**Hittin’ the Web EXCLUSIVE**
By Kirby Woodard
This early spring the Derek Trucks Band came through Raleigh on the second leg of their tour double billing with Eric Johnson and his band. Through collaboration with the DTB’s management, Hittin’ the Web made 2 fanatics very happy by arranging an interview with the man himself, Mr. Derek Trucks! Preparation was a flurry of reading and research and most importantly (in retrospect) listening, a point Derek hit upon several times during our talk and arguably the most important part of creating good improvisational music consistently.
Lisa and I prepared ourselves with her camera and my taping gear and proceeded with our instructions for a 5 o’clock meeting behind that night’s venue in the tour bus. We were warmly received by Kelly Elder and were seated at the window in a booth. I must say I was nervous and fumbled
around a little getting my gear set up. Yonrico and Kofi were up front where we were and made us feel right at home. Not all bands are created equally, if there was an ideal group of people to make music with and to generally hang with, my impression is that the DTB surely set a high standard, it’s a first class organization of people.
Derek came out and was especially nice. We were thrilled to meet him and he put us right at ease commenting on my Oteil and the Peacemakers shirt. I want to thank Derek for his time and his help with this interview and wish him the best always.
KW- Lets start with the current tour with Eric Johnson. How has everyone enjoyed playing together, and since your styles differ so much, how does a tour like this benefit your bands?
DT– I think in a tour like this, the whole idea for us is to get in front of people that may have only heard of, if not heard the band so it’s good to get in front of different people especially with what we are trying to do.. it’s from the ground up, it’s an underground thing, it’s not based on record sales or radio so you have to get in front of as many listeners as you can, so doing tours with people like EJ, who have an established fan base is good for us. Also, both bands are very respectful of each other so it makes for an easy tour.
KW- I haven’t seen you guys since the Charlotte New Years show, I noticed a pretty good change in the bands sound with the addition of Javier, how has the bands repetoire changed with his addition?
DT– We’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of new tunes lately and write tunes on the road. As limited as our schedule is we try to write while we are in the bus. You know any time you throw in new tunes it seems to change the whole set and the way you approach everthing else, so I think that is kind of our mission the next 6 months..next year is to just start flooding the band with new tunes whether it’s originals or old covers, that really changes the bands sound and as well the more you play together the more the sound will change as well.
KW- We really enjoyed “Superstition” that night. I also have heard fans mentioning it would be nice if ya’ll covered an Earth, Wind and Fire song or something.
DT– HaHa..well you never know, you know Rico and Kofi grew up with that so Im sure it’s in there minds somewhere.
KW- Those tunes are full of really positive lyrics that seem to appeal to Javier as well.
DT– Yeah, we have a few new tunes we have just written recently that are along those lines.
KW- How do ya’ll decide on cover tunes?
DT– You know sometimes it’s just a tune that we are all listening to that feels like something that everyone would like to play or it’s something that we are trying to open ourselves up to, maybe something that we are not used to doing. A lot of time we try to avoid doing a lot of the obvious tunes too, that’s definitely always a consideration. We’ ve done more lately that are a little more obvious than most of the covers but usually it’s something that maybe only a hand full of people know of, that kinda our approach to it.
KW- Yeah man, just listening to your band has really turned me on to new stuff. I will hear something, ask about it and go buy the original version.
DT– That’s definitely the idea, a lot of it is to really open people up to the music that inspires us, whether it’s an old jazz standard, a Dextor Gordon tune, a Wes Montgomery tune or Wayne Shorter tune, or an old blues tune, so I definitely think it’s a way to pay homage to those who influence and inspire us.
KW- When ya’ll are recording, how do you decide when it’s finished?
DT– It’s usually pretty obvious which track is the one, and with us, we play so much together that when we get to the studio it usually 1st , 2nd, 3rd take. You don’t usually want to go any further than that, if we do we try to wait until the next day and not pound a tune in the ground. We try to catch something spontaneous happening. A lot of times we try to bring in tunes that are unfinished and finish them in the studio. That way you gets peoples first impression of a tune. That’s the way Miles Davis recorded the Kind of Blue record, they never really rehearsed the tunes they just went in with sketches of tunes and so when these guys were playing the tune it was there first time with that piece of music so what you are hearing is not something that has been thought about too much, it’s the musicians first impression of it too. That is where the studio can be really beneficial to the guys you are playing with.
KW- When you are doing those 2 or 3 takes on a tune for a recording, is each solo improvised differently than the last take?
