My friends from Le Blog Qui Gratte, a french blog about guitar, had the opportunity to interview Derek Trucks and as I am fond of his music and his slide guitar playing, I really enjoyed to read this interview… So I wanted to share it with the non-french speakers who land here… Hope you’ll enjoy!!
As for me I wanna thank Guillaume aka Agatzebluz from Le Blog Qui Gratte for providing me with the original recording of the interview and allowing me to publish the interview here.
BQG : How did you learn to play guitar?
Derek Trucks : There was a lot of listening, a lot of playing with albums that my parents had around the house. Like Allman Brother’s records, Derek and the Dominos, Elmore James, that was the kind of music I first listened to. My dad played a little bit so I learned from him. He had friends that had local Blues bands, so I started hang around with them around town in Jacksonville (redaction note : Florida). At 9 or 10 years old I started touring with these bands. A lot of it was just learning by hearing and watching people playing.
BQG : Old school, playing on the records?
Derek Trucks : yeah, exactly
BQG : So you’re a self-taught guitar player?
Derek Trucks : For the most part yes. I mean there has been teachers along the way for sure.
BQG : One of the biggest question from our readers is why the Gibson SG?
Derek Trucks : You know I always loved that Gibson sound. But I think at 9,10 or 11 years old a Les Paul is too heavy for your body. I’ve also seen pictures of Duane Allman playing an SG and I just thought it was a great guitar. There was something about it.
BQG : Allman Brothers had a huge influence on you.
Derek Trucks : Yes, it’s the biggest and the earliest.
BQG : Another question about the SG, it seems that you only play with the SG with the vibrola. Is that right?
Derek Trucks : Lately I’ve been playing a few different guitars, but 99% of the stuff I play are with this guitar. I have an old Silvertone that I use for a song or two. I also picked an old Firebird that is kinda fun to play, but I always go back with the SG. It’s home.
BQG : So you’re not the collector type of guy.
Derek Trucks : No, I have a few nice guitars that I collected over the years, but for the most part not.
BQG : Do you tour with these guitars?
Derek Trucks : Here and there, but the really nice ones you have to leave them at home so they won’t disappear on the road.
BQG : I heard that some of your amps were stolen.
Derek Trucks : Yes, our whole trailer with everything in it, drums, B3, all the gear used on the stage were stolen about 4 or 5 years ago. We’ve got a few pieces back but most of it just disappeared. You gotta be careful.
BQG : Yes, keeping everything in the same truck…
Derek Trucks : It’s scary. We were lucky because at that point we had insurance which didn’t cover everything but it was enough. If it happened 3 years earlier, I don ‘t know what we would have done… Probably starting from scratch. As a musician you might have a car, you might rent a house then you go lucky you might buy a house, but most of your earthly possessions are your gear. So when that goes, this is a empty day.
BQG : When your gear was stolen, did you cancel the dates?
Derek Trucks : No, we’ve ride back on it. The word went out and because of the internet, there were people loaning us amps and gear. We were really fortunate, people reached out. It was nice.
BQG : Do you play acoustic guitar at home or on stage?
Derek Trucks : I do, I have an old National Steel that I play a lot when I’m home. I have a few old acoustics such as an old 60s Harmony, this kind of old funky acoustic guitars that sounds really nice and are fun to play. I love playing acoustic guitar, I just didn’t found a great way to mic it live. I’m so used of how well the Super Reverb and the SG project, sometimes when you’re dealing with bad monitors it can be difficult to translate the sound of an acoustic guitar.
BQG : Do you play in both standard and open tuning?
Derek Trucks : Mainly Open E, I rarely play in standard. I don’t remember I played on stage in standard tuning. I kind of re-learned the whole instrument in that tuning.
BQG : Do you use any other open tuning than open E ?
Derek Trucks : Sometimes I use open G or open D with a capo for different tunes.
BQG : So all your guitars are tuned in open E.
Derek Trucks : Yes. Sometimes friends, musicians come at the house, they come in our studio, there are a lot of guitars but they are all in open E. And they say, I can’t play any of these!!
BQG : That’s not nice.
Derek Trucks : Yes, I should tune some of down… The guest guitars.
BQG : You built a studio in your house? Did you completely recorded the last album Already Free in this studio?
Derek Trucks : Yeah, we recorded everything there. We built it on our property but it’s away from the house. You actually have to leave the back door and walk. And also we have kids so it’s nice to have separate buildings. It’s nice to have a studio there, to be able to be home with your wife and your kids, and record and be productive. It’s such a nice thing.
BQG : Are you often at home?
Derek Trucks : (laughing) No.
BQG : I read that you have 300 dates a year.
