A Conversation with Derek Trucks- by Scott T. Horowitz
Derek Trucks - Wanee Music Festival - Saturday April 21st
What goes through your head as far as deciding how to choose which songs from which shows get put on the live album?
Once a band hits a certain stride, you get that thought - "i want to capture this NOW". With that band, probably for the 2 or 3 months leading up to the live record, it just kept getting better and better; and I felt like i didn't want to miss that window because its still really new. Everybody is starting to get their sea legs with the new thing and finding their place and getting more confident. The songs are just starting to break open, so its really just a feel thing. Especially with a band this big, and trying to an operation on the road and just make things work - you really have to think around the corner. 6 months out, a year out - as soon as i felt we were close, i started planning for a live record.
As far as the material, you just kind of roll with it. What's really been hitting lately, you want to make sure you play those tunes enough to capture some great versions. Throughout that tour we kind of tweaked the setlist a little bit. If we got what i thought was a definitive version of a tune we would play it a few more times and if i felt like it wasn't getting better then maybe we'd try some other things. There was a handful of tunes i knew i wanted the record to be based around: Learn How To Love, Midnight in Harlem, Bound For Glory
"Bound For Glory" was great yesterday.
..Yeah. The first truly great version of that is the one that we put on the record. It was in Washington DC. It was the first time we really turned Kofi loose and he just took a monster B3 Clavinet solo. It was just one of those moments where everything lined up at that moment. The crowd was gettin' it and it was Kofi & Oteil's hometown - They were just riding it. It was pretty amazing. You don't want to over think it - but you still are aware of whats going on; so being conscious that we're recording the whole time, right when his solo was over I remember thinking "That was so good i hope the rest of the song doesn't train wreck somewhere" but it just kept soaring. I think that's the one moment of that tour where when we finished the tune i remember immediately thinking "That mother fucker is on the record." And everybody knows and feels it when everything is lining up…I knew after we played toronto that we had a great live record, so everything from there was just icing. The next night was DC - it got a little bit better, and the last show of the tour was Bridgeport, CT.
Bridgeport was a sold-out show but there just had a huge snowstorm like a blizzard and half the city was shutdown with no power. The roads were closed. There was talk about canceling the show an hour and a half before the gig. They decided we'll wait and see who shows up. It was about 60% house - just people couldn't make it. We decided Let's play..The tour is kind of over, we've got the live record, are we doing the show? not sure - it was just a real loose night. Also, it was the 40th anniversary of Duane Allman's Death so we threw in a few things we had never done with this band like "Soul Serenade" and i think we did "Stand Back" that night and a few other things. It was just a really loose vibe - like playing in your backyard, and we ended up using some stuff from that night.
It was a special night. I was glad that night was captured. It was fun digging through the stuff - It gave me a new perspective of the band. When you're on stage its hard to hear it for what it is - you're so overly critical when you're on stage…at least I am. So, being able to step back and hear the band made me appreciate what's great about it.
I notice that you don't just direct what's happening musically on stage, but rather you provide the space for whoever is ready to shine at any given moment. With a band that has so many star players, how do you make sure to feature the whole of each part that makes up the whole?
That's the beauty of this band. Everybody in the group is a mature player. Everybody really listens and everybody is really aware. When somebody is playing, all the focus is there. Everyone is trying to make whatever's happening great and not fit it into some box of what its supposed to be. If Kebbi is taking a solo he can go wherever he wants to go and Oteil and Kofi and everyone has big enough ears to be able to follow so its Great. JJ is a really sensitive drummer that way. He's really ultra aware and never overdoes it. He's got all of that in reserve but he really listens first and he plays for the song first. He's a real in the moment player. For those guys who are all chops Its more about getting in what you want to say and less about just being in it. With this band its like hyper-sensitive in the best moments, which is when the real music happens. A lot of times, and everybody falls into this rut but, you'll be playing - whether its in rehearsal, or writing, or one night on the road - and you'll just hit something that's magic and then you try to recreate it every night and go back to the same well. And i think with this band we're getting more and more comfortable just kind of waiting for that to be in a different place every night. You go less to the bag of tricks and more to the headspace of: i'm confident there's enough creativity and musicality on the stage that we don't have to force it. The peak can be in a different spot every night. it can be in a different song every night. That's a fun spot to be.
You've been a part of The Allman Brothers band for the last 10+ years. How does your relation to that band affect to your relation with the Tedeschi Trucks Band?
I've wanted to do a project with Susan for a long time but we really wanted to make sure the timing was right for a thousand reasons but sometimes being patient is the key and it really fell into place when it needed to. This band and what its becoming and what its growing into is really a natural extension of the Allman Brothers and that whole thing they started - The spirit of it. The spirit of what it was supposed to be about in the beginning. What it was and what it spawned. And the musicality - the seriousness of it. You know, its supposed to be uplifting. Music is supposed to be medicine. Its supposed to sooth you. Its supposed to do all of these things. It takes you high and low. Its human expression. Its not supposed to be something that you're overly worried about marketing or boxing in. I feel like with this band we're in a really fortunate place where we're able to bring a group this big along with us. You always want to do something like this but its impossible at certain stages - you just can't make it work.
