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Music Preview: Derek Trucks Band

Guitar prodigy Derek Trucks splits time between Allman Brothers and his own adventurous band

Friday, January 28, 2000

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

The Derek Trucks story isn't quite the one you'd imagine when you think of a guitar player growing up with family in the Allman Brothers Band.

Derek Trucks Band

Where: Graffiti, Oakland.

When: Tonight at 8:30.

Tickets: $12; 412-323-1919.


It was not a life of riding around in tour buses and hanging around in the wings with the country's most seasoned blues-rock band.

Trucks, nephew of drummer Butch Trucks, says, "I wasn't really around the band at all." He grew up in the Jacksonville area, a normal, if exceptionally bright, kid who played Little League and collected baseball cards almost fanatically.

From the time he was a baby, however, he went to sleep at night listening to Duane Allman's blistering work on "Live at the Fillmore East," and at the age of 9, his dad bought him a $5 acoustic guitar at a garage sale.

Chris Trucks was a roofer, not a musician, but he showed his son a few things and then just sat back and watched in amazement as the sound of Duane seemed to flow out of him. As the legend goes, Chris Trucks wept, partly from joy, partly from the fear that Derek would become a career musician, with all the ups and downs that it brings.

"They were supportive, but a little apprehensive about it, because they had seen what [Butch] had been through," Trucks says, from the snowy road this week in North Carolina. "It wasn't their first choice to have a kid on the road, 9 years old, playing in bars. But they were definitely supportive once it did happen. I wouldn't be here if they weren't."

Eleven years later, at the age of 20, Trucks is a full-fledged member of the Allman Brothers Band, playing opposite Dickey Betts like Duane once did; he is the leader of his own Derek Trucks Band; he has already shared stages with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy, and he recently went way "out there" right here with Phil Lesh & Friends.

Even from the time he was a kid, playing in clubs with Derek and the Dominators (get it?) and Frogwings (with Uncle Butch), there was a sense that Trucks was not a novelty act - that he really had something to say with the guitar.

Now that he's come of age, there's no question. One listen to "Out of the Madness," the second record from the Derek Trucks Band, reveals him to be far more diverse and sophisticated than a Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Johnny Lang. Although the record does show off his amazing traditional blues work, Trucks takes the blues genre into more dynamic regions, melding his Southern soul with jazz fusion and the Indian classical music that fascinates him.

Trucks will also tell you that he doesn't find a lot of his musical inspiration in guitar players.

"I never listened to many guitar players - more horn players and vocalists," he says. "In the beginning, it was Elmore James and Duane Allman, then Wayne Bennett, Bobby Bland's guitar player. But I don't listen to a lot of guitar players. I just don't think it ever really attracted me. I play it, but it's not an instrument I listen to a whole lot. I think if you listen strictly to your instrument, you start thinking music is that. I don't want to be a guitar player. I'd rather play music - and just have that be the vehicle."

Although he grew up in the early '90s, when all his friends were listening to the punk and grunge coming out of Seattle, he stayed away from those darker influences.

"It really turned me off. It actually made me feel bad," he says. "I don't think the technicality of the musicians had anything to do with it. It just seemed really dark and angry, and like music that could be discarded in a few years. If it's real, it should be timeless."

He says most of today's pop music is made to listen to and then throw away. He finds a lot more to be excited about in Eastern musicians like Zakir Hussain, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Akbar, who moved him to write and play the piece "Deltaraga" and others like it on the lute-like instrument called the sarod.

"I think Eastern music and Indian classical crystallized everything that I thought music was about," Trucks says. "It was the opposite of pop music. It was the opposite of selling records. It was about music, and it was about dedicating your life to it. It was about discipline - discipline and complete freedom at the same time."

Trucks doesn't think there's anything wrong with guys playing standard blues rock, "if that's your bag," but it's not where he's coming from. He says now the band is deviating even further from the genre with the addition of flutist Kofi Burbridge.

"It seems like now most people are stuck," he says. "I don't hear many people doing anything that is really mint or pure.... right now, it's kind of a low in music. We run into a lot of different bands and a lot of musicians, and I don't hear much urgency out of any of them."

On the plus side, he knows that there are inventive musicians out there and things will turn around.

"It's all timing. It seems to happen every 15 or 20 years, there's a wave of music that has to come out. It happens with the times. Hopefully it's on the verge of happening again."

In the meantime, Trucks is getting ready to go back into rehearsals with the Allmans for a summer tour - an occasion and a challenge he looks forward to. Last year, when he joined the band, replacing Jack Pearson (who suffers from tinnitus), Betts gave him a list of 40 songs and told him: "There's a frame around the song. Learn that, but the rest of it we want to hear what you have to offer. We don't want a photocopy of Duane, Warren [Haynes] or Jack."

"It was a very good fit from the beginning," Trucks says. "They treated me even better than I thought. With the age difference and being Butch's nephew, I didn't know what to expect."

Trucks says the Allmans gig and tangents like the one with Lesh, while cutting into his solo work, make the Derek Trucks Band stronger. It also keeps him on the road, where he wants to be.

"I feel more at home on the road than anywhere," he says, "so I imagine I'll be doing this for a while."

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