The slide guitar phenom talks about why Rolling Stone’s all-time guitarist list is bogus and reveals the iconic instruments he’d love to own.
[Editor’s note: This 2004 interview previously appeared in a different form at Guitar.com]
By Don Dawson & Peter D'Addario
During the World Guitar Congress held in Towson, Maryland, we caught up with one of our favorite slide players, Derek Trucks. This unassuming monster guitarist leads quite a life; by day, husband to blueswoman Susan Tedeschi ; at night, guitar player for the much revered Allman Brothers Band. And then of course, in his spare time, he runs around the country playing with his own band, The Derek Trucks Band. And you thought you were busy. But it isn't all fun and games for this Jacksonville, Florida native. It's truly all about the music and he's been in the thick of it since a very early age. Son of Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers, Derek has been ensconced in roots music ever since he can remember.
Guitar.com: You were listed as one of the top 100 guitarists of all-time according to Rolling Stone. That's pretty awesome—how does that feel?
Derek Trucks: It's pretty funny, you know. Looking at Rolling Stone over the last few years, looks like Teen Beat or something, so you don't put too much weight into it. And looking at the list there were definitely some omissions and I don't think it was a definitive list. You don't have Albert King on there but you have Jack White?
Guitar.com: Yeah and he was in the top 15.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, it was pretty amazing. There was some funny stuff on there. I wrote a letter but I don't think they ever published it. I told them to take my name off of there and put Charlie Christian or Django Reinhardt, Albert King; turn that list upside down (laughs).
Guitar.com: You've just released a somewhat unique recording called Derek Trucks, Live at The Georgia Theatre. The unique thing is that it's only available online. You can get it at iTunes.com and a few other sites. Who's idea was this and what is the goal with this release?
Derek Trucks: We just wanted to put out a live record and that seemed like the easiest way to do it. Sometimes where you're dealing with a major label, there's things you have to do. We've been so happy with where the band is lately, just the shows have been feeling really good. The band has taken a few steps forward musically and we wanted to document it. We record every night, on multitrack anyways. And we decided to do it online and sell them at the shows. Just for the people at the shows, hear it and want to get a piece of it. We've always wanted to put out a live record and I'm sure we'll do another one in the future but we figured we'd fire the first shot.
Guitar.com: Well it's a great recording. Are you pretty web savvy?
Derek Trucks: No I'm terrible. (laughs)
Guitar.com: Have you ever visited Guitar.com?
Derek Trucks: No not yet but I need to get on it. I don't get to be in front of a computer very much.
Guitar.com: Well, you've been so busy.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, that's true.
Guitar.com: You'll also be making the CD available at your gigs as well. In the acoustic markets, such as bluegrass, fingerstyle and Americana, bands and solo performers sell as much as 75% of their music at their gigs. Do you sell a lot of your CD's on location?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, I don't think it's as much as 75% but a good portion of our records are moved at the shows.
Guitar.com: We heard that you don't allow taping at any of your shows any longer.
Derek Trucks: No we do.
Guitar.com: Oh, you do?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, taping is fine. I think it's videotaping that the record company has a problem with.
Guitar.com: So how do you deal with people taping you competing with your own live album that you have online? Does it bother you?
Derek Trucks: No, it doesn't really bother us. We're multi-tracking every night so it's going to be, the sound is so much different from just an audience mic. Sometimes an audience mic can sound pretty amazing but when you can go in and really get the sounds right and tweak things here and there, it makes a big difference. I think the casual fan that comes out isn't taping anyways and probably not trading, even the die-hard fans want to support the group. They know were not selling hundreds of thousands of records. They know when we put out a record they know it’s gas money in the bus. I think people will pick it up anyways.
Guitar.com: Yeah, there's something about having the actual CD too, as opposed to having a burned copy.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, there's definitely something about it. I've noticed that as well. Some people will give me a burned copy of discs and I still want to go out and get the record, get the CD. The liner notes, the artwork, there's something about the whole process that just makes it feel like the record.
Guitar.com: Yeah and its also about supporting the band too, its just sort of the right thing to do.
Derek Trucks: That's for sure. My policy is usually if the person is living, I make sure I buy their records (laughing). If they're gone, the record company is just going to get the money, so I don't feel as bad.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Have you ever listening to some of the 'real' bootlegs of your material that are out there?
Derek Trucks: Nah-uh. (laughs)
Guitar.com: Well, you tape everything off the soundboard yourselves so you've got a great recording to start with.
Derek Trucks: Yeah and I don't listen to it very often. Every once in a while I'll go back and listen. We're so close to it, all the time. And you can become over-critical but every now and then it’s nice to step back and it's like, "damn, that's a good band." Then I have to go by and thank everyone in the group for playing their asses off.
Since giving this interview, Trucks has built a home studio where he showed Musician’s Friend around in 2012.
