, as part of the closing day of the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival. (They regroup for a few dates at the very end of the year.)Part of the inspiration behind Soul Stew Revival is familial the family that plays in a band together literally stays together. For most of the summer, the whole Trucks andTedeschi clan hit the road as a unit. And the family has been extended to include Duane Trucks, Dereks 18-year-old brother, who plays drums in the band.The other side was a chance to connect deeply on a musical level. When Susan sits in with my group or I sit in with her group, said Trucks, theres always a really interesting chemistry. Its a really unique chemistry, separate from a relationship and marriage and kids. Where shes coming from vocally and where Im coming from as a slide player, theres a naturally similar place we come from.For the last few years, Trucks and Tedeschi have seemed to converge toward even more common ground. Trucks first albums emphasized old blues and 60s jazz, but always through the filter of the slide guitar as the lead instrument. But with Joyful Noise, which featured guest singer Solomon Burke, and then the addition of Mattison, Trucks moved toward a soul sound. His last album, 2006s Songlines, was modeled after 60s vintage soul. From the other side, Tedeschi had gone from a fairly pure blues-rock style to her own soul style on Hope and Desire, which featured covers of Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, and gospel guest singers the Blind Boys of Alabama.Soul music has been a shared direction for the last few years, so in forming a band together, the two decided to keep the style rolling. The repertoire for Soul Stew Revival includes old soul tunes by Aaron Neville, Delaney & Bonnie and Stevie Wonder, and souled-up takes on songs from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the 1970 album by Eric Claptons Derek & the Dominos. (These last songs are appropriate for several reasons: Trucks has been a member of Claptons touring band for the past year, and the group has unearthed the Layla material. The guest slide player in the Dominos was the late Duane Allman, Trucks slide predecessor in the Allman Brothers. And there is the fortuitous name, Derek.)Trucks expects the Soul Stew Revival to be more than a summer fling. The first tour, he said, was the first step toward making a record with that band. It was the first shot fired.
Trucks, of course, has some other bands to attend to. Before he focuses on the Soul Stew Revival record, he plans on a new record by his own group. And in the Allman Brothers, fans have noticed Trucks taking more of a leadership role.When Trucks entered the Allmans which still includes his uncle, Butch Trucks, a founding drummer of the band it was just before Dickey Betts, a founding guitarist, was fired. There was always an undercurrent in the beginning the whole Dickey thing, he said. Then there were a lot of changes in the guitar slot.The shuffling made it difficult for Trucks to find his place in the nearly 40-year-old Southern rock institution, and doubly hard to step out front. When you first join a band like that, at 15 or 20 years old, its not the right call to push it that much, he said. You give the other guys their due. Its not that it takes awhile to sit in, but to settle into the group, and find out where you can take them. With a steady lineup, however, and a few hundred shows under his belt, he has become a leader one of many in the Allmans, he noted.Its different night to night, said Trucks, who appears with the Allmans Sunday, Sept. 2, at the Labor Day Festival. There are nights where its more weighted to me leading the band. Some nights are more Warren [Haynes, the bands other guitarist]. But its a unique band where every night someone else can lead. Its a real band dynamic. If youre having one of those nights, people let you lead.The Allmans, Trucks added, have grown along with him. He said the band is in the best shape of his eight-year tenure, rearranging songs and switching up the set each night. Trucks continued his own growth by taking a sideman job with Clapton last year.I think thats the goal, he said. Ive been around enough guys that, no matter what the age is, they keep that aim. You do see other guys who got a lot of success early and then stop growing. When youre lucky enough to be on the road with Clapton for a solid year, or with the Allmans youd be foolish not to pick their brains and have your eyes and ears wide open.Even without such mentors, its a guarantee that Trucks would expand his tastes and influences. Asked what had caught his ear lately, he rolled out the usual laundry list.A lot of Indian classical, Western classical. Avant-garde jazz Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, said Trucks. And I got on a Jackie Wilson kick recently some of the music when pop was really legitimate, and there was amazing talent. I cant say theres a lot of that going on anymore.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org