Derek Trucks Songlines
It is time to replace descriptive words like “prodigy,” “phenom” and “potential” with the more time-appropriate ones such as, “veteran,” “visionary” and even “virtuoso” with regard to Derek Trucks. In a scant seven years, he has gone from “the new guy” in the Allman Brothers Band to one of the greatest soloists in the rich history of the legendary band. He recently also received the distinct honor of being asked to record and tour with one of the most respected kingpins of the blues and rock worlds, Eric Clapton. However, Trucks seems at this point most excited about the release of Songlines, the first studio effort in four years from the band that bears his name.
Named for a Bruce Chatwin book which tells of an Aboriginal creation myth in which a totemic being would intone of everything encountered while wandering the continent of Australia basically “singing the world into existence,” Songlines finds the band delivering a soulful approach, creating a sound more lush, powerful and moving than just about anything being called R&B by radio programmers in today’s music world. This is clearly the band’s finest studio release and with Mike Mattison singing DTB into its future existence, the band has finally found its voice and there is more original material floating around the band as well some of which appears on Songlines.
With a soaring voice that can move from delicate to brawny at a moments notice, Mattison is pivotal to the current Trucks Band sound. A stellar rendition of Toots and The Maytals’ “Sailin’ On,” centers around Mattison’s pining/drenched lead vocal. He immerses himself in the spiritual flavor of “This Sky,” the hopeful nature of “Revolution,” and the anguish of “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” on which he juxtaposes a raw, vulnerable intonation on the verses with a more steadfast vocalizing of the chorus.
However it is Trucks who still shines brightest in DTB. Whether delivering subtle adornments, bright flourishes or well-paced instrumental journeys Trucks is relentlessly tasteful and energetic. While Songlines doesn’t offer many of the explosively spiraling guitar ventures Trucks frequently delivers in live performance, we get a deeper look at his ability to offer nuance in a more focused setting. It also evidences that he has found a way to incorporate the personalities of his long-time partners in crime – bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott, multi-instrumentalist Kofi Burbridge and frequent guest, de facto band member and one of Georgia’s great musical gurus, percussionist Count M’Butu.
The accolades keep piling up for Derek Trucks, and I was fortunate enough to have a chance to speak to him shortly after he kicked off what may be his most significant year yet.
RT – Your last studio release came out years after you recorded it and you actually had to relearn some of the songs in order to reintroduce them to your repertoire are you relieved to have this new album come out so soon after it was recorded?
DT Yes, it’s nice when things happen linearly. You record a record and then it actually comes out. It’s also nice that it is recorded with the actual touring group that we’re out with. We’re really excited about the record it’s a good time for us right now.
RT You are featuring Mike’s voice more and more. It seems like it was sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2004 that you decided to move from an instrumental band with occasional vocals to featuring Mike a whole lot more is that accurate?
DT Yeah, somewhere in there. A lot of it was just Mike getting comfortable in the situation and feeling like he didn’t have to tiptoe around what had already been happening. It was a “feeling each other out” process, and when everything starts really feeling comfortable it just kinda naturally happens.
RT – “Chevrolet” (Taj Mahal song covered on Songlines) has a particularly old-timey feel; can you talk about how you achieved this?
DT The original idea was to just do the first two verses acoustic and then have the full band come in. We started tracking it with an ol’ National steel and The Count playing percussion. Mike and I were in the room together, and it just felt so good going down live that we decided to keep the tape rolling, and we started adding things on top of it to kind of color it up a little bit. It was one of those unexpected studio happenings. It was originally another idea altogether and it ended up turning into that. I’m glad it did!
RT – Could you talk about Chatwin’s book – how you found it and how it was an influence?
DT An A & R guy at Columbia named Steve, he’s one of the good guys. He was at Atlantic for years where he did the Ray Charles box set, the Ornette Coleman box. He turned me on to that book about the time we were cuttin’ the record. I really thought the whole idea behind it would be a great theme either for a record in the future or just a great album title. It’s basically an Aboriginal myth about their ancestors seeing the world in terms of existence. They’ve actually kept a lot of their traditional tunes alive and they are essentially road maps. They sing about specific places with enough detail that you could actually find your way around if you knew the tunes.
