Derek Trucks: Family Man
Originally published in Guitar World, May 2009
Derek Trucks is all grown up and glowing with confidence on Already Free, a new album recorded at home with his wife Susan Tedeschi and an extended family of friends.
Derek Trucks is not a kid. First impressions can be hard to shake, and Trucks has been in the public eye since he was a preteen prodigy with a freaky ability to channel Duane Allman’s slide sound. But it’s time to abandon any notions that he is still a youngster. Trucks is now a 29-year-old father of two married to blues singer Susan Tedeschi and a 10-year veteran of the Allman Brothers Band who also put in a year touring the world with Eric Clapton, in 2006. And if all that isn’t proof enough, now there’s the Derek Trucks Band’s Already Free (Legacy), his confident new effort.
The sixth DTB studio album is the first Trucks produced himself. It is also the first to feature a cohesive sound all the way through, incorporating the band’s diverse influences—jazz, blues, gospel, rock and Indian—into one groove-based package. With nothing left to prove, Trucks takes a more subdued approach to guitar playing than in the past, but he is ever more impressive, with glistening slide lines that snake through the music to underpin everything.
The confidence and unique tonal control at the core of Trucks’ style have only deepened. He is a master of the microtonal bends that are at the heart of both sacred steel gospel (popularized by Robert Randolph) and Indian classical music, both of which he has studied closely. No guitarist creates more sound, tension and feeling from a single note.
Trucks’ longtime touring group is at the album’s core, supplemented by a host of other musicians, notably Tedeschi and Doyle Bramhall II, his fellow guitarist from the Eric Clapton tour, who sings, plays on and co-produced three tunes.
The album was recorded at Trucks’ new home studio in Jacksonville, Florida, which he says was integral to the final product.
“It was a much more relaxed process, lending us freedom to try different things,” he says. “There were no time or money constraints. We could call up friends who are great musicians and ask them to come lay down tracks and just see what happened. We were just hanging out writing and recording music.”
GUITAR WORLD In this digital era, why did you decide to build a full-on home studio?
DEREK TRUCKS The whole thing came about because of the crazy year I had [in 2006–07] touring with Clapton, the Allman Brothers and my own band. I was on the road constantly. The Clapton offer was a fantastic opportunity and something I could not say no to, but I also could not walk away from my other commitments. I had to grind it out, and it really made me want to have a great home rehearsal space just so I could be home more. That was my original goal, but once I realized that our guitar tech, Bobby Tis, and his father, who had been a consultant to studios and the chief engineer at Electric Ladyland, were capable of pulling off anything, I started to think bigger. We got a blueprint for a world-class studio and went for it. Because I was in the middle of the Clapton tour, I could swing it financially.
GW And recording there really impacted the way the CD came out?
TRUCKS Oh yeah. I loved having so much freedom to do whatever we wanted. It’s hard to balance this musical life with a family life, and the studio is an important part of trying to figure out how to do that. I wanted to incorporate recording music into normal family life—take the kids to school, then write and track a song.
The best example is “Back Where I Started.” Warren [Haynes] and I wrote that song together at the studio, and we recorded a version with him singing, which sounded great. But I wanted it to be more delicate— and to use the sarod [a fretless Indian classical instrument]—and he has such a powerful voice that it had a different vibe than what I was imagining. I wanted to hear Susan sing it, and I had a very specific sound in my head—what she sounds like first thing in the morning. We went out to the studio one morning after we had taken the kids to school, and I kicked everyone out so it was just the two of us, with the lights dimmed. You get a different performance when someone is not performing for anyone, and that epitomized the beauty of having a home studio. You can try different approaches without worrying about time or money.
GW You told me before that working with Eric Clapton had a big impact on you. Can you describe that and how it impacted the music on Already Free?
TRUCKS It was kind of a new thing for me to play things that straight, but I found that getting into the songwriting and making everything on the track serve the tune was really rewarding. Truthfully, I delved deeper into other music—blues, jazz and Indian—before I started really understanding much classic rock. The albums that I put on over and over are the ones that don’t reveal themselves all the way on the first listen but have something to keep pulling you back in. Stevie Wonder, Hendrix and Sly Stone are masters of that, and I wanted this album to be that way, with songs that always have a little more going on just below the surface.