A FEW MINUTES WITH… Derek Trucks
By Don Wilcock
Col. Bruce Hampton, a man Variety called “The Godfather of Jambands,” would always tell Derek Trucks, “You just have to keep doing what you do, but you have to do it long enough. You have to hang around long enough. Eventually, the wheel will turn, and it will be your time.”
“He was always talking about you’re trying to make it better,” explains Trucks, “but you gotta keep showing up. You gotta keep doing it. You’re talking about your brand.”
Trucks and his wife guitarist-vocalist Susan Tedeschi were on stage with Hampton on April 30 of last year when Hampton collapsed and died in the middle of performing “Turn on Your Lovelight” as the encore at his 70th birthday celebration. It was just one more tragedy in a year that saw Derek lose his uncle, fellow Allman Brothers bandmate and drummer Butch Trucks to suicide. Bandleader Gregg Allman passed away, and Tedeschi Trucks keyboardist Kofi Burbridge suffered a heart attack just days before the band began their 2017 summer tour.
Tedeschi Trucks Band calls their annual summer tour Wheels of Soul in reference to Col. Hampton’s turning of the wheel. Trucks had spent 15 years in the Allman Brothers Band – no strangers to personal tragedies – until its dissolution in 2014.
“We think about these things a lot ’cause the road can be long. There’s 12 pieces, and everyone’s going through their own life, and things can happen at home,” explains Trucks. “You can be having a shitty day or whatever. I’m thinking about things Duane Allman said. When you hit the stage you gotta put those things aside and serve it ’cause you never know who’s listening. You never know what they’re going through. You never know what it took for them to get there. You never know if it’s the last show they’re going to see. You have to hit the stage and think and play that way. You have to feel like you’ve left it all out there.”
This summer’s tour finds the band in better spirits. Kofi Burbridge is back. Nobody close to Trucks has died recently, and the group will be showcasing a few cuts from the new studio album due out early next year. “Yeah, we’re playing a few of the songs. I think we just finished the day before we left with Jim Scott, who produced the first few records with this band. He was back in the studio for the last few months when we were finishing the record, and for the last week and a half we were mixing, and we had it all finished up, and we’ll give it a few weeks and listen to it and make sure it’s aging right and make sure it still feels like we’re there.
“We won’t play all the tunes. In this day and age, if you play something live, it’s out there. People hear it, and you hate to release a record where everybody knows it already. We’ll have to save a bunch of ’em, but some are in pretty regular rotation at this point.
“A few of the tunes feel like they’re gonna be better if you road test them, and then you get down the road six months after making a record or six months after releasing it, and you’re playing these songs, and they all take on a different life, and you just kind of accept that for what it is. One of the reasons I think we do a lot of live records is we feel like after a few years of gigging tunes, they kinda become a different entity, and it’s nice to be able to share that with people, too, but yes, when we play tunes live it’s more to just work out the kinks, and new music just makes the band play better.
“This year does feel different, and I think finishing the record in a lotta ways is helping that, too, ’cause a lot of that record we started writing right in the middle of all that. So, a lot of those wounds were very fresh when we were making the album, and so until that was done, I feel like you’re still kinda wearing it. When you’re mixing it, you’re listening to those things over and over, and you can feel that emotion in the way Susan’s singing a tune or in the way you’re playing a tune.”
Trucks is a lot more centered and less inclined toward “the human experiments,” as he calls them, that the founding members of the Allman Brothers conducted before he joined the band in 1999 at age 19. “That’s not always the best thing to hand people in their 20s and 30s. You know, you learn how to navigate those things, but I learned a lot of lessons that are positive, too. My uncle would always tell this story about playing in the early days with Duane. He was having one of those shows where he just didn’t have it. He kinda backed off. He kinda threw in the towel a little bit. He said as soon as the song was over, Duane put his guitar down and came behind the drum set and got in his face and said, ‘If you ever give me less than everything you’ve got, I will butt kick your ass off stage.’ And my uncle said, ‘Never again.’ And he never did.
“All the years I played with my uncle, he never phoned it in. He had his faults, but delivering on stage was never in question. He would get up there and just air it out. Those are positives you take with you, and I feel those are things you have to be uncompromising about. You have to keep chopping wood.”
Concerning those new songs, he says, “I notice any time we throw new wood on the fire it just kinda locks in a little bit. Even if it’s covers, but especially if it’s original tunes. Just something about that that makes the band kinda snap into place. The more we can do that the better.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band boasts an American legacy reflecting all that is best about our musical heritage. Their live shows are legendary, and with an ever-changing repertoire of more than 70 songs, they present a treasury of originals and cover tunes that cover rock, blues, rhythm & blues, soul, gospel and jazz.
WHAT: The Wheels of Soul Tour
WHO: Tedeschi Trucks Band
WITH: Drive-By Truckers and the Marcus King Band
WHEN: Tuesday (June 3), 7pm
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $39.50, $49.50, $69.50 & $89.50 for reserved amphitheater seats; $19.50 for lawn general admission