Used With Derek Trucks
Much can be learned about someone from the first album that they bought with their own money.
For Stanton Moore, the eccentric and outrageously talented drummer for New Orleans funk gurus Galactic, it was the Grease/ movie soundtrack. Dan Fogelberg’s "Leader of the Band" inspired Jim James of My Morning Jacket to the point of tears as a kid. John Bell’s first album was fittingly George Carlin’s Class Clown. Vince Herman grew up in Pittsburgh listening to Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. And an early influence on guitar maniac Eric McFadden was the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks.
For Derek Trucks, the 26-year-old guitar virtuoso for the Allman Brothers Band, the first music he remembers purchasing as a kid was a blues compilation tape at a truck stop.
"It was one of those five-dollars, truck-stop blues compilations that you get at the cash register," Trucks remembers. "Those were the first record shops I hit up. My music shopping started out on the road."
Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King made up much of that first compilation tape that Trucks bought, but he eventually became interested in the musicians that inspired those artists, leading him to the blues music of the Mississippi Delta and the songs of Son House, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson and Skip James.
"The Complete Bukka White is pretty essential to have as far as I’m concerned," Trucks says. "I ended up finding the guitar that he recorded all that stuff with a few years back it’s a National Steel. Bukka was such a unique guy he also pitched in the Negro Leagues, was a professional boxer and went to prison something like 20 times. He was B.B. King’s older cousin, and B.B. always said that his vibrato was an attempt to copy Bukka’s slide sound."
As a child prodigy, Trucks started playing the guitar at the age of nine, had his first paying gig at age 11 and formed his first band, a blues trio, a year later. By age 15, he had sat in with his Uncle Butch and the Allman Brothers Band. Interestingly enough, one of Trucks’ earliest influences was another child prodigy Little Stevie Wonder.
"It started with Innervisions, but I ended up being a junkie just like everyone else," Trucks confesses. "You end up buying every Stevie album up through the cheesy 80s records, cause there’s always that one track that’s worth the ten bucks. Those great records from the 70s Music of My Mind, Songs in the Key of Life, Talking Book, Fullfillingness’ First Finale, Innervisions and even up through Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants are all just amazing. Almost every tune is great. People would cut off a limb to write just one tune like those. No one should be able to be on top of their game for that long – it’s not fair to the rest of us."
If blues music was Trucks’ first love, then jazz was a close second. And just like his introduction to the blues, Trucks first encountered jazz music on a tour bus riding down the road in Colorado one late night.
"About ten or twelve years ago, I was out on the road with Jeff Sipe and Todd Smallie, my bass player, as a trio," he says. "Jeff had brought a bunch of those old Blue Note records out on the road with him to listen to on the bus. It was one of the first times I really ever got high, and that music just blew me away, man. I probably have more than 200 Blue Note records at my house now. And it’s all due to Jeff. He ruined me from that day forward."
Of all the great jazz recordings, Trucks considers two albums recorded in the late 1950s the Holy Grail of the genre Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Cannonball Adderly’s Something Else.
"Something Else and Kind of Blue are like the brother and sister of jazz records from the late 50s. Something Else was one of those records that we listened to every day in the van for like a year. We burnt it out completely," he says. "It’s interesting, cause I got into Coltrane because I saw some footage of him and Miles playing after recording Kind of Blue. Just seeing Coltrane play, I could tell something was up. It was all blues music for me up to that point, so that’s what changed it. Between Cannonball and Trane on Kind of Blue, Cannonball on Something Else and then Coltrane on A Love Supreme, I was done, hooked for life."
If there has been one singular guitarist that has influenced Trucks the most, it’s probably Charlie Christian. Trucks praises Christian throughout the liner notes of the guitarist’s The Genius of the Electric Guitar box set, even going so far as admitting that his infant son was named after the jazz guitar legend. While the box set is a staple in his collection, Trucks digs live Christian the most.