RT – Have any these songs evolved a great deal in the live setting since you recorded them?
DT Some of them have. They had evolved quite a bit up until the point we recorded them, and then we completely abandoned what we had been doing live and tried to reinvent the tunes for the studio. A lot of the tunes have gone back closer to the album version than where they were kind of naturally going. It’s a nice change of pace actually.
RT “Volunteered Slavery” changed particularly radically.
DT Yeah that changed quite a bit. We actually just recently started tweaking that one a little different and opening it up again. For the record we wanted it to be kind of a mood setter and not the full-on event it had become live by that time. But just the last two shows we actually started breaking out the full Rahsaan Roland Kirk version
RT Is that Yonrico I hear singing on some of the stuff?
DT It’s everybody in there, but yeah, Rico’s hollarin’ (laughs).
RT – You have some original songs on this album “I’ll Find My Way,” “This Sky, ” “Revolution,” “All I Knew” and “Mahjoun” are you enjoying composing and do you foresee the Trucks Band moving toward more original material.
DT Those we wrote as a band or I at least had some part of. But yes, I think that is always the idea. It’s just a matter of everybody getting in that mindset. It’s a matter of having time to really track tunes and spend time on them. Between jumping back and forth between the different shifts with the different bands it doesn’t leave a lot of time for rehearsals. When we actually do get together and spend a week, I notice a lot of tunes usually come out of it. I hoping in the nextit won’t be this summer because it is solid, but later in the year there will actually be some time to get back in and start thinking about the next record.
RT – Clearly your studies in Indian Classical Music are part of why you continue to grow as a live performer, can you talk about how they have affected you with regard to composing?
DT Some of the instrumentals that I end up writing kind of have that feel. It’s either the scale structure or the general groove underneath. I definitely think I would like to find a way to incorporate that side of what the band does, that side of the music I’m into, and kind of bridge it so we can write some vocal tunes that are in that realm. I think there’s some untapped music there.
RT Can you talk about Todd Smallie? I know he’s been a buddy of yours going way back, and he certainly has grown as a player, particularly in the last year or two.
DT Todd is the guy that I’ve grown the most with. He joined the band when I was 14. He had been gigging, and he was already a pro at that point. Some of the other guys joined the band more fully realized than Todd and me. So, it’s been a blast to see him progress. Just recently I..you play with somebody so much you don’t really see the curve until you step back, and maybe listen to tapes from ten years ago (laughs), and then check out what’s goin’ on now. He plays stuff now that I didn’t know he had in him. It’s good to see. He’s really playing his ass off. It’s amazing to get to play with people in this group as long as I have – him, Rico and Kofi, and now coming on seven years with Oteil and the Allman Brothers. It’s a fortunate place to be musically.
RT You seem to be using Kofi’s flute more and more.
DT I’d really like to get together and write some more tunes with Kofi where the flute and slide are carrying the melody, maybe more on record if we get the chance. I think that’s a nice sound. Kofi’s really opening it up in the group as well. Obviously he’s got more talent than he knows what to do with, and I think he’s really finding his place in the group/groove. He’s starting to feel comfortable “airing it out.” It’s an exciting time in that way. I feel that this record was kind of a turning point for the band and I’m excited to see how everyone grows and deals with it.
RT The Trucks Band has developed an amazing chemistry over the years, and while you certainly improvise a good bit, it is usually within the structure of a composition. Would you ever consider working without a set list or with a partial set list and sometimes even moving from song to song instrumentally?
DT I could definitely.in the past we’ve done that for little chunks of times. I really feel that at the stage that our band is inI notice that a lot of nights we’re playing places in front of audiences that are seeing the band for the first timeI feel like our group is kind of converting people right now. And I feel like it’s the time to just hit the shit clean, right on the head. There’s a place for doing things right and when there is, this vague area in-between all the time, it is harder to hit it the way we want to right now.
