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Published: 2002/11/24
by Rob Johnson

Derek Trucks: Servant of the Cause

"I’ll keep anybody who wants to come along, as long as they’re gonna be contributing to the cause. I’ll keep anything necessary, and it’s all gonna be strictly necessaryfor the cause."Jimi Hendrix

I will never forget the first time I saw Derek Trucks play guitar. It was at an Allman Brothers show at Lakewood Amphitheater on September 7, 1992. After what had already been an incredible concert, Dickey Betts announced that they were going to bring a special guest out to jam with them. When a little boy wearing a Braves hat came onstage, my friends and I looked at each other in disbelief. We decided that it was nice of the band to encourage the young man, and since Derek was the nephew of drummer Butch Trucks, it showed the family vibe that is synonymous with the Allman Brothers Band. Even so, my friends and I assumed that the following jam would be a lull in the show.

Then he started to play. And when I say that, I mean he started to PLAY with a huge, savage tone that was fully-grown. My friends and I were blown away because the impossible was happening: This unassuming little kid was keeping up with the Allman Brothers! For the rest of the show, everyone was buzzing about the remarkable 13-year-old guitar prodigy.

Of course, at the time I had no idea about the growing legend of Derek Trucks. He picked up a guitar at a garage sale when he was nine, because "it was the only thing that looked interesting." He learned some basics from a family friend, and by the time he was 11, he was playing out at clubs and bars with a backup band comprised of men three and four times his age. His dad Chris tagged along in order to keep young Derek focused on the music and out of trouble.

He was drawn to slide guitar because his hands were too small to play the music in his head conventionally, and quickly crafted a unique style that combined bluegrass-style finger picking with amazing slide control. By the time I saw him at Lakewood at the ripe old age of 13, Derek’s talent was beyond what anyone thought possible for somebody so young. That may be how the reincarnation theories got started…

You see, many folks in the Allman Brothers inner circle came to believe that Derek was none other than Duane Allman himself, come back around for an encore. Gregg Allman himself has been said to believe that Derek is his long-lost brother. Which is harder to believe, that a great musician came back to Earth to take care of unfinished business, or that such a young boy could play at such a high level after playing for only a few years? Either way, in certain circles Derek has always been held to an unrealistically high standard because of the legend.

As usual, Derek shows wisdom beyond his years when discussing this potentially awkward topic. "When somebody like that is gone, people want him to come back," he says of Duane Allman. "Even while people were saying it, I didn’t really know about it. At that age, I was completely oblivious."

Derek brushes off such talk and attributes any similarities in his playing to his total immersion in Duane’s music as a child. "He is one of my greatest influences, no doubt about it," Derek says. "I was going to sleep listening to Fillmore East, so it was just natural. I don’t even have to think about playing those songs, it just comes out."

It is that ability to communicate so naturally through music that makes Derek so special. To him, playing music is as natural as breathing is to the rest of us. By combining this innate talent with a solid work ethic and the perfect learning environment, Derek has developed into one of the most exciting musicians in the jam scene today.

However, Derek is not likely to measure himself against his contemporaries, but against those he calls the "masters." The musicians he respects the most approach music as a sort of spiritual discipline, and view their talent as a conduit for a higher power, and Derek’s attitude towards music seems to treat it as a higher calling. Much like John Coltrane or Ali Akbar Khan, Derek has no interest in being a rock star or accumulating the trappings of fame. He just wants to serve the music.

AN UNLIKELY EDUCATION

"During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music."John Coltrane, A Love Supreme liner notes

Perhaps the ultimate measure of how unusual Derek’s life has been is that Col. Bruce Hampton has served as a sort of mentor, along with his dad Chris and "Uncle Butch" Trucks of the Allmans. As mentioned before, Bruce was arguably the first to recognize the amazing talent Derek had at an early age, and he played a key role in Derek’s musical education. When a man who once gargled peanut butter on stage serves as a respected authority figure, you know your life is not going to follow an ordinary path.

"He played a big part in introducing me to jazz and different kinds of music," Derek says about his relationship with Bruce. When Derek was 11, Bruce took him to a record store in Atlanta (they were still called record stores back then) and bought him two albums that changed his life: Live at Village Vanguard by Sun Ra and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. Derek’s eyes were opened to a world where music served as a vehicle of a higher spiritual truth, and Top 40 pop music would never capture his interest again.