"There’s a CD called Live Sessions at Minton’s Playhouse. I’m pretty sure its Charlie, Monk, Dizzy and Roy Haynes on drums," Trucks recalls. "Charlie Christian is just burning everybody’s ass. Dizzy sounds young and kind of out of tune. He hadn’t got his shit together yet. Monk sounds broken like he always does, but he’s not Monk yet. But Charlie Christian is just a fully realized human being at that point. It’s not a great recording, but when he plays, it’s just so intense. He plays all these amazing horn lines on the guitar, and no one had done that to that point. The first time I heard that record, it was like the first time I heard Howlin’ Wolf. The sound just jumped out of the speakers and choked me."
As Trucks puts me through my paces in Used Jazz, he stops at Elvin Jones and smiles. When the young guitarist signed with Columbia Records a few years back, the label executives asked him if there was anyone he wanted to record with. Almost instantly, Trucks replied with two names Wayne Shorter and Elvin Jones. The label booked the recording session with Jones, but due to conflicting schedules, the meeting never happened. Ironically, shortly after Jones passed away in May 2004, Trucks was shopping on Ebay for a gift for his younger brother and aspiring drummer, Duane Trucks, when he came upon a remarkable find.
"The first thing that pops up was the tympanis Elvin Jones played on A Love Supreme, which he owned for like 50 years," Trucks says with a laugh. "Zildjian, through his wife, Keiko, were getting rid of them. They’d been up for auction for like 10 days and no one had bid on them. So I bid and won them, and the next day they were shipped to my house."
"They were sent in these two road cases that had "Elvin Jones Jazz Machine" stenciled on all five panels. Two beautiful Ludwig tympanis from the mid- to late-1950s that he played on A Love Supreme, a poster signed by Elvin and the stencils they used to stencil the road cases," he adds. "I was in shock, but my brother freaked out. He lost it. I mean, shit, Elvin Jones was one of the top five jazz drummers of all time and played on arguably the most important jazz record ever waxed. But still, no one on Ebay knew who he was. If it was something from some bullshit celebrity, they’d be all over it. I feel like that kind of stuff should be in the Smithsonian. Hell, I might end up shipping it there. Put em in a museum after we record with them a few times."
If the blues was his first influence and jazz his second, Eastern music, particularly Indian music, is definitely the third major influence on Derek Trucks as an artist and Jeff Sipe, aka Apartment Q258, is to blame once again. Whenever the teenage Trucks was in Atlanta, he’d make a point to stop by Sipe’s house and listen to the drummer’s collection of Indian music.
"I was at that stage, at around 15 or 16 years old, where you start seeing through all the bullshit that people have been feeding you," Trucks says. "I wanted things to be more serious, so when I saw guys like Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Hussain, I was like, That’s it. These guys are playing like their life depends on it.’ I heard about the stories about how much time and energy these guys put into their music and how much they respect what they’re doing. It wasn’t like these 20 year old rock musician that are just like, Fuck everything.’ It was religious to them, it is religious to them. Ali Akar Khan has said in interviews in the past that music was like air, water and shelter in his house growing up you didn’t have to ask about, you didn’t have to explain it. It was essential to life. That was really appealing to me, especially at that time when I really wanted to dig in and get into my own music."
"Unfortunately, a lot of musicians’ heroes are people who didn’t make it to 25, 30 years old. Guys like Charlie Christian, Clifford Brown, Duane Allman, Jaco Pastorious, Hendrix, Coltrane, all these guys were similar in that they were all so much better than everyone else at the time and they all seemed to die around the same age. It almost seems like these guys, whether they consciously knew it or not, realized that their time was limited. They burned the candle at both ends, man, and then they were out. I want to have a long, long career and not turn out like so many of the musicians I admire. Guys like Zakir, Ali Akbar Khan and some of the other Eastern musicians have inspired me to make music that matters and continue to develop as a musician as I get older. I see what they have done with their own careers, their own music, and it just makes me work harder to be the best that I can be."
Derek’s Picks The Complete Bukka White Cannonball Adderly, Something Else Stevie Wonder, Innvervisions Charlie Christian, Live Sessions at Minton’s Playhouse Anything by Ali Akbar Khan