Once again, it’s a balance. I kind of follow the muse, and I think that at this point the band is at a place where we’re really confident with the way Mike is singing. We’re confident with the tunes that we’re choosing from and the way everyone’s playing. We just want to see how well we can do what we do now. And then we’ll hit a feeling, that’s when I think things will open up again and we’ll go through another stage. It’s a constant thing, throwing it up, harvesting it, then starting from scratch again with a new batch of ideas and tunes. With the record coming out right now I feel like we’re kind of touring behind a certain idea, a certain sound of the band. That’s kind of where things are at the moment. But you know, the band will go through many more stages before it is all said and done.
RT – To what extent do you call the shots in DTB and to what extent is it a democracy?
DT I let it be a democracy up to the point that it’s not working and then I have to step up and be a band leader. I think in any situation, any band or group situation, there has to be somebody to take blame or take charge when things aren’t going right. That’s pretty much the way it runs here. I try to let things go naturally and hope it works. But if it’s not going on the course I see I have to step in and fix the problem. It’s a role I feel I’m more than comfortable with. It either suits your personality or it doesn’t. It’s an interesting thing though, being a band leader at 13 or 14 years old. It takes a while until you feel naturally ready for that. At this point, I have a sense of what needs to happen and what has to happen. I’m lucky to have guys around me that even though the age difference is vast, there’s enough musical and personal respect going both ways that it’s not an issue.
RT We were treated to another great New Year’s Eve show down here in Atlanta. Where did the idea of working with a horns section come from and who are the Watkat horns?
DT We had a blast, man! Some of our friends from Colorado had mentioned that they wanted to spring for a horns section this year so we named the horn section after them since they were the “patrons of the art.” We had always wanted to do that it was just a matter of having the time to plan for an actual show and to afford a horn section. It’s something we definitely want to do more in the future. Especially some of those old R&B tunes. It’s just amazing to have those original horn parts and original horn charts and hearing the whole effect. It makes quite a difference. I would like to, together with Kofi in the future, use the horns in a little more advanced way. Maybe take some chances and do more of the Africa Brass Session John Coltrane or Oliver Nelson type of thing, or some of the charts Wayne Shorter wrote for big bands and have the horn section back up a trio or a quartet. I’d like to get into that at some point.
RT – I thought the choice to cover “Anyday” by Derek and the Dominos was interesting because I remember seeing you in the days before you were tapped to join the Allman Brothers Band and this was the only time I ever saw DTB doing ABB songs like “Liz Reed.” Are you preparing for anything here? [NOTE – at the time of this interview it had not yet been announced that Trucks would tour with Clapton]
DT (laughs) Doing the Derek and The Dominos tunes definitely has something to do with the fact that I’ll be playing in Eric Clapton’s band next year. When thinking of tunes to add for New Year’s, it’s always fun to figure out some stuff that half of the crowd will be familiar with and half of the crowd will know the tune but not be sure why. I thought “Anyday” fit that bill pretty well. I don’t know if I’ll be playing any of those Derek and The Dominos tunes with Clapton. I don’t know exactly what the plan is other than the fact that we’re doing a European tour and possibly more. I’m definitely excited about the prospects whatever it turns out to be. The band sounds strong. It is one of those opportunities that you don’t turn down and you don’t really ever expect to get. It should be quite a year.
RT So, when does this all begin?
DT The rehearsals are in April and I think we start in May. We do a few weeks first, then a week and a half Royal Albert Hall run. It sounds like a good time, some amazing touring. I get to go to a lot of places in the world that I’ve never been. Getting to play with him is gonna be quite an education. He’s seen and done it all.
RT Have you recorded or rehearsed with him at all already?
DT I recorded with him four or five months ago on a completely different project. He and J.J. Cale are doing a record together and I did the basic tracks with him, maybe nine or ten tunes. That’s when I got the offer to play in his group. Since then I’ve been out doing this thing and he’s been taking some time off after doing the New York Cream dates he did and we’re getting’ started in April, so I’ll see what happens then.
RT How did he find you, I heard Doyle Bramhall II from Austin had something to do with it.