John Coltrane has exerted a considerable fascination on many musicians, including Duane Allman, who was working up a version of My Favorite Things before his tragic death. The spiritual aspect of Coltrane’s artistry resonates very deeply with Derek, as well as his strong commitment to constantly growing and improving as a musician. "With Trane it was just the search that really hit me, and his intensity," Derek says with awe in his voice. "He was like, I’m on a mission here.’ I heard a quote from (Coltrane’s legendary drummer) Elvin Jones where he said To play the way we play you have to be willing to die for the motherfucker.’"

When asked what he learned from Sun Ra, Derek says "The complete abandonment of the rules, taking all the rules and saying this shit doesn’t make sense.’" However, he is quick to point out that there was method to the madness. "Sun Ra took music very seriously and was very disciplined, but just in a different way. If you listen to some of his big band stuff, it’s beautiful, most people would never guess it’s Sun Ra."

That combination of willingness to flout conventional wisdom and an absolute commitment to music as a spiritual quest has driven Derek’s music to this very day. It would have been very easy for Derek to fall into the mold of the young blues/pop guitar slinger, such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Jonny Lang. However, that was never really an option for Derek. He is always exploring, searching, looking for new ways to express himself musically. "There’s really nothing difficult about trying something new, if you know what you want to play," says Derek confidently. "It can be very liberating to be doing something nobody else is doing. It’s a wide open road in front of you."

THE EASTERN PATH

"There is an art of listening. To be able to really to listen, one should abandon or put aside all prejudices, preformulations and daily activities…But unfortunately most of us listen through a screen of resistance. We are screened with prejudices, whether religious or spiritual, psychological or scientific; or with our daily worries, desires and fears. And with these for a screen, we listen. Therefore, we listen really to our own noise, to our own sound, not to what is being said. It is extremely difficult to put aside our training, our resistance, and, reaching beyond the verbal expression, to listen so that we understand instantaneously."— J. Krishnamurti, from The First and Last Freedom

Another prominent figure in Derek’s musical education is Jeff Sipe, aka Apt Q-258, the legendary drummer for the Aquarium Rescue Unit. When Derek was 15, Sipe turned him on to Indian classical music and Derek had an epiphany similar to the discovery of Sun Ra and Coltrane. Here was a totally different musical landscape to explore, and Derek still finds inspiration in the intensely spiritual attitude of Eastern musicians. Soon he had found another seminal influence in Ali Akbar Khan, the master of an Indian stringed instrument called the sarod.

It is typical of Derek that rather than just listen to records, he went straight to the source and visited the music school that Khan runs in California. "I’ve been out there about a half dozen times and sat in on a few classes, just grazed the surface," he says modestly. "As far as actually studying there, I would love to do that as soon as we can afford to take the band off the road for a couple of months."

Derek has even spent some time playing Khan’s instrument of choice, and played a brief sarod tune on his self-titled debut album. His second album Out Of The Madness contains the excellent cross-cultural instrumental "Deltaraga," a lovely Eastern melody played on the National steel guitar, an iconic instrument in blues circles. One of the standout tracks on Derek’s new album Joyful Noise is "Maki Madni," a traditional Qawwali song performed with guest vocalist Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. An electric guitar has never sounded more like a sitar, as Derek creates overtones and drones that eloquently recreate the trance-inducing sounds of Indian music. One of the most distinct elements of Derek’s style is his profound Eastern influence.

Much like Coltrane, who was planning to study with Ravi Shankar before his untimely death, Derek finds a deep well of spirituality in Eastern music. No musical tradition is more explicit about the religious and spiritual nature of music. In the Indian classical system, every melody and rhythm is specifically designed to evoke certain emotions. "They don’t care if you are with them’ or not. They are doing it for God," Derek says of the players he calls "the Eastern masters."

"The tightrope we’re on is trying to play music that is aiming at that, and just playing because it has to be done, and it is supposed to be done, and nobody else is doing it," says Derek about his musical mission. "But you can’t leave the audience too far behind, because the beauty of playing music is connecting to people. If you bring it straight from the source, The closer you get to that, people will come along. We just need to get there a little quicker."