DT– It’s always improvised with us. Kinda the nature of what we are doing is the same in a sense as to what the early jazz guys were doing, er in the 60’s and 50’s, it’s a different approach to that. So every time you solo you should be trying to say something maybe a little different. Inside of a tune you may want to get across a certain feeling but you don’t want to say the same thing over and over, so you’re constantly trying to reinvent it so you don’t get bored yourself.
KW- Absolutely. When you are soloing how do you think through it? Is is chord based, scale based, melody based or a combo? What is running through your head?
DT– I think it depends on what kind of tune it is, if it’s a tune with a lot of changes a lot of times you are thinking through the chords, but most of the time with me I’m just thinking melody. We went to an Indian classical school, Ali Akbar Khan teaches and he makes all the instrumentalists take the vocalist class because his thing is you should be singing through your instrument. So I think a lot of times you are thinking just pure melody and just singing through your instrument, let it be the vehicle.
KW- Very cool! You play with so many great & varied players, do you bring any of there influences back to the DTB?
DT– I think so, whether it’s on purpose or not a lot of times, you know. I’ve definitely noticed after being with the Allman Brothers for a few years Ive started incorporating others things and after the Phil Lesh tour we also started doing some new things. You know you try to pick and choose the parts that really move you from something, you know you don’t want to take all of it but I think with anyone there is something to learn… for better or worse. (laughs from Lisa and me)
KW- Well, to switch bands for a moment. I was lucky enough to catch some Beacon shows this year and was truly blown away by the performances I saw, I really thought they were some of the best ever!
DT– Very cool!
KW- With Mr.Warren Haynes back and now 2 outstanding slide players, how did you and Mr. Haynes work out the slide and chordal responsibities?
DT– I think it’s something we are still working through. You know with Dickey my role was pretty defined, I knew which role I was playing, and when Jimmy came on it was the same way because he just learned, kind of.. ..Dickey’s role and so it was very cut and dry and very easy, you know from there we definitely stretched out and tried to do different things but there wasn’t much confusion that way. When Warren came in we both kinda had to relearn everything. Hopefully this summer it will progress more and more and I think it’s good to make each one of us play outside of what we are used to playing anyway, it’s definitely good for you.
KW- Oh yeah definitely! So you and Warren kinda work it out onstage as you go with eye contact and stuff?
DT– A lot of times that’s it, yes I think the more we play together in that band the more ESP that will be involved and the less thinking there will be. At first you are just trying to..well, not necessarily get through it but there is more thought in it and you do look at each other a lot, but I think the more we play the easier it will be.
KW- Absolutely! I know ya’ll have rehrsals in NY a week before the Beacon run, did that happen this year?
DT– No, actually we rehearsed in Atlanta 2 weeks before the Beacon run. We had about a week of rehearsals in Atlanta.
KW- Im curious as to how rehearsals are organized and directed? Does everyone talk and express there thoughts on stuff and ya’ll work through it or…how does that work?
DT– I think with that band more and more, everyone is starting to speak up, you know I think for a long time in the past it was just going in one direction and everyone else would just kinda do there thing but now I think everyone is starting to speak up more. I think Gregg is starting to take more of a role as far as saying what he wants to hear and how he wants his tunes to go. And with Warren there, he is definitely not shy about talking about his tunes and you know everyone is really starting to speak up, I hear Jaimoe and Butch and Oteil and Marc and of everyone speaking up now so I think that’s definitely going to be a good thing. Then it becomes more of a band and less of… you know. When there is 1 defined leader a lot of times it kind of goes in that direction. Things change and its kinda freed up for other things. And you know with me and Warren playing together it takes time to feel that out too, so I feel like its a new learning process for the band which I think is going to be good in the long run.
KW- Do you have a favorite new tune that the ABB did this year?
DT– I thought Desdemona was a great tune, especially for Gregg, I think it’s one of those instant classics, it has that old feel, that was my favorite of the new ones.
KW- I totally agree, I really like that song, that jazz break thing in the middle is really good, you’ve got some cool quotes and stuff in there.
DT– Yea, that’s a fun one, I just think that’s a great vehicle for Gregg to do his thing, it definitely feels like something he would have written in 1969 so, it’s good to hear that again.
KW- How did you enjoy Chucks presence , have you learned from him?
DT– Oh, Chuck’s great. For me he really added probably the most to that whole experience for me beause when he came in the band had to kinda dip around him, you know everyone had to come down because you can’t be playing overtop of an electric piano, so for me it was a nice release, it brought a lot of subtlety into the whole thing. He’s a great player and especially in Jessica and those tunes it was just classic solos and everyone would just erupt. Some of my favorite moments at the Beacon run were having Chuck there. I thought it was a nice change of pace too, you because with The Allman Brothers it’s very forward sometimes and when he would come in everyone would have to back down on the throttle a second before he took off. It was great having him, I hope he comes out this summer, I’m definitely going to put the word in.
