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Published: 2000/12/15
by Dean Budnick

Derek Trucks: Heading Out Towards The Higher Forms of Music

It is difficult to imagine a performer who hits the road much harder than Derek Trucks. Over the past few years he has enjoyed steady gigs with his own group, the Derek Trucks Band, the Allman Brothers Band and Frogwings. In addition, he has sat in with numerous performers, including an extended run with Phil and Friends last fall.

Fans can look forward to recordings from three of these bands in the months to come. First up is Croakin’ at Toads, recently released by Flying Frog Records, a powerful disc which chronicles a New Haven Frogwings performance. In addition, Derek’s guitar can also be heard on the Allman Brothers Band Peakin’ at the Beacon, culled from the group’s March 2000 run. Finally, the weeks to come will also yield the third release from the Derek Trucks Band, which unfortunately has been held up due to some legal wrangling on the part of a now-defunct record label.

Amidst all this action, Derek also is focusing on a new incarnation of the Derek Trucks Band. Vocalist Javier Colon recently joined the group to provide a vigorous counterpoint to Derek’s estimable guitar talents and the collective chops of the group.

The Derek Trucks Band will continue to perform throughout December, concluding with a New Year’s Eve gig at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC. For additional information on Derek’s happenings visit, among others, www.derektrucks.com, www.frogwings.com and www.allmanbrothersband.com.

Budnick- Let’s start off with your own group. You recently added Javier Colon to the band. How did you meet him?

Trucks- I had the word out for a while that we were looking for a singer/percussionist if possible. It was just a matter of time before we ran into the right person. It was actually through Eric Krasno of Soulive. He had heard Javier singing in a band that had opened for them in Massachusetts. It was pretty random how it came together. We were just looking for that instrument, somebody who could sing the way that Rico and Kofi and Todd play, somebody who’s really on top of their game. When I heard him I realized that he definitely had that going on. I knew that surrounding him with these guys in this band would be great, especially because he’s really young too and learning and sort of seeing everything for the first time. I think it’s going to be a great growth period. It really opens up everyone to different things.

Budnick- How has his addition changed the collective approach of the band?

Trucks- He’s changed it in a lot of ways. Kofi’s really into Latin music, Latin jazz, a lot of the Cuban guys- especially because he’s a flute player and there’s so much great flute music over there. Javier’s father is from the Dominican and his mother is from Puerto Rico so he kind of has that in his blood. I think that’s going to come out more. For instance I think he will start singing in both languages. Javier also opens up the opportunity for more soul tunes, r&b tunes and funk tunes here and there. It opens up a few new realms that we were always listening to but we never had the ability to go after.

Budnick- I remember hearing you say that when you’re playing you think of yourself as a singer, someone such as Mahalia Jackson.

Trucks- That’s what I’m hearing in my head a lot of time when I’m playing. Especially the blues tune or the tunes that lend themselves to that, the more gospel-sounding tunes. We had a guy who opened for us in New York City, Robert Randolph, he’s a lap steel player from that Church of the Sacred Steel- there’s like a hundred or so lap steel players and they’re the lead voice in the church choir, basically. It’s pretty amazing, these guys are so bad ass. Hearing that made it more concrete in my mind because they can really evoke the human voice with the lap steel. When I heard them a few years ago that’s when it all started making sense. I was mainly listening to horn players and vocalists, never guitar players. When I heard that it kind of brought it back for me and I started to get a handle on it a little better

Budnick- So then to what extent will a full-time vocalist alter your approach?

Trucks- I think in a way it kind of emphasizes it because we can play off each other and that’s a good thing. Ali Akber has a Indian classical music school in San Rafael and we’ve sat in on a few classes. He makes all the instrumentalists take vocal classes because his whole thing is that when you’re playing you should be singing through your instrument anyway, so you should approach it that way. You’re supposed to be speaking through your instrument, not just playing patterns and working out mathematical problems all the time. You should also be trying to get at something, trying to tell a story. Even when you’re soloing so should be doing more than just running through your scales and trying to find different combinations, you should be trying to say something.

Budnick- Do you currently listen to more guitar players?

Trucks- Rarely any guitar players. Still, mainly horn players and a lot of Indian classical too. I have a great Ravi Shankar box set, it has him with the London Symphony Orchestra. There for instance you have complete melody coming from everywhere, you can hear so many different things to play. I try to listen to things that are going to expand what I hear rather than just reinforce it. Most of the time when I hear a guitar player it is more in the realm of what I’m going to be doing rather than further along the path. I’ve always tried to look as far ahead as I can. That’s why it’s great to be around people like Jimmy Herring who realize how far there is to go. I can see someone like him doing what he’s doing and appreciate how long he’s been doing it and just how on top of his game he is. It’s great to strive for that.

Budnick- I can remember I saw you after a show this summer and I mentioned that every time I see you play I notice something new. You answered, “I hope so,” which I thought was a pretty telling response, in the best way possible. I’d be interested to hear about your practice regimen.

Trucks- It’s pretty odd. Sometimes I’ll go a few days writing things out and hearing things. Sometimes it’s just taking piece of paper and having my instrument out nearby and then writing out all the different combinations of notes within a tune and just finding different chords or running the scales. Sometimes for me it’s only listening or talking to Kofi because when you have people around you who are so well-versed in music theory, it’s good just to speak about music. Sometimes they can really open things up by talking about rhythmic patterns or different ways to approach things which can make me play something completely different the next night. It’s great having Rico and Kofi. They both have a wealth of knowledge and it’s such a privilege having those guys out on the road and being able almost at time any time to hang and speak of music

Budnick- When you are performing with the Allman Brothers Band do you have that same freedom to aggressively review your parts and drastically modify them?

Trucks- That’s a different time for me. When I’m out here with this group (the Derek Trucks Band) it almost feels like anything we want to learn no matter how far-fetched or unusual we can throw it into the mix and watch it happen. Sometimes it flies, sometimes it doesn’t. With the Allman Brothers their sound is more etched so it’s a little more difficult to work in things that I’m hearing if they’re not within that realm. But because the touring schedule is so different it gives me a lot more free time to listen. With Jimmy out on the last tour as well as Oteil it was great hanging and playing with them.

Budnick- Assuming you’re going to be performing with Warren in the ABB that should be interesting because you’ll have two slide players.

Trucks- I’ve thought about that too and I’m not sure what to think. When you have someone like him it should be fun and there might some unique things that come out of it as well, a whole new side of that band. It seems like it always works itself out with that group so I don’t worry about it too much.

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