Long before hip-hop, or even rock ‘n’ roll, the original “sound of the city” emanated from electric slide guitars wielded by urban bluesmen like Elmore James and Muddy Waters. They harnessed Robert Johnson’s haunting delta blues to the locomotive power of amplification, creating what was to become virtually a new instrument-a guitar capable of the fast runs, clear articulation, and brassy ringing tone of bebop’s lead voice, the alto saxophone. Deceptively difficult to play, the electric slide became the instrument of choice for a handful of extremely talented and highly esteemed rockers, chief among them being Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. At just 30 years of age, Jacksonville, Florida, native Derek Trucks falls directly in the path created by these masters. Trucks is undeniably headed in his own direction, all the while navigating the flowing river of his personal roots and musical heritage.
The Derek Trucks Band will take the stage at the Lobero Theatre this Sunday night to play many of the songs from their stellar full-length release, Already Free. Entering the Billboard Top 200 at #19 following its January debut-their best chart performance yet-the album represents an aesthetic breakthrough for the group. This time out, Trucks, who is considered to be one of the greatest guitar players in rock, uses his electric slide Gibson SG to weave a beautiful tapestry of exotic influences and sheer beauty on top of the rock-solid foundation of his band’s sophisticated swamp boogie.
Nephew of the original Allman Brothers Band drummer, Butch Trucks, Derek has led his own group since he was just 15. Recently, Trucks has toured with the Allman Brothers Band, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton. No other player in rock today appears so consistently in such elite company. This Sunday’s gig at the Lobero is made more special because the recent Derek Trucks Band EP, Already Live, which was issued as a special promotion for Record Store Day, contains a track that was recorded there back in September.
I spoke with Derek Trucks on the phone recently from his hotel in Manchester, England.
You recorded Already Free at a new studio that you built on your property. What were the advantages of doing that? It’s a beautiful studio, full of classic vintage equipment, like a Neve soundboard that we salvaged from a studio in New York. Also, my wife Susan [Tedeschi], who sings on the album, has a different voice in the morning, and it was nice with the studio out back to be able to capture that. We are all a little more relaxed in the a.m.-there’s something about getting the kids off to school, then coming back home and heating up the coffee and going to the studio in your bare feet that really feels good. We had been booked in top commercial studios to record before, but compared to what we have now at my house, that way [of recording] is kind of a pain in the ass. As a band we’re real in the family, so songwriting is more natural this way. We’re just hanging with friends and rolling tape. You feel like everybody wants to be there, and no one’s looking at the clock or phoning it in.
You said that working in the home studio has affected your writing. Could you give an example? Sure. On “Back Where I Started,” which Susan sings, I had the instrumental track in an hour, so I just laid it down. Then Warren [Haynes] came by the house, and I played what I had for him, and Warren is always writing, so he had some lyrics already written that he thought would fit the music. When Susan heard what we were doing, she joined in and we knew that hers was the voice that should sing it. The whole thing only took a couple of days.
That’s a great track. Like I said, it’s her morning voice. That’s what you are hearing.
Now you have also released an EP, Already Live, as part of Record Store Day. That’s right, we did.
And one track, “Get What You Deserve,” was recorded here in Santa Barbara, at the Lobero, where you will be playing next week. Yeah, I know. That was a great night. We knew right away afterward. The band can usually tell when the live recording is going to be a good one.
Through your involvement with the Allman Brothers Band you have become part of a great musical tradition. Do you consider that to be a blessing or a burden? Oh, a blessing for sure. The reason it doesn’t become a burden for me is because you’ve got to remember that even though the Allman Brothers Band may have just celebrated their 40th anniversary, [the Derek Trucks Band] have also been around for 15 years now ourselves. Being part of the Allmans-that was a scene that changed your life. But now I’m on my own path and soon this group will be decades into it as well.
The Derek Trucks Band will play the Lobero Theatre on Sunday, May 10, at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.