KW- Any plans to record soon?
DT– Yea, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about it. I think it all depends on whether the band will be a band for sure you know, whether it’s with Warren or whoever in place, I don’t think it would be a good idea to go in the studio unsure of what’s going on. I think in the next month or so it will all show itself. I imagine before the end of the year everyone is going to want to head in the studio and the more tunes that are written the better too so….
KW- OK so to switch gears a little, I read in another interview that you were looking for a guitar with some history to it, found one yet?
DT– I haven’t found the one yet, most of the ones with history are way too much money for me to buy right now (laughs), I think Im going to have to wait.
KW- So you are using the newer SG mostly?
DT– Yeah that and a Washburn that they just built, I kinda switch between the two. For me finding the instument that feels right and that sounds right is more important than the rest of it.
KW- What kind of a slide do you use?
DT– A coricidan bottle.
KW- Like Duane used.
DT– Yeah, and Red Dog has given me a few of Duanes. Every once in a while someone shows up on the road with an old coricidan bottle so I’m always on the hunt for those.
KW- Wow, that is really neat. So you play with some of Duane’s slides sometimes?
DT– Yeah, Yeah.
KW- That’s really cool. For the newer slide players, do you have any advice as to what to practice or how to practice? What did you practice early on?
DT– I think for me a lot of it is listening and ear training. Cause the slide, so much of it is intonation and I think that 90% of that is straight hearing it you know, you have to be able to hear when a note is in and out of tune so for me it’s mostly feel and intonation and training your ear listening to as much stuff as you can. And when you are playing just make sure that you listen to everything around you, I notice a lot of players they seem to be/get really self absorbed and they are kinda separate from what is going on around them. When you are playing music with other people you have to be very aware and very intuitive too. I think really opening your ears and being humble to it is a big step.
KW- That reminds me of something Warren said in an interview. He said that you were such a selfless musician in that when you are playing with a new group of musicians or maybe at the beginning of the night you kinda let everyone get their groove and inevitably when the time is right you just explode. Do you consciously lay back a little and make sure people are good with what’s happening before you let go?
DT– I think a lot of times especially with the music Im really into, there is a lot of suttlety and…..not space in a nothing way but where everyone is letting things breathe musically. Especially when you are dealing with 2 guitars or anything like that when there are a lot of soloists, I think everyone stepping up and trying to do it all at once is too much so I would rather just let things happen than be in the way. You are trying to make music with the whole band instead of getting up and trying to grab the spotlight, sometimes I think it is more musical not to play than to play.
KW- Most fans can recognize your sound and tone. What were the instruments and players that had most influence on your development?
DT– I think originally it was Elmore James and Duane. From there listening to horn players, singers and Indian classical players. I think a lot of times people just have a sound, whether you hear Warren or you hear Jimmy, you can pretty much tell from 1 or 2 notes who it is. That’s definitely the beauty in music in that anyone can pick up the same instrument plugged into the same amp and sound completely different.
Its really the touch and the way you attack the instrument, that is where a lot of the magic happens and somebody’s sound is hard to change a lot of times, I know I will hear something that I want to go for and just you know you sound the way you sound (laughs), much like singers sound the way they sound it’s pretty close for horn players and guitar players as well. It’s really amazing with drummers, you know you would think a stick on a drum would sound the same but you you put two different people behind the same drum kit it’s amazing how vastly different it sounds.
KW- That is interesting. Can you tell us about the trip to Malaysia last year? The band went and played at a festival with some other guitar players, did you get a chance to play with any local players?
DT– The band actually did not go to Malaysia so all the players were local musicians which was a complete trip with the language barrier and the whole thing. We sent them a disc with the tunes we wanted to play and they had them pretty much learned by the time we arrived so it was definetly a trip.
KW- What tunes did you play?
DT– We played Kickin’ Back and um Susan was there so we did some vocal tunes like Ain’t That Loving You. I don’t remember all the tunes I know we did Cissy Strut. They had a Tablas player.
KW- What’s that?
DT– It’s Indian hand drums, that was fun I want to incorporate that at some point in this band cause it is such a great sound.
KW- Ok, well here is one: If you were to get on a plane today and could go anywhere in the world and Jam where would you stop?
DT– Ha ha. Iv’e been talking about going to Fiji, I think Im going to do that at the end of the year. Me and Kelly are going to Fiji!