DT I’m guessing he did. At the time he was recording on Susan’s record. Susan was saying that Doyle had our record, and was talkin’ him up. I’m guessing maybe he turned on Clapton to our stuff. I’m not exactly sure, but I’m feeling that is where it came from. I definitely appreciative of him for that, because it only takes having the right person chewing on the right person’s ear (laughs). It’s amazing how things happen.
RT So, when you met him he indicated a familiarity with your work?
DT Yes, he was familiar with some of the Indian Classical stuff we had done. I could tell that he had listened to our group.
RT Since the late seventies, Clapton hasn’t really had a taste for improvisational jams or any kind of “stretching.” Even when Cream reunited, while they did explore a little, on balance they kept things somewhat structured. Do you get the impression that this tour will be different from his recent tours in that he will explore a little more?
DT At this point I really have no idea, honestly. I don’t know what tunes we’re gonna play. I have a general idea of who is going to be in the band but I don’t know exactly what role I’ll be playing or anything like that. It’s really too early for me to say. I’m guessing that it will "open up" a little bit. I would imagine that if he’s having me out then it’s not just to play parts the whole time. I imagine there will be some fireworks.
RT Back to the New Year’s show, a lot of people “in the know” told me afterwards that they were surprised that Gregg Allman showed up. Was that planned or spontaneous?
DT It was pretty spontaneous. I got a call from him maybe a week or so before the shows. He was saying’ that he’d love to come over, and he mentioned that he had played every New Year’s since, maybe 1967? He didn’t want to break tradition. It was cool, he wanted to come hang and play [laughs]. Of course, when I get a call like that I’m more than happy to oblige. It was nice. I think he dug having the horn section too. It was a family affair with Susan on the bill and my brother on drums.
RT So, Gregg made a special trip from Savannah just to sit in with you?
DT Yeah, yeah. He was actually in town hanging out the night before. He just came up with his wife Stacy for the shows and spent his New Year’s that way. Everybody seemed to have a good time.
RT I remember talking to you just before you joined ABB, and while you were confident you also had some trepidation at the time. Did you ever think that six or seven years later you would have gone from being the guy trying to find his place in the band to a pretty vital part of ABB’s current live sound?
DT Well, you always hope when you step into a situation that you’re gonna be an actual part of it and not just filling space musically. That’s what you’re shooting for when you step in. You want to change it up. You want to make it a part of what you do. You kind of want it to grow around you in a way, and with you. It has definitely been the case. Since I’ve joined that band there have been quite a few changes. A year and a half with Dickey, a year with Jimmy Herring , and..I guess about four with Warrenoff and on with Jack Pearson. In a way, I feel like Oteil and I have been a stabilizing force in the group through all of that. Whenever someone else jumps back in the group, or whenever someone else comes along that’s kind of where the immediate attention goes, but the core of the group has kept it allkinda drivin’ down the road especially the percussionists. I was listening to one of the old records the other day and it hit me all of a sudden that between Butch and Jaimoe that sound has been unchanging. That’s really what has kept the band going’ all the years. The two original guitarists have come and gone and it still has that same feel. A lot of the credit goes to the backline the unsung heroes of the group.
RT The drummers serve as sort of an anchor.
DT Completely. An anchor a catalyst a lot of things all at once. It’s been a blast playing with them.
RT While you’re soloing, you often pick up on something subtle that one of them does and swiftly incorporate it into your lead.
DT There’s so much going on back there with three drummers. There is a lot to choose from, a lot to key in on. Oteil as well, I can’t explain how much fun it is playing with somebody that talented every night. It really does keep you on your toes musically. You want to keep them interested, keep them enjoying what you’re doing and keep them on their toes. If there’s anyone you’re trying to impress it should be the guys you’re playing with every night. That’s a lot of the fun.
RT What is your future with the Allman Brothers, as it looks right now?