Unfortunately, some Allman Brothers fans who are well-versed in the blues aren’t exactly enthralled by the unusual intonations and unfamiliar sounds of Indian classical music. Derek is often frustrated when the "closed-minded blues Nazi police" don’t get it. "I think it’s kind of saddening that people aren’t open enough to appreciate music that’s so beautiful, so pure," he says. But he still has hope that others will hear what he hears, once they have been exposed to it more thoroughly. "I think in time people come around." On the other hand, he realizes it’s not for everybody. "When you do a tune like that, you realize it’s either going to really get through to them or not at all," he says philosophically.

Derek has said "if you just listen to guitar players, you end up sounding like a guitarist, not a musician." Derek is constantly stretching his instrument to make it sound more like what he hears from other instruments, whether it is a saxophone or a sitar. One Eastern musician that he has in heavy rotation right now is Srinivas, an Indian mandolin player. Derek has been wearing out his album Sri Rama lately. "It’s just really refreshing to hear that kind of music on mandolin, really different," Derek says.

BAND OF BROTHERS

"I feel I want to be
A servant of the cause."Kofi Burbridge, "Like Anyone Else"

Another chapter in Derek’s musical evolution came when he was a frequent guest artist with Col. Bruce’s band the Fiji Mariners in the mid-90’s. The sensitivity he brought to a slow blues like "Trondossa" was far beyond his years, but he could play with youthful fire and raw power on jamming tunes like "Time Is Free." He jammed with the Fijis so much that he was almost an unofficial member for a while, and this experience also introduced him to Yonrico Scott, his future drummer.

By this time, Derek was tired of playing with the competent but unspectacular musicians that his family connections had set him up with, and wanted to form a band that would truly he HIS. He held auditions for bass players at a legendary Atlanta blues club called Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. (Yes, it is as cool as the name would indicate) One young player, about Derek’s age, really stood out from the crowd. His name was Todd Smallie, and once again there was the Col. Bruce connection, as he was a rabid fan of the Aquarium Rescue Unit and deeply influenced by ARU bassist Oteil Burbridge. Todd and Derek quickly developed a bond that remains to this day.

"When he joined the band, we were both eyes wide open and willing to listen to anyone we can learn from, and the beauty of Todd is that he is always wide open, and it keeps me that way," says Derek with great affection. "He’s just a great spirit to be around. It’s so important to have a good relationship with the people you play with, because that unspoken anger and weirdness can really break stuff apart." He doesn’t mention the Allman Brothers Band as a specific example, but he doesn’t have to.

To complete the rhythm section, Derek called up the Colonel and asked if he knew any good drummers. With the bizarre sense of synchronicity that follows the Colonel at every turn, it turns out that Yonrico was just becoming available that very day. The rest, as they say, is history. Having played with everybody from Stevie Wonder to jazz greats, Scott provided a wealth of experience to balance the youthful fire of Todd and Derek.

Yonrico has always seemed to me to be very protective of Derek in a big brotherish kind of way, and when asked about this, Derek laughs and says "Even now, he is like an older brother that way. Sometimes I’ll be going to get something to eat and ask him if he wants anything, and he’ll say No, but I’ll walk with you.’"

While that personal connection is important to Derek, he also raves about Yonrico’s musical talent. "Rico has unlimited energy," says Derek, and anyone who has seen the Derek Trucks Band walks away impressed by the raw power Scott generates on drums. However, Derek is quick to say there is more to him that that. "At the same time, he’s very versatile. It’s hard to find somebody who can swing that hard, but who can also play a shuffle the way it’s meant to be played or lay down a nice blues groove."

Derek and music fans everywhere were stunned and worried when Yonrico had a fairly major heart attack last year, and the DTB had to play some gigs with replacement drummers. The experience seems to have made Derek appreciate Scott even more than before. "When he was sick, we had other drummers play with us, and some of the songs like "Rastaman" and "Maki Madni" have rhythms that are unique to Rico, and they just didn’t sound right. They broke the mold when they made him," Derek says with deep respect.

With the addition of keyboardist/vocalist Bill McKay, Derek had a band that could push him to new heights. His music headed in a jazzy direction, even though slide guitar has always been primarily a blues instrument. One of the many milestones in Derek’s career was when the DTB started playing jazz standards like "Afro Blue" and "Mr. PC." The folks who came to the shows expecting to see a young blues prodigy may have walked away scratching their heads, but Derek’s decision to openly embrace the jazz tradition continued to establish the fact that he has his own vision.