Kelly- Get liquored up!! ( Laughs all around.)
DT– A hut on the beach in Fiji.
KW- Ok, if you had a time machine, who would you zap yourself back to gig with?
DT– Wow that’s a tough one. pause
KW- Ok, lets do five then.
DT– If I had five I’d do allright (laughs) I would definitely want to be around the Harlem Rennaisance when Charlie Parker and all those guys were first starting to figure that thin out you know when Monk and Charlie Christian were playing together, Id of liked to have seen that. I don’t know if I would want to have played with any of these people, I’d probably be in the audience with a tape recorder.
KW- HAHA YESS!
DT– Id want to see Howlin’ Wolf and Son House playing around the plantations, I don’t know if they would have let me watch that but a fly on the wall, THAT would have been good! I have been reading a lot about the lineage of Indian classical music and it goes back 2,3,4 thousand years so I would like to see the beginnings of that.
KW- Yeah go way back!
DT– Yeah , If you have a time machine you may as well crank it up, go back more than 50 years !( laughs all around).
KW- What are you listening to on the bus in your spare time?
DT– The only 3 discs I have out with me this trip is a Mccoy Tiner record with Elvin Jones and Joe Henderson, that’s a great record I think we want to do a few of those tunes soon. A Wes Montgomery record that has a few tunes that we might throw in. And the a Ali Ack Bakan record who is a Sarod player, so those are the 3 for the trip. A lot of times I will bring out a lot of discs and and just lightly graze all of them, this time Im just gonna bring 3 and try to get inside of it.
KW- You have 3 siblings, Duane , David and Lindsey, I really dug Duane’s New Years appearance on drums, that was cool and he got he crowd really going!
DT– (Lights up at their mention and laughs)that’s right he did play new Years!
KW- Do they get out on the road with you much?
DT– Occaisionally, they used to a lot more but I think probably this summer I will kidnap David.
KW- How old is David?
DT– He’s 18, so we will bring him on the road,…if his girlfriend will let him come out (Laughs) But you know Duane and Lindsey are kind of young at this age, they would come a lot before when my father was out, but I can’t really take them yet but I definitely want the to come out in the future and see what we are doing again.
KW- Being on the road for so long have you ever forgotten anything in a hotel?
DT– (Laughs) No, but a lot of the guys do. I see stuff missing all the time. No, Ive forgotten little things like wallets, but nothing major like guitars or anything. I had a guitar stolen but nothing lost.
KW- I know we both have come to really appreciate all the people and fans that we have come to know going to shows, many of whom have become great friends. Both the ABB and DTB seemt o surround themselves with good people and good fans.
DT– Yeah I agree, that’s definitely one of the positives. I think the traveling and just the freedom in that is a big positive for me. A lot of times you hit the road for 6 weeks and there is a lot of separation and you can just go do your thing and leave a lot of the other things behind, so the freedom in traveling is great. And you know obviously learning and playing music and trying to accomplish something musically and grow as a band.
KW- Do you have any hobbies on the road or do you try to get out and see the country side while touring?
DT– If we have more than 1 day in a town we try to ssee it, especially out west when there is a lot of land to see. Me and Todd occaisionally will just go AWOL for a few days and go camping or hit a national park. That’s definitely something I’d like to do more off the road for a while, you know have some time off and go see that stuff.
KW- Future Stuff, any long or short term goals, how is the future look?
DT– It seems to change every 10 or 20 minutes (laughs). I don’t want to say immediate goals cause I think when you start setting goals in music…you know , how do you reach a goal in music? So, I think definitely what we are looking ahead to is writing a lot more tunes as a band and coming together that way and a record really soon. Hopefully we will have one finished before the end of the year, it probably will be the first of next year when we get one out. So that is the next step, a record with this band and not just a record, we want to put a lot of time into this record and a lot of thought into it so it’s just not “head into the studio, play some songs and release it” We want to put a little more into this one and have some thought behind it with what we are trying to do with it musically and what we are trying to say and kind of try to paint a picture with it.
KW- We all look forward to it, sounds like a great idea! We want to thank you for the interview and thanks for the great times, we appreciate it!!
DT– Thank you, it was good seeing you.
This interview was truly a dream come true, what a lucky rascal I am! The music of the Allman Brothers Band and the Derek Trucks Band has forever changed and improved my life. Thanks to all for 32 years of great music!
Later that night we returned to the venue to watch the boys light a fire in Raleigh. Watching the interaction this band has is incredible, ESP fills the air when they are playing and as fans we are truly lucky to have a band around that still carries the improvisational torch strong.