So many great players in your band and also there are so many great songwriters in your band. What is the approach for songwriting - lyrically for you guys?
When you write things lyrically you try to get a point across but you try to leave a lot of space between the lines. You try to leave room for interpretation. Mike is really great about that. He's a great lyricist. everybody we wrote with on the last record is super talented. The last 2 or 3 records I got more and more involved in the lyrical side of things. Most of the time when we write its 2 or 3 of us in a room and its all hands on deck and everybody is involved in all aspects of it. Somebody will have an idea to start and everyone is chiming in. Either there's a lyrical idea and that starts a tune or there's a groove or chordal movement and thats how it starts. If it starts with the music first you kind of go down that road a little bit and get it to a certain skeletal spot and then you stop and say "what are we trying to say with this? whats the sentiment?" usually theres just an over arching theme you start with and then ideas start rolling. Its pretty wide open. Everybody throws out lines. If something sticks it sticks. If something gets too far out of bounds you're like that's great - write it down for something else.
Will a song start before the lyrics start? Will a song ever start with the sentiment?
A lot of times that is the way it will start. Like "Don't let me Slide". Gary Louis flew into Jacksoville. I picked him up from the hotel and he was like "I woke up this morning with this one line in my head - 'you make me want to wake up in the morning'". Immediately we just started riffing on that, it was just lyrical. And the whole concept was - help me not get too dark or too far away. And it just starts there and then we write music to it. But when its right, it writes itself. If you have to labor too much sometimes you just have to put it to bed and come back to it.
When this band started, you and Susan left both of your solo bands' songs by the curb. Recently, you've been performing songs from your solo catalogs. Why did you initially put those songs on the back burner and when did it hit you that those are songs deserving to be played?
It hit me a month or two ago. I knew when we put this band together - I had my band for 16 years and Susan has been doing her thing for as long - I knew when we did something knew…You have to take a good year or two and just separate the new thing from that or its just not going to dawn on people that this is not just a side project. We had to make a break, musically, with what we had been doing. So we intentionally did very few tunes from the previous groups - at a certain point we didn't do any. Just a few months ago i started thinking…We're starting to write for a new record and i'm thinking about tunes to add. It dawned on me that i think we've firmly established that this is something else at this point. I felt confident and comfortable going back to, you know, re-looking at all these tunes. Because some of them we didn't play a lot and some of them are just great tunes you want to play. Susan and I had a talk like you know, we spent 20 years of our lives writing and creating this music - we should be playing it. Some of it needs to be heard and its great hearing it with a different setup but its still Kofi and Mike fro my band and Tyler from Susan's band. There's no reason to shun it or shy away from it. Its kind of a new phase of the band where we've established its a new group and a new thing but its also firmly in the tradition of what we've been doing. Its a more comfortable place to be where i don't feel like we have to over think and over prove; its not this or its not that. Now we can just play. The band is confident and its just a good place to be where we can just show up and play the music we want to play and outside of that - fuck it.
It seems like in the late 60s something happened consciously. Musically, Culturally…The result of it are bands like Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers - and the people that compose them. Some people got it and some people didn't get it despite their success.
…and sprinkle in fame and money and ego and madness and, you know..sometimes the point gets lost. But when someone like Levon Helm passes, or Hubert Sumlin, or some of these Greats. You start reflecting on what they were and what they meant…what they are and what they mean. And you realize that they lived it. They just did it. They didn't preach about it. They didn't talk about it. Because Levon was here the world is a better place - period. Everywhere he went the weight he left behind was just light and positive. Everytime i saw him i would leave feeling better about things. Its inspiring being around people like that. Same with Hubert Sumlin, he was one of the sweetest people on earth. They were really similar in spirit. I think that's what its about. That's all you can do personally - well its not all you can do…but its a huge thing of it. If you can show up and be a positive force…Me and Oteil were talking yesterday. We got done playing and you see Phil (Lesh) and the guys watching us on the side of the stage getting off. Then you see them get up and play and you know you inspired them to play a little bit better. Its just a positive. Everyone wins.
Guys like Levon Helm lived it. And people like you can see it and are carrying the torch. Do you think we as a people are experiencing a return to what it was originally supposed to be about? Since you are able to share your music and your self with thousands of people ready to receive something like it, do you see your self as having a role in it?