Guitar.com: No doubt, you've got a killer band. Is Kofi Burbridge related to Oteil (Burbridge- bass player for the Allmans and numerous others)?
Derek Trucks: He's Oteils' older brother.
Guitar.com: I didn't realize that. Very cool. Okay, now for the hard part. Let's do a little word association, if we can. Give us the first thing that pops into your head when you hear these names—Sonny Landreth ...
Derek Trucks: Wow, I love Sonny. First time I played with him was on the Junior Wells record. He's one of those Louisiana guys from that area, just a unique style. Him and Ry Cooder and those guys have a certain sound that they get that no one else does.
Guitar.com: Elmore James
Derek Trucks: First influence for me on electric slide, him and Duane. I love his playing, always in the back of my mind somewhere.
Guitar.com: Sun Ra
Derek Trucks: Hmmm, Sun Ra. I guess with Sun Ra it was, I was probably 14 or 15 at the time when I started to get into him. Everything that I was starting to get into, reading and music was just heading in that direction. And finding somebody like him who was so outside the mainstream but held it together for 40 or 50 years, with the same band members, just the dedication that those guys had. It obviously wasn't monetary. It obviously wasn't the fame or the glory that they were after. Something about what they were going for and the intensity definitely gave us fire as a band early on. You kind of need those under-the-radar heroes to look up to. I think Sun Ra is definitely one of the unsung heroes; big band, composer, whatever.
Guitar.com: Blind Willie Johnson
Derek Trucks: I mean the obvious track, "Dark was the Night," I think is one of the greatest recordings of all time. I think whenever anyone hears that it cuts right to the core. He's definitely somebody, in that track in particular, where there's a lot of time when I'm playing slide, I'm definitely hearing his intensity and those inflections from that tune, more recently like 2 or 3 years ago, when I got turned onto him. Definitely a huge influence for me, for what I'm doing now.
Guitar.com: Son House
Derek Trucks: I think, most of the time, I put Son House at the end of the road. I guess there's things maybe as good, but nothing better (laughing). He's top-tier for me. He cuts to the chase; the good, the bad, the ugly, whatever. There's just something about him, man. He was hearing voices.
Guitar.com: King Curtis
Derek Trucks: King Curtis, His live record at the Fillmore is one of my favorite live records of all time. That and the Donny Hathaway live album. That band he had then was just so great. Bernard Purdie, Jerry Jamont and just some of his tunes. He just seemed like one of those guys that everyone loved being around. I wished I had a chance to see him perform.
Guitar.com: Lowell George
Derek Trucks: You know, I'm not that familiar with Lowell George. I definitely really respect what he did. I know a lot of the guys in Little Feat and just they way they talk about him, it reminds me of the way the people in the Allman Brothers still revere Duane. It's the same with Lowell and Little Feat. I definitely think he's one of the giants from that period.
Guitar.com: Warren Haynes
Derek Trucks: I've known Warren for so long, it's been fun playing with him the last few years especially. It's really starting to gel into something.
Guitar.com: And one last one—Duane Allman.
Derek Trucks: For me, definitely my first and biggest influence. His sound was probably the reason I started playing guitar. The first 3 or 4 years that I was playing, it was definitely what I was going after. Now, your first influence always holds its place but now I try to avoid heading in that direction consciously. But I still find at times, it's so ingrained from the early years of my playing that sometimes stuff will come out and I'm like, ‘where did that come from!’
Guitar.com: For me personally, I saw you with the Allman Brothers and having the Duane sound but then seeing you up here, you really have your own tone, influenced by Duane. But you really have your own thing going on.
Derek Trucks: I think you try and take all your influences and figure out what they were going after, the essence and try to tap into that. For me, it's definitely not something where I want to photocopy anybody or be the next step in somebody's evolution. But definitely with everybody, there's one or two people you can hear somebody and go, ‘"He's definitely been listening to this guy.’ And with Duane, people would definitely relate his sound to mine.
Guitar.com: Between Gainesville and Jacksonville you'll find a pretty strong musical legacy in place (Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynrd, Dickie Betts, to name a few), which now includes you. Outside of your time with the Allmans, did any of the local color, musically, rub off on you when you were growing up there?
Derek Trucks: You know. when I first started playing around Jacksonville, I was around that whole scene so I was definitely in it. I think in a way, I was trying to keep an arm’s length. My dad was a big blues fan and an Allman Brothers fan but he was a little apprehensive of the whole Lynyrd Skynyrd scene and that thing. So I guess there was a little bit of that in my ear. But I was definitely around those guys; Leon, Artemis and Randall Hall. A lot of those guys I played in my first bands with so I'm very familiar with those guys and still good friends with a lot of them. Yeah, that scene was pretty strong then. I don't know if it still is.
Guitar.com: You still call Jacksonville home?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, I still live there.
Guitar.com: Any new bands breaking out of Jacksonville, that we should know about?