DT I wouldn’t even touch a question like that (laughs). They have such a crazy history. There’s no telling what’s gonna happen. I’m just enjoying it while I’m doing it. When I’m there I try to make it happen as best as I can. I wouldn’t even begin to try to predict the future. You know, when I joined the group I didn’t think there was any chance it would ever be me and any guitar player other than Dickey. You could have given me a million guesses and I would have never come up with me and Jimmy doing the Allman Brothers together. Then Warren came back, so I have no idea (laughs). But I do think the lineup we have right now is pretty solid. I can’t really imagine it changing. It feels like this is the final lineup but, you never know.
RT Were you surprised when Dickey was asked to leave the band?
D Yes and No. I was surprised because it was a shocking idea, having the Allman Brothers without Dickey Betts. I wasn’t surprised, kind of knowing some of the history, and what’s gone on over the years. Also I knew at the time what it is like having a band together for 10 years, let alone 33. It’s very much a relationship. Sometimes you just have to part ways and you gotta move on. On that level I completely understood it, but I was still a little surprised.
RT Do you think it was made based solely on offstage things, or did onstage stuff come into play as well?
DT It was definitely both. You know, everything has its highs and lows.peaks and valleys. When I joined the band I felt like there was some really nice stuff going on some really good energy, and everyone was enjoying playing’ again. It felt like it was really heading somewhere. And then things got a little sloppy for a minute and that’s when everything hit the fan.
RT I was really surprised Jimmy only stayed with the band for that one year.
DT I think Jimmy felt really uncomfortable in that role of being the guy that replaced Dickey, and people only knowing him for that. Unlike Warren who had a past with the band, or even with me coming in with the family lineage, Jimmy’s situation was not as comfortable. But the fact that he was the one who was really taking the heat for something he had nothing to do with was a little much on him. The first few shows there were some definite resentment from a certain part of the crowd about not having Dickey there. Some of the people, uninformed, thought I was taking his place, so I got a little bit of the heat, but for the most part it was Jimmy. There were a few shows where there was a group of, like six people up front with these T-Shirts that they had made up..I forget what they said. But every time Jimmy would take a solo they would turn their backs to the stage.
DT It was just total bullshit and unwarranted and Jimmy is the last guy that deserves anything like that. I just think it kind of took a toll on him. So, when the Phil thing came up and he had the opportunity to do that he felt more comfortable. In Phil and Friends he wasn’t replacing somebody that was living. With the Allman Brothers he very much felt like he was in someone else’ssome other guy’s house or somethin’. [Laughs]
It was a strange, strange summer for him, that way. That being said, we had a blast at the same time. It was some amazing music. I think that had he hung there would have been some really nice stuff to come out of it. I think the band would have moved in a more progressive direction, just because that is the nature of Jimmy. But I also think that the timing of Warren coming back and all the stuff he adds to the group was a pretty big stabilizing force in the band.
RT You had an encyclopedic knowledge of those blues records you had as a kid, was Jimmy the one that taught you how to make them come to life live?
DT He was definitely one of the guys around when things were opening up for me musically. Very much, hangin’ with Colonel Bruce Hamptonhe was a huge catalyst. Oteil too. But yeah, I learned a lot from Jimmy, especially early on, just sitting down with him. He knows his shit. He was always more than willing, in a really non-confrontational way, if I was ever curious about something, to sit down and just be an open book. Definitely that was an amazing time for me as a musician. Those are the times that make or break you. You either catch on and you want to do it or you kind of move away from it. I’m lucky that when I was at that stage I had guys like Jimmy, Oteil, The Colonel and Jeff Sipe around, to help me out, as well as the guys I played with in my band. It was a fortunate place to be.
RT So many of your influences are horn players like Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane, do you ever have horn lines in your head when you’re playing a solo?
DT Quite often I will be hearing John Gilmore or Wayne Shorter phrases in my head, or just that approach. Eventually I get to a point that I’m not hearing any instruments, I’m just hearing melodies in my head. On a good night that’s what’s happening. Other times if we are playing a tune like “Greensleeves” or “My Favorite Things” I am definitely hearing Coltrane’s approach to it, and I’m hearing the intensity of his sound in my head at times and that’s what fuels me.
RT You have some clout in the music industry now, and after this Clapton thing you will have even more, have you given any thought to doing a side project with some of the “young lions” of Jazz sometime down the road?
