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Derek Trucks talks B.B. King, real musicianship and working with his wife

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi (front, pink shirt, blond hair), travel with nine other musicians in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo: Taylor Crothers

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi (front, pink shirt, blond hair), travel with nine other musicians in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo: Taylor Crothers

Butch Trucks recently joked that he wished the Allman Brothers could tour more frequently, but too many members of the band have side projects marking up the calendar.

His nephew, Derek Trucks, is guilty as charged.

The longtime leader of The Derek Trucks Band, the guitarist – to whom the word amazing applies without being hyperbolic – has a new focus these days: The Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-piece outfit he fronts with his wife, the blues-soul singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi.

The group, which also includes Allman alum Oteil Burbridge on bass, won a Grammy for best blues album for “Revelator,” its debut last year. For their second recording, the band released the live “Everybody’s Talkin’.”

Through Labor Day, they’re playing a handful of shows with B.B. King – including a Sunday stop at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.

Derek Trucks, 33, called earlier this week from his home in Jacksonville, where he had just finished getting the couple’s two kids off to their first day of school, to discuss his admiration of Mr. King, how he feels about being considered one of the greatest living slide guitarists and the challenges of working with his spouse.

Q. You played with B.B. King at the Royal Albert Hall in London last year, but do you think touring with him will be different?

A. I’m excited for it. Between B.B. and Sue and me, we have a great rapport. The friendship goes back a long way and the admiration from me and Susan to B.B. is…just, he’s the guy. There’s also the sense that you don’t know how much longer B.B. is going to be around, playing.

Q. Do you know if you’ll do anything with him onstage at these shows?

A. Not sure yet. But if he asks, we’re there. This is something we’ve wanted to do for years. Susan has done tours with him, but the timing never really worked out [for both of us] before. This time, because of his age and situation, it was like, ‘Make it happen.’ B.B. has given the world so much with music. He can go do whatever he wants for as long as he wants and I’ll show up.

Q. Who is left for you to work with?

A. I’ve been incredibly fortunate the past decade that I’ve gotten to play with most of my heroes. Until Albert Hall, B.B. was highest on the list, so we can check that off the bucket list. A few months ago we got to play with Stevie Wonder, so check that one off, too! From here on out, it’s about trying to make music yourself that stands up.

Q. Who would you say was most instrumental in helping you develop your style?

A. The music that was in my house growing up – the Allmans at the Fillmore, Derek and the Dominoes. My mom listened to Joni Mitchell and Dylan and Elmore James. He and Duane [Allman] are the two for slide. I spent a lot of time in Atlanta when I was 12 and 13 trying to put together my first solo group and spent a lot of time with Col. Bruce Hampton and Jeff Sipe. I got turned on to Sun Ra, John Coltrane, a lot of Indian cultural music.

Q. Gregg Allman calls you the reincarnation of his brother Duane in his new book, but your uncle, Butch Trucks, says you don’t love that comparison.

A. Starting at such a young age in a musical family, fans will latch on to what you do and want you to stay there. You have to keep the flame lit yourself. That’s what makes a musician great, the inability to box them in. It would be a disservice to [Duane’s] legacy to recreate what he was doing and just stay there.

Q. How do you feel when you hear people tell you and write that you’re one of the greatest living guitarists? Do you feel that way?

A. I think the beauty of working as much as we do and always being on a mission is you never have time to step back and figure out where you stand. The music that we listen to on the road, you know who your heroes are and what greatness is and that’s what you’re after and you’re always comparing up. You never get comfortable. There are a lot of contemporary guitarists that we know – some underground – that are amazing. I take it with a grain of salt.

I think music, in some ways, is in a slightly rough state. We run into people all the time who seem to be doing it for the right reasons. But it’s kind of a sad state when you watch award shows. There isn’t one person on there who can hold an instrument, let alone play it.

Q. Did you feel that way at the Grammys this year [the Allman Brothers received a Lifetime Achievement Award and TTB won Best Blues Album]?

A. They always have a handful of legit artists on the Grammys and do a great job with that. But for the most part, it’s not music, it’s entertainment, and I get it – that’s what people need. But it’s just way out of balance right now. Technology is great, but there’s also that we’re going through some growing pains of what that means. I think as bands and consumers we get a little whiny; we want everything the way we want it. Music is supposed to represent life; it’s not supposed to feel fake. As a band, we’re trying to fight the good fight. We carry a band as big as we do because we feel like that’s what we need.

Q. Speaking of that, what’s the biggest challenge of keeping 11 people happy?

A. [Laughs] It’s an impossible challenge, but luckily everyone gets along. When we put the band together, personalities were a big part of it. The biggest challenge is trying to keep that many people on the road as viable [financially], but we’ve been fortunate. When we started, we expected to completely get hosed the first few years, but the last six months to a year, the momentum has started.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have been married since 2001. Photo: James Minchin

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have been married since 2001. Photo: James Minchin

Q. How do you and Susan feed off each other when songwriting? Are you able to separate the personal from the professional?

A. [Laughs] That’s been evolving since we started this. Last week we had Oliver Wood [of The Wood Brothers], a good friend, down at the house. Me, Sue and Oliver sat in a room and he had some ideas. The three of us sat there with guitars and everyone is throwing in ideas. Sometimes it’s as easy as that.

Then Doyle Bramhall came down and that was a little different. There were a few ideas that me and Doyle had and Sue just said, ‘I’m gonna go in the house for mom time.’ But if she has an idea, she’ll come out and throw it in. If you feel creative, jump in, if not, you go make lunches for school the next day [laughs].

Q. Does the creation of The Tedeschi Trucks Band mean the end of your former respective bands?

A. Yeah, this is the focus. With my group [the Derek Trucks Band], we did about 15-16 years together – it was a serious haul. Not many bands make half that! There was something great about going out the way we did. We won our first Grammy as a band when things wrapped up. I love to play with those guys in one form or another. It’s still a big, extended family. Things change and evolve and you have to be willing to roll with it. It’s hard to go back. From the time I was 14 to 30, a huge chunk of my life, I was with them. I couldn’t ask for better guys to grow up with.

Q. Do you hold anything against Atlanta since you once had some gear stolen here [in 2006]?

A. That was rough little patch, but I was amazed at the way people reacted to that. We didn’t miss a beat. But no, Atlanta has always been kind of the hub – for me, from the early days with putting together my own group and being around the remnants of the old Capricorn scene. The first time I ever stood on stage and watched an Allmans show was at Chastain. I was called to maybe sit in – I was 10 or 11 – but it didn’t happen until a few nights later in Jacksonville. Then there were the Lakewood dates a few years later. Atlanta really is the band’s second home. Plus my little brother [Duane Trucks, a drummer], has a weekly gig there at the Five Spot.

Q. It’s only been a few years for TTB, but you’ve already won a Grammy and released a live album. Do you feel more on home on stage than a studio?

A. I gotta say, the last three records I’ve done, the studio feels almost as good as playing live. In some ways it’s been better – that’s new for me. In the beginning it wasn’t that way at all. For the first record ['Revelator'], we intentionally made it about the songs and showcasing Susan’s voice, but the band was just born. When the horn section came down, the first time we played with them was in the studio. Once we hit the road I knew it would just open up, so I didn’t want to force that in the studio. The live record was just the natural answer to that. Once the band really got rolling on the road, we just wanted to document the life of the band.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band opens for B.B. King at 7 p.m. Sunday. $35-$55. Chastain Park Amphitheatre, 4469 Stella Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.livenation.com.

9 comments Add your comment

Speed Racer

August 23rd, 2012
7:26 am

First. But I, sadly, won’t be at Chastain for the show.

Kevin

August 23rd, 2012
1:12 pm

higgs boson on guitar

Holley

August 23rd, 2012
1:43 pm

Great interview and read, Melissa. Enjoyed it very much!

glenn dillard

August 23rd, 2012
2:23 pm

What an incredible life it must have been growing up in the Trucks family! I can’t wait to see you guys on Sept.8 at ‘the mountain winery’! I do wish you would hurry and advertise who will be playing with you, I know it will be someone really good.

Diane Kraft

August 23rd, 2012
8:31 pm

great interview. Glad to see Derek has a voice. Not that his guitar isn’t enough. Loved TTB at the Peach…

Jamdor78

August 24th, 2012
1:40 am

Nicely done! Great questions.

Hope Caywood

August 24th, 2012
10:42 pm

Cool weather coming to Atlanta for Sunday. Just ahead of that whopper hurricane.

brock

August 25th, 2012
12:55 pm

Great interview Melissa. I will be there tomorrow for my 3d TTB show. The thing about Derek is, besides his obvious skill on guitar, is his great musical open mind. The quote “It would be a disservice to [Duane’s] legacy to recreate what he was doing and just stay there.” really sums it up. What a career he has already had, and it’s a pleasure to see where he takes it in the future.

Tim

August 26th, 2012
5:10 pm

Fyi – BB King goes on first tonight at Chastain. I would expect him on close to 7pm. Tedeschi Trucks Band closes the show.