Derek Trucks: There's a band, Mofro, that's out and about. I like what those guys are doing. They're good guys. We've only played with them once or twice. I definitely like what they're going for.
Guitar.com: That's funny, we were just talking about them. They're playing High Sierra this year, I think.
Derek Trucks: I'm going to see them again. I've seen them briefly, only ten or fifteen minutes of one of their sets. I like their attitude and their attention.
Guitar.com: Your music clearly has influences from all over the musical spectrum. What do you listen to when you're not out on the road?
Derek Trucks: The same things I listen to when I'm on the road (laughing). A lot of Wayne Shorter, those Blue Note records that he put out. I love every one of those records. That whole period of when it was Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Wayne—Joe Chambers, there was just a group of about 15 or 20 guys, Joe Henderson, that were all recording with each other. There's probably 50 or 60 just great records. There's so much stuff in there to listen to. Probably from '60 to '65-'66, there were so many great Blue Note records. So I listen to a lot of those. I listen to a lot of Indian classical as well as Western classical. You know, a lot of blues, a lot of roots music.
Guitar.com: Pretty well-rounded.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, I try to be.
Guitar.com: What would be in your CD player today?
Derek Trucks: What was in it today. We were listening to—there was a Ravi Shankar with strings that he wrote a piece for an orchestra, in like the mid ‘70s, that was pretty amazing. He was playing with them. And we were listening to the Wayne Shorter album, Etcetera. Then a Mississippi Fred McDowell record called I Do Not Play No Rock ‘n Roll. (laughs). It's a great record.
Guitar.com: How many tunings do you normally use in a night?
Derek Trucks: Just one, Open E, all the time.
Derek Trucks: Yeah.
Guitar.com: How about gear then. When it comes to slide players, they're usually pretty fastidious about their rigs. Dumble amps, Soldano amps, Engl cabs, modified Fender cabs—all sorts of boutique specialities and tweaked out to the tenth power. What's your rig look like?
Derek Trucks: With my band, it's just an old Fender Super Reverb ..and a cord (laughs). Plug it in and let it go.
Guitar.com: (laughs) All that huh? Must have been expensive (laughing). So the last time we here at Guitar.com spoke with you, you were about to get your hands on what you believed to be "THE" Duane Allman Gibson SG. Did that come to pass?
Derek Trucks: Well, I found it. Graham Nash has it.
Derek Trucks: So I'm putting the word out to see if he'd lend it to me for the tour. I spoke with Jeff Pevar, who plays guitar with him now. And he seemed pretty sure, I saw him a few weeks ago and mentioned it. And he was like, I think he'd probably be into that.
Guitar.com: Is the Peeve (Jeff's nickname) playing it?
Derek Trucks: No he's not playing it but he knows the way Graham Nash is. He collects all that stuff but he's pretty open to things like that. I've just been putting feelers out, trying not to go head-blackie sold
on, we'll see. If it's supposed to happen, it will.
Guitar.com: Oh, Eric Clapton is having his big auction this month. He's getting rid of Blackie and bunch of other legendary guitars. Any interest in any of those?
Derek Trucks: I can't afford any of those, man. If I was buying guitars, I’d have Bukka White’s National. I would be looking for Son Houses' Dobro or something along those lines. Those are the people for me or like Duane’s guitar or Elmore’s guitar. Those would be the holy grails for me. Finding Son House’s National would be way up there.
Guitar.com: Do you have any idea where that would be?
Derek Trucks: No, but I bet Dick Waterman knows. He managed him for a long time. I should ask him about that.
Guitar.com: That'd be pretty awesome to track that down.
Derek Trucks: Yeah, I've actually thought about calling the people in Chicago that worked for the Sun Ra band. I’d love to get my hands on a Minimoog that Sun Ra played. Just a handwritten piece of manuscript, some of his sheet music that'd be something I could set up an altar (laughs).
Guitar.com: So have you been checking out any new gear as of late?
Derek Trucks: You know what I've been playing lately, I didn't get to play it tonight because we only played like four songs. I've been playing a D'Angelico, a hollowbody and a solidbody, that they just started making. Those things are amazing, man. I was really apprehensive about endorsing anything. The whole idea of it kind of wigged me out. And they brought out a hollowbody that’s definitely the best put-together instrument I've ever played. Those things are just amazing, man. And they just starting making solidbodies. I've been checking that out. Those are the two instruments I've been throwing around. The rest of the stuff that I play is all vintage.
Guitar.com: What do you use for slides or strings and that sort of stuff?
Derek Trucks: DR strings, they seem to be really reliable. I’m diggin' those. And as far as slides, I use any I can find that fits. (laughing).
Guitar.com: Do you use all glass?
Derek Trucks: Yeah, all glass.
Guitar.com: Very cool. Well thanks for taking the time. We know you're busy to say the least.
Derek Trucks: Thank you!
Photo: Wikimedia commons / Carl Lender