D I think eventually I’ll get a chance to do something like that. Right now, between the three bands, kids and a wife, that’s about all the time that I have. [Laughs]
I really want to spend a solid year when I’m not doing the Clapton thing or the Allman thing anymore and really focus on this project (DTB) and give everything I have to it for a minute. It’s a little tough to do that when I’m jumping around and doing other things. That being said, I’m amazed at where this band is and how far it has progressed recently. I would really like to see what would happen if we could all to get together weekly, monthly and write and rehearse. That is the ultimate goal. I’ve got plenty of time to do other things, but I want to do that when I’m in a different mind set. When I’m sitting around for a month or two listening to Jazz records and just shedding, getting into that head space. Then I want to do a project like that. But right now my head is in different places musically. I jump around. There will be a solid year where I’m listening to Indian Classical and Eastern music, then there will be another phase I go through that is all songwriters, you know it’s The Band, Dylan, Donnie Hathaway, and Ray LaMontagne. What I’m listening to shifts around so I follow the muse and what is hitting me at a given time.
RT I love the Allman Brothers, I’ve been listening to them longer than just about any band, and I’m grateful that they’re still around and still put on such great shows. But I can’t help but wonder that as great as those songs are, do you ever feel musically limited in their setting?
DT Slightly, but you know, the thing is that, I really think, especially if the quality is high which obviously it is in a band like that, it’s all what you do with it. I mean it’s great to have total freedom and be able to stretch in any direction at any given time but that can be a prison too. I think that there is a challenge in playing the same tunes and trying to reinvent them every night. There is the challenge to hit these tunes that a lot of other bad ass guitar players before you have hit and try to elevate them to a place they haven’t been yet. If I was doing it full time and it was 200 shows a year it might be a little much. But to go out with my guys and then hit The Allman Brothers fresh for two and a half, three weeks at a time it doesn’t really wear on me in that setting.
RT Was it your idea for ABB to cover “Afro Blue?”
DT That’s a tune we’ve been doing in our group for years, and Gov’t Mule was doing for a little while. I was quoting it in a solo once and Oteil just jumped right on it, and that turned into.well, anytime Jaimoe back there hears a Jazz melody being played, his ears perk up, his back gets straight, and he’s off to the races, so he was a catalyst to that tune.
RT I think it would be great to see more of that in the Allman Brothers as not only would it give the band a chance to more stretching, it would also result in less of a strain on Gregg and Warren’s voices.
DT With the Allman Brothers they have to kind of ride this linemuch less so at The Beacon because you have the diehards out and they’re pretty willing to go with us in any direction we want to go. But a lot of times, in the summer tour, half of the audience is there to hear the catalog and you kind of have to play to that group as well as the guys who are coming out to hear the band really go. It’s a delicate balance for a band like the Allman Brothers. I could definitely see things opening up a little bit more this year. Maybe we’ll get some great horn players out this year at The Beacon and we’ll see if that opens it up a shot too.
RT On that topic, have you ever heard of the rule of thirds? One-third of the show is for people who are seeing you for the first time, one-third is for people who see you every time you come to town and one-third is for the hard cores.
DT I like that. I hadn’t heard of that, but that’s about right. [laughs]
RT – I just want to go back to you stepping in with Phil Lesh on very short notice when he was sharing a bill for an entire tour with Bob Dylan late in 1999. How did that happen and how were you able to jump in and pull that off musically, given your, at that time, limited exposure to The Grateful Dead?
DT I remember checking my messages after a North Carolina gig and there’s this 415 area code on my cell phone. I check my messages and it was from Phil Lesh. I was pretty unfamiliar with The Dead, and our soundman Marty Wall followed The Dead and went to tons of shows. I asked him who Phil Lesh was and of course, his eyes lit up. Phil had left a semi-urgent message to get back to him. So, I called him in the middle of the night and he said that somebody had given him one of our records. He needed a guitar player, and they had 14 shows and if I was willing could I fill in. I told him truthfully that I would love to do it, but I was completely unfamiliar with the catalog, with the tunes. But I also told him that I was more than willing to give it a shot. I think my band had one more show booked that overlapped with the dates he wanted to do. Luckily, the owner was a Deadhead, and I think that Phil’s people called and asked him to let us get out of the show (laughs).