The excellent album Out of the Madness came out of this group, and Derek’s playing continued to advance beyond any conceivable growth curve. Only 19 years old, Derek was showing the versatility and maturity of a veteran bandleader. The album contained everything from a down-and-dirty version of "Preachin Blues" to the Eastern sounds of "Pleasant Gardens" and the jazz fusion of "Spillway," which featured Jimmy Herring, yet another Aquarium Rescue Unit alumnus.

Another essential piece in Derek’s musical puzzle fell into place recently with the addition of Kofi Burbridge to the band (following the departure of McKay, who now is in Leftover Salmon). As a former member of the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Kofi has the musical fluency and adventurousness for the job. Besides being an excellent and versatile musician who plays both flute and keyboard, Burbridge has brought a lot to the Derek Trucks Band with his songwriting. On Joyful Noise, Burbridge writes or co-writes 7 out of 10 songs. "That’s one of his strengths," Derek agrees. "He has thousands of songs in him, once he gets used to playing with this band."

THE CALL

"Derek kicks my ass every night!"Warren Haynes
"Me too!"Jimmy Herring

When Derek got the call in 1999 to join the Allman Brothers Band, he says "It was unexpected. I was so into what we were doing as a band, I had forgotten that was even a possibility." While he was deeply honored, it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision. "I was excited about it, but I didn’t want to sacrifice this band to do it. When I realized they only did 50 shows a year, that made it a no-brainer."

Derek pumped new life into the ABB, and was prominently mentioned in a favorable Rolling Stone article about the band’s renaissance. For Derek, playing with Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Oteil Burbridge completed yet another connection to Colonel Bruce Hampton, and he got to play with the people who were his idols growing up. The experience that he gained with the Allman Brothers helped to fuel his solo work, and his solo playing honed his skills for playing with the ABB.

Within a year after joining the band, Derek found himself in the spotlight when Betts left the band and was replaced by another ARU member, Jimmy Herring. The ensuing controversy has been covered from every possible angle, and there is no need to rehash it here. The acrimonious split between Betts and the ABB put Derek in an uncomfortable spot, but at least he got to play with one of his favorite musicians.

Derek shares the high regard for Herring that seems nearly universal in the jamband world. "I’ve been playing with Jimmy since I was eleven, and it is totally natural," Derek explains. "There is a pure give and take, there is never any stepping on each other’s toes. There is no ego involved, and the places Jimmy wants to go and the places I want to go tend to be the same places." One of the many reasons Trucks enjoys jamming with Phil Lesh and Friends is the opportunity to play with one of his favorite players and earliest musical mentors.

The tragic death of Allen Woody, combined with Herring’s decision to leave the Allman Brothers, opened the door for the return of Warren Haynes, who helped return the band to prominence in the 90’s. At one point, Warren was pulling triple duty with Govt Mule, Phil and Friends, and the Allman Brothers, and surely has taken James Brown’s crown as the Hardest Working Man In Show Business.

Derek respects Warren’s contribution to the band, both past and present. "You know, when he first joined the band he did such a great job in that (slide) role after they had sort of abandoned that role for a while," he says, referring to the period in the late 70’s when Dickey Betts was the only guitarist in the group. Gratitude creeps into his voice as he says, "If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be in the band right now, because I don’t think they would have lasted this long without him."

Of course, holding your own on a daily basis with a guitarist as intense as Warren involved some adjustment on Derek’s part. "If you have a band with two guitar players, they have to give each other room. If something is already going on, I tend to lay back and wait for an opening," says Derek by way of describing his style. "But Warren’s been playing in a trio for so long, he’s used to doing it all, all the time. After a while, I had to become more aggressive and MAKE an opening."

In some ways, Derek is a bundle of contradictions. He was raised on the blues, and loves the blues, but has gone out of his way to incorporate jazz and Eastern sounds into his playing. He plays guitar in the Allman Brothers Band, one of the most acclaimed rock bands of all time, but he shows disdain for most rock music. He seems to have tremendous respect for the ABB and their music, and views them as being above and beyond other rock bands. Even so, when asked if he will be writing songs for the band, he dismisses the idea by saying "The things I hear in my head don’t really fit with the Allman Brothers."

Part of that probably comes from the fact that Derek is very happy with the material Gregg Allman and Warren have been coming up with lately. After a long wait, the ABB’s new studio record Victory Dance is scheduled for release early in 2003, and Gregg and Warren’s new songs have been well-received live. The sound of the Allman Brothers is different without Dickey, to be sure, but the record represents a brave new world for the band. Against all odds, the Allman Brothers have defied the skeptics who said they couldn’t survive without Dickey and created a great album, and Derek’s fiery playing is a big reason.

MAKING A JOYFUL NOISE

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord."Holy Bible

Thanks in part to the exposure of playing with the Allman Brothers, Derek recently signed a contract with Columbia, the classic record label responsible for everyone from Miles Davis to Bruce Springsteen. Derek managed to retain a great deal of artistic control, especially for such a young artist. The Derek Trucks Band wasted no time trying out their artistic license, turning their first Columbia record into a showcase for what Trucks likes to call "world roots music." All different styles and flavors of music are blended here into a soul-satisfying stew of pure sound.

The title track of Joyful Noise is clearly influenced by the uptempo, good-feeling sounds of the "Sacred Steel" tradition, a style of pedal steel guitar playing that has roots in the House of God church. Once again, the common denominator is that spiritual dimension, the notion of music being performed for a higher purpose. Arhoolie records has released several records of Sacred Steel music, and Aubrey Ghent is one Sacred Steel player that blows Derek away. "The first time I heard him, it was like Coltrane or Indian music, a revelation like that. That whole realm is really amazing."

Robert Randolph is a better-known example of someone who grew up in the Sacred Steel tradition and has become a big hit in the jamband world. He is one of Derek’s favorite players, and he loves to sit in with him. "We did a show with him at the Bowery Ballroom," says Derek, describing his first exposure to Randolph, "We got in during soundcheck and were like Holy Shit! This is that Aubrey Ghent stuff!’"

Derek reveals his maturity again by showing a touching concern for Randolph. "It’s hard to maintain that intensity for any period of time," he explains. "You have to be careful when you keep the throttle down all the time. People who are like that don’t last, like Hendrix. I hope he retains that initial purity. He’s a huge talent, and I hope the industry doesn’t swallow him up."

The gospel flavor of the Sacred Steel players is a clear influence on the title track of Joyful Noise, a high-energy romp whose title comes straight out of Christian tradition. Even so, Derek is not merely imitating Randolph or Ghent, but fusing their style with his own to create a wonderful synthesis. In the end, that may be Derek’s greatest gift: The ability to play any kind of music and make it his own.

Joyful Noise is a testament to Derek’s varied tastes. The band had been listening to "Maki Madni," a classic Qawwali song, and had even started jamming on the melody, when they decided to enlist the help of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, whose uncle Nusrat popularized the song. Unfortunately, the travel difficulties involved in getting together in person forced the band to send tapes back and forth to Pakistan. The band recorded the main track in one take, and sent it to Rahat with instructions for him to "have his way" with the song. The result is an otherworldly combination of cultures that is unlikely anything you’ve ever heard.

According to Derek, the fact that Khan had to contribute through the mail didn’t really affect the process as much as you might think. "A lot of the time in the studio, you can’t even see the people you’re recording, so it’s not that different. He was really respectful and really into the fact that a band from over here was that into his music. I hope to get a chance to work with him live," Derek says respectfully.

Similarly, when the band wrote a Latin groove called "Kam-ma-lay," they recruited salsa legend Ruben Blades to write Spanish lyrics. He ended up coming into the studio and adding 12 tracks of vocals and percussion, contributing a great deal to the finished product.

"Those guys are alive, so if you’re going to do their music, why not collaborate with them?," Derek says with the directness and clarity of purpose that make him so refreshing. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sometimes when you have people sit in, when it’s over it’s like well, that wasn’t that great.’ Everyone that came in, it wasn’t like they just put their part down. They really took it to heart. "

Perhaps the most remarkable collaboration on Joyful Noise is that between the band and soul singer Solomon Burke. Many reviewers have singled out Burke’s spine-tingling vocals on Kofi Burbridge’s "Like Anyone Else," and Derek describes the session as a special event. "Solomon was so positive and he loved the rhythm section, loved the tune," Derek says, setting the scene. "He was so in the moment. He has been a preacher since he was 8 years old, and when he is singing, you know he means it. It was so emotional, Kofi left the room in tears during recording. After it was over, Solomon signed the lyric sheet this is the song I have been wanting to sing my whole life.’"