Derek Trucks : Yes, it’s happened once or twice, when we are really busy. But my kids are getting older. One of the reasons to build the studio is that I can pull back and I don’t have to tour as much. They’re at an age now where I really need to be home. I always be touring but not as much.
BQG : And you are a busy man with Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks Band.
Derek Trucks : And the band with my wife. It’s full time, but you got to prioritize. My kids are in school now so I can’t just take them on the road. So I have to change the way I tour now.
BQG : How old are they?
Derek Trucks : 7 and 4. s. My son is in first grade and my daughter is in Montessoria school. Now it’s the time to start thinking about be home, more… be home (laughs).
BQG : It’s important for the kids.
Derek Trucks : It’s the key
BQG : I’ve read that you now play with PRS amps (though I didn’t saw them on stage).
Derek Trucks : Yeah, with the Allman’s I use the PRS. I use the Super Reverb still for my band. The PRS is a great sounding amp. With the Allman Brothers I can’t use my Super Reverbs cause it’s so much louder. So I needed something to keep up and I’ve tried so many different things. It’s taken a long time to find a tone I’m really comfortable with. The PRS amp cuts trough all the drummers and all the things going on with the Allman Brothers. It’s still subtle enough, even when I pull the volume of, I can still play rhythm, it doesn’t feel too chunky. I like it, it’s a versatile amp and I start to get really comfortable.
BQG : Did you have to change your playing or the amp is just louder than the Super Reverb ?
Derek Trucks : It’s kind of a hybrid. It feels like somewhere in the middle of my Super Reverb and a Marshall 4×12 . That’s what I was looking for.
BQG : Did you take part in the conception of the PRS amp?
Derek Trucks : He (redaction note : Paul Reed Smith) was bringing a lot of prototypes and he was moding them to find the one that was the best. I was involved with getting the amp that I’m playing sounding right. But he just naturally feel what’s more comfortable when he brings guitars and amps. He kinda know what to go on.
BQG : Did you try some PRS guitars?
Derek Trucks : Yeah, he’s getting me a few really nice over the years. They’re such a nice guitars. They sound so unique, I actually used it on the record a little bit. But I’m such a creature of habit and I know the SG so well that I don’t have to think about it. With a Les Paul or a PRS or a Strat… even if it’s the best one on earth (laughs)… I just have to get comfortable with the guitar.
BQG : So you say that to you the SG is the best guitar in the world.
Derek Trucks : Yeah, it’s home. I don’t even have to think about it.
BQG : Most of the time, you do finger-picking. Do you sometimes play with a pick?
Derek Trucks : In the studio I did it for certain rhythm sounds on an acoustic guitar but live I never use a pick.
BQG : You recently played 15 consecutive gigs with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theater. How does it feel to play 15 gigs in the same place instead of moving from town to town?
Derek Trucks : That’s nice to unpack the suitcase !! (laughs) It’s a different trip for sure. New York City Beacon Theater, it’s kind of a homebase with The Allman Brothers. I think they’ve done a 188 consecutive sold out shows over the years. The crowd knows the band and it really pushes the band to play differently every night. We change the set list because a lot of time it’s the same people on the front rows every night. And this year we had a lot of great guys: Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton.
BQG : The set list was different every night or was there a core?
Derek Trucks : We played sometimes 2 or 3 shows without repeating.
BQG : Did you adapted the set list with the guests?
Derek Trucks : Yeah, we thought way ahead of this, because it’s difficult to have different guests every night. Sometimes we learned one of their tunes, sometimes they were learning our tunes. Me and Warren Haynes (redaction note : second guitarist of the Allman Brothers) we wrote the set lists a few days ahead of time so that you don’t repeat tunes and you know this guests is going to play this song. It was a jigsaw puzzle for sure, trying to fit everything in…
BQG : Yes, Eric Clapton and Taj Mahal for example, they don’t play the same kind of blues.
Derek Trucks : That band is really versatile, they can do so many things. It was just as natural playing Leaving Trunk and Statesboro Blues with Taj Mahal, or playing the Derek & The Dominos with Eric. The band feels comfortable in a lot of different grounds.
BQG : Do you plan to tour with the Allman Brothers in France or Europe?
Derek Trucks : I’d love to, but I don’t know if the band is going to make back over. They’ve done once or twice but I don’t know.
BQG : I think you won’t regret it, you have a lot of fans in France.
Derek Trucks : I’ll spread the word.
BQG : How did you met Eric Clapton?
Derek Trucks : Through Doyle Bramhall (redaction note : Eric Clapton’s second guitarist who plays on a stratocaster) who introduced Eric to my band’s records, and he called me to work on the JJ Cale record. Actually, we met about 12 years ago. I was a guest of Chuck Leavell (redaction note : keