DEREK TRUCKS: FROM ONE ERA TO ANOTHER

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Derek Trucks says goodbye to one legend and continues to hone his own.

By Steve Houk

From what I hear, it was one helluva way to go out.

The road had almost gone on forever, but to everything, there is a season. The Allman Brothers Band had been basically going full steam ahead for 45 years, with a few typically acrimonius and disruptive Allman Bros pit stops along the way. But from their debut record in 1969 all the way up to their final show at the Beacon Theater in New York this past October 28th, it had been one of the great tenures in rock and roll history. And now, it was time to walk away with a dignity and grace that befit a band like theirs, while they still could.

They had decided before the last show to have no guest players, something they had done basically every Beacon show prior. They wanted just family on stage. Maybe only one guy had the name Allman, but there were true brothers everywhere you looked onstage that night, boys who became men together, bidding a fond farewell to the only band some of them had ever known.

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The final Allman Bros. lineup after just finishing their last show ever, Beacon Theater, NYC, 10/28/14

 

And one of them, who had been around this clan for his entire life, all the way from his early childhood to standing on that stage that night at 35, was Derek Trucks. Whereas his real Uncle Butch, his adopted Uncle Gregg or drummer Jaimoe had been there since their early twenties, Derek had been part of this thing since he was old enough to teeter, stand and walk, not crawl, around the stage. He began to dazzle Allman Brothers audiences on the slide guitar when he was barely a tween, and since officially joining the band in 1999, had became a revered mainstay in the family business, a true and loyal member of Southern rock royalty. And damn if it didn’t all wrap up exactly the way he and the rest of the family wanted it to.

“In true Allman Brothers fashion, it didn’t get there cleanly,” Trucks said with a hearty laugh from the road where his Tedeschi Trucks Band is, again, ready to begin another tour. “It was just a cluster f–k all year, like somebody saying one thing, somebody leaking another, it’s just like, what is wrong with you people? But the last handful of shows really were about as good as I could have hoped for, or better. The last two shows were special, and the last one especially was. I mean, it was everything you would plan it to be if you could. So yeah, in the end, it did what it was supposed to do and I wouldn’t change any of that. That’s a heavy legacy to uphold, and there’s no reason to let it end on another note. The last show being Duane’s, kinda the ‘anniversary,’ it felt right.”

But as the Allman Brothers slowly ride off southbound into the red orange sunset of rock immortality, Derek Trucks is galloping furiously along, full stride, his new band of brothers (and a sister, er, wife) alongside, going the other way. In fact, right now he’s at the pinnacle of his own career and is arguably the Allman Brother that is poised for the most ongoing success. The band he started with wife Susan Tedeschi only five years ago has become a force to be reckoned with in top clubs, theaters and festivals across the world, with Trucks’ now trademark slide guitar mastery continuing to dazzle accompanied by his wife’s ever-stronger blues-soaked vocals, and an absolutely killer band.

I mean just this month, Bob Dylan personally requested Derek and Susan to play one of his songs at Dylan’s MusicCares tribute, even though, as Trucks said,  they were poised to take some much needed time off. “We talked about really blocking out time and not wavering from it, and that was one of the calls we got, and they’re like, ‘They’re doing this Dylan tribute’ and I said, ‘Well that’d be great but…’ and they’re like, ‘Well, Dylan requested you and Susan to do this specific tune,’ and I was like, well how do we…there’s no way to not do that! Some things…you just got to do.  Beyond that, it’s an honor to even be in the conversation, and the fact that it came from him makes it doubly so.” Trucks clearly arrived a long time ago, but you know you’ve really made it when that happens.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band prepares to hit the road for yet another tour. (courtesy Mark Seliger)

The Tedeschi Trucks Band prepares to hit the road for yet another tour. (courtesy Mark Seliger)

Yes, The TTB is conquering the world, but all good comes to those who wait. Trucks knows better than anyone that seasoning yourself on the road is what makes good bands great, and the recent time on the road together has caused his band to really gel.

“I think the band in the last year and a half, two years has really found itself,” Trucks said. “It’s found its sound, it’s just gotten better musically from show to show. It just takes time, ya know, it takes gettin’ out in front of people a handful of times, you just gotta keep doing it a high level. We’re not gonna be the type of band that’s an overnight sensation, there’s not gonna be a hit that propels the band. It takes energy and it takes hittin’ the road, it takes every night gettin’ up and delivering it, and that’s what the band likes to do. The more we hit the road and the more we dig in to new material and write tunes together and play other people’s tunes, the better it gets. It’s kinda the course it has to take to grow. We just have to get out there and beat the pavement.”

And beat it they have, spending many months globetrotting their eleven piece tribe around the world spreading the magic of the TTB sound. After a late winter to late summer US swing this year that will include a coveted main stage slot at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, they’ll go back over the pond to play Paris, London, Copenhagen and Berlin, among other European stops.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band at The Beacon Theater, NYC -  Sept 21, 2013

Writing new music is what keeps bands fresh, and the TTB is no exception. Trucks and Co. have an album’s worth of new material they’re just busting to play live, but again, patience is a virtue and those songs will see the light of day when the time is right. Timing is everything to Derek Trucks.

“I’m thinkin’ end of the year, early next year it’ll be done and out there,” Trucks said. “We’re pretty far into one right now, it kind of just happened by accident. The beauty of having a studio (at home) is when you’re down there to write tunes or rehearse the band, it can easily turn into a recording session. So that’s what we started doing and everything felt so good and was sounding good that we kinda rolled with it. There’s about ten new tunes that we’ve recorded and we’re trying to decide how many of them we want to play out. Because if it’s eight months, ten months from now before a record comes out, you don’t want to wear (people) out before the record comes out. When the album drops, you wanna be able to play these tunes as if they were just written. It’s kind of a tough thing because when you record a tune that feels really good, you wanna just play it immediately. So  we’re having to exercise a little band self-discipline by not airing out every tune on the record.”

Now that the Allman Brothers experience has ended for Trucks — “I booked a one-way ticket out,” he says, either accidentally or on purpose paraphrasing an old Brothers classic —  he wants to devote all his time to the TTB. That’s with the phone ringing alot asking him or Susan to contribute to a record. And they often pick up the phone, collaborating with the likes of Herbie Hancock, JJ Grey, Roseanne Cash and others. But Trucks just wants to focus on one thing, finally, and hopes he can make that happen all as his legend grows.

“Really for me, this being the first year without the Allman Brothers on my plate, “said Trucks, “unless it’s something (special), I mean, there are some opportunities with musicians I respect or friends or things you just can’t turn down. Outside of that I really wanna keep it to just this. I look forward to having a year where you wear one hat, and then you take it off and go home, and then you put it back on.”

And when I tell Derek Trucks to keep that ever burning rock and roll flame alive and that I’ll see him in DC in a couple weeks, he says, undoubtedly with that wide Derek Trucks smile, “Beautiful man, we will do our best. We’ll try to keep this train rollin’ down the road.”

The Tedeschi Trucks Band performs Friday and Saturday February 20th and 21st at the Warner Theater, 513 13th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, click here

Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind plus other local rock ensembles.

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