As good as the guest artists may be, many of the finest moments on Joyful Noise come from Derek, Todd, Yonrico, and Kofi. Derek’s heartbreaking, melancholy playing on "So Close, So Far Away" is so evocative, I heard someone mistake it for Santana recently. Frisell is a wonderfully atmospheric tribute to the jazz guitarist of the same name, and features some of Derek’s most subtle and delicate playing.

The variety of styles is enhanced by the wild fusion frenzy of "Lookout 31," which has an ARU-like quality. The band sounds tight and confident on the album, thriving in all musical contexts equally. Todd and Yonrico are as good a rhythm section as you’ll find, setting up Kofi and Derek perfectly. Whether it’s his gorgeous flute solo on "Kam-ma-lay" or his funky keyboard sounds on every good boy, Kofi is the perfect foil for Derek, Trane to his Miles. With Joyful Noise, the Derek Trucks Band has moved to the next level.

A CHARMED LIFE

One extra special guest on Joyful Noise is Derek’s wife, blues singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, whose first album Just Won’t Burn was nominated for a Grammy. The two share a deep musical kinship, and Derek speaks fondly of the first time Susan sat in with the band. "That was the first time I really HEARD her voice," he says, and the whole thing sounds so romantic you just want to scream.

Derek loved Aubrey Ghent’s playing so much, he had him play at his wedding to Grammy-nominated singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi. As you can imagine, it is difficult for the two to balance the demands of life on the road with a family, especially with their new baby, Charlie. (named after jazz guitar great Charlie Christian) "She gets to come out with me a lot, and I try not to go more than a week without seeing Charlie," Derek explains. "I think in the next year or so we’ll be able to take some more time off."

As if a happy family life and two thriving bands weren’t enough, Derek is also one of the great "special guests" in all of music. When you read Derek’s media materials, it is tempting to wonder why they didn’t just list the people Derek HASN’T jammed with. (Tony Orlando, Garth Brooks, and Yanni, if you’re curious.) Trucks has played with a who’s who of rock and blues greats from Bob Dylan to Phil Lesh to BB King, but when asked which jam session was the greatest honor, there is little hesitation.

"New Years 2000 with John Lee Hooker," Trucks says with authority. "You could tell he wasn’t going to be around for much longer, and it was Y2K, so it was a big deal when Susan and I got to sit in with him." When asked which song they played, Derek shows his sense of humor and says "You know, that John Lee Hooker song, the same one he always played."

Jazz greats Elvin Jones and Wayne Shorter are two musicians that Derek would like to play with in the future. As the drummer for the classic John Coltrane Quartet, Jones is one of the closest living links to Coltrane and a force to reckon with. Shorter was the sax player for Miles Davis for years, and Derek plays some of his compositions, such as Footprints. "He is one of those horn players that you can hear speaking when he plays. The more you hear about him, the more you like him," says Derek. There are rumors that an album featuring the Derek Trucks Band and these two jazz legends is in the works, but nothing is confirmed at press time.

Despite my friend’s case of mistaken identity on "So Close, So Far Away," Derek hasn’t been particularly influenced by Carlos Santana. "Not a whole lot. I like what he’s done in a way, his career and the way he has handled himself, especially not being a vocalist," something Carlos and Derek have in common. The elder statesman of rock guitar has even made a pilgrimage to see Derek perform. "He came out to a show at the Fillmore and was very complimentary," Derek says gratefully.

Carlos is obviously yet another highly spiritual musician, and you would expect this to provide common ground, but Derek does not intend to echo the elder musician’s trademark mid-show sermons. "The spiritual side is important, but with this band we are trying to find a different way to do that besides speaking," says Derek. "We have talked about having comedians open for us, using humor to get that message across. I think it’s a very important time to get that across."

When talking about the current state of the music industry, Derek has an unusual mixture of contempt and optimism. "I think there’s a change right around the corner," he says hopefully. "There is so much energy in the air waiting to explode. In the 23 years I’ve been alive, the music industry has never been as bad as it is now. It’s a pretty scary time, but there are people ready to do something about it."

Above all, Derek comes across as a remarkably grounded person. He considers musical and spiritual issues to be vitally important, but he realizes that the life of a musician is a charmed one. There is nothing he loves more than having the opportunity to play music for a living, and this is why he decries the greed of the music industry so strongly. "If you’re putting gas in the bus and eating, then you’re doing okay. We’re not digging ditches for a living, you know?," he says with a laugh.

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