It all fell into place from there. I flew out and got the tunes when I got there. Every morning they would give me a set list and some CDs with different versions of the tunes they were gonna play that night. I would just spend the day listening to old tapes of Garcia playing a lot of these tunes. It was very much trial by fire. It was great. I was at that age, where I had just started getting comfortable in the Allman Brothers gig. My confidence was up a little bit, yet I was also very much in that “sponge stage” take on as much as I can, you know? It was a challenge in a good way, in a really eye-opening way. I had a whole new respect not just for their body of music, but for they way approached it. I learned tons from Phil just the few weeks I was there. He was more than generous on many levels, and has been with me and the band since then.
That’s also when he got turned on to Jimmy Herring. Jimmy was playing on the record of ours that Phil heard. Knowing that I was doing the ABB gig, he asked me if I knew any guitar players that might fit well in his band. Jimmy was out there not long after that. It was another one of those calls, like the Clapton call, that you just never expect but that completely changes the course of things, another moment that you look back on and realize how lucky you’ve been. Those were great shows for me. It was a great time to see Dylan again. The first two shows were with Billy Payne and (Paul) Barrere, and Rob Barraco and Warren did the rest of them. I would like to check some of that stuff out, I haven’t heard it since we did it. I would be curious. I know there was some definite freshness in it, because I wasn’t familiar with it I wasn’t playing those tunes in the same mindset that the band had been, so it was a good cross-section.
RT What kind of direction did Phil give you beyond providing the CDs, did he just ask you to inject your own personality as you saw fit?
DT I think he was intrigued at the fact that I hadn’t listened to Garcia or the music. He wanted a fresh approach. There also was a whole mindset that there really wasn’t soloing much of the time. It was kind of like a Dixieland thing where everyone is interjecting at all times. That was a different way of playing for me. It didn’t take adjusting; it was just a different approach. He was great, and having just gotten the Phil and Friends thing up and running he had all kinds of enthusiasm and hope for what he was doing. It’s always fun to catch people on the upswing with any project. It feels like a happening, it feels like something is going’ on.
RT And I’ll bet it forces you to listen, being in that setting.
DT For me, that’s always been key with anything I do. That is what separates great musicians from people who just play an instrument is the ability to listen to what’s going on around you. That didn’t feel too different for me other than the fact that maybe everybody else on stage was listening a little bit more than normal. That was refreshing. I was on my toes. With Phil, you’re following him. He was without a doubt the leader of that group. Everything was alternating so much; no one had established any ground other than him. It was fun watching him direct things, weaving in and out with him when the time was right. It was great with Jimmy actually had that stint with him, because people had different roles and it turned into a band. There was also something really nice about when the seeds were first planted in the group. When everyone is feeling each other out musically- he was unfamiliar with my playing. I was unfamiliar with his. That was a nice time.
RT You mentioned Dylan, didn’t you sit in with him once when you were young?
DT Yeah, I think 11 or 12. I hadn’t seen him since then. I was surprised, he actually spotted me and remembered me and said, “I haven’t seen you in eight years” (both laugh). I was shocked that he would recognize me from when I was 11 or 12 years old. He is one of those guys that is much more on top of his shit than you might imagine.
RT How did you end up sitting in with him?
DT We opened two or three shows and he came in and caught the tail end of the last show we did with him, and then he invited me up on the last three or four tunes of the night. Another one of those occurrences, I guess.
RT I guess so. Did he give you direction, like say “we’re going for this” or “we’re going for that” before hand, or did he just throw you out there and say “go for it?”
DT Yeah, just, “let’s go” (laughs). He had, I guess, enough confidence that I wasn’t going to step all over everybody. When it was time for a solo, they looked and pointed and I went for it. That was quite a trip, early on. My dad was the biggest Dylan fan on the planet, so at that point it was more exciting for him than me at 11, I didn’t know any difference.