Shit, i have kids. I'm very much living in it. I read the local news every time I'm in. Its a crazy time to be alive. There's a lot of darkness right now. There's a sense of hopelessness. Whether its jobs, or the culture being shit, or TV, music. People don't have pride in where they work because everything is a franchise or corporate owned - there's no love of what you do. I think when you see that around you it makes you feel sad for the state of things but it also makes you really appreciate that what we're doing is…its a really blessed place to be where you can put everything you have, all of your energy, into your work and it helps people. Its a positive. Its a pretty amazing thing. When you see how fucked up it is everywhere it makes you want to do that more and do it better, and i DO think it matters. I think when there's a ray of light, when there's hope - whether its music or any form of art or just finding work that you believe in. People just need a thread to hold on to. In your darkest hour you just need one thing where you're like "THAT i believe in". That's really all people need and i feel like there are so many people who don't have any of that. And all the threads lead to the same place - this sense of worth and 'why am i here?' but i feel music is a really unique conduit for that. Its one of the few things where its not zero-sum. Its not this side wins and that side loses. You can show up at a venue and the band plays. The band feels great. The crowd leaves feeling great. The promoter feels great. Its a positive for everybody in the realm and its not that way with everything. When you contrast what you kind of see going on in the world with what we're fortunate enough to be apart of - it makes you take it seriously. End of the day you're not a doctor curing cancer or saving lives that way, but i do feel like its an important thing.
Well, doctors only treat the physical side of things. Do you feel music, especially music rooted in the source of what Wanee is rooted in, is on the metaphorical front lines against that darkness we see everywhere?
It is. I think just the fact that you have a festival like Wanee and you have all of these bands - they really believe in what they do. Its not just an ego trip. Its not just for the money. You have people here who could be doing other things too. But, you know, you can tell when you see a band and somebody really means what they're doing. Somebody like Levon playing til the end. He didn't have to gig in his age and in his health travel as much as he did just to go spread The Word. BB King, Willie, all these guys - they don't have to do it. I mean, they do get something from it spiritually and emotionally as well…But you are a soldier, in a way - for music, for the arts, for culture, and for what you believe in. I think it is an important thing. Musicians lose it too. All the time you see people just tap out. They just can't deal with it anymore. But its inspiring to see guys who do it right up until the end. I just saw Levon not that log ago; in Jacksonville we sat in with him. His health was bad. He couldn't really hang out much before - we could only spend a little time with him. Then you get on stage and he's just a different person. 20 years younger than he was ten minutes before he hits the stage. Its inspiring to see a guy bringing it right until the end. That's what we're supposed to be doing.
How do you feel that on the day after he passes away, you got to perform some of his music to thousands of people who love his music?
Its an amazing thing. Its powerful. Its a well lived life…. He did what he was supposed to do.
Though it probably seemed obvious to you that playing guitar was going to be your life, there are so many paths within the musical path to take. How do you know that the specific path you're taking is the one you're supposed to take.
I've been lucky. Its your parents, the scene you're around, etc. My dad growing up, musically, had such a low bullshit tolerance. Certain music would just move him. Listening to Duane, BB King, Ray Charles, like there was stuff that was his religion - full on. It would emotionally grab him. Then there was music - most pop music, most half ass'd music - he just had zero time for it. It was either right or wrong….I think that, early on, instilled in me that there was no option. It was you play music and you mean it or you don't and that's it. If you don't believe in something you can't do it. You can't play it. There's people that are musicians/personalities/actors - they're all these things in one and they're entertainers. I've never been any of that other than I enjoy playing music and can convey that. But if i don't believe in it, I can't play it well. I can't learn something if i don't like it, really. I just can't physically do it…I mean, i could play the notes but its just hard to get the energy up to do it. So, i've been kind of lucky having that filter.
Any recent projects which called on you but didn't get past the filter?
I've been really lucky. Playing with this band and my own group and the allman brothers and the clapton gig - its all music I love. Maybe there are some tunes you like more than others and some you don't love. But its like, maybe this isn't my favorite song but compared to what i could be doing - I'll fucking take it. There's been times over the last 15 years where you get offers to tour with certain people. You get these really crazy over the top offers and i'm thinking "i couldn't do that…there's no way on earth i could play that music…i couldn't physically do it…..(laughing) I can't name names - maybe eventually i can. But yeah, it saved me.
So the place that gets moved, or doesn't get moved, when you love something is the place which has directed you down your path?
Yes. To me, its "do you mean it or not?". You play for a lot of different crowds and there are different levels of musical sophistication of what people can hear and understand musically but the common thread is people feel intention. They know if you mean it or not or, you know, if you care about what you're doing. Whether they like it or not is another thing. I think most people have that instinct where they know if you're lying to them or not. Even some pop artists that i don't like at all; i can kind of understand why people are into it because this pop artist/musician really means what they're doing. It might be bullshit and really stupid but they mean it, you know, and their crowd is like YEA! so fine. If that's what moves you, that's fine. But, i think some of it is dangerous just because i think some of the messages are wrong. This underlying theme of materialism and selfishness - its just about the wrong things. So i think that part is dangerous, but the fact that everyone is getting what they need - getting something out of it…I can't go along with it, but you know, people can tell if you mean it or not. If you're into what you do. So i think, for me, either you mean it or you don't. Practicing and getting your chops up is great and part of the deal but you really have to be saying something. You have to have a voice and be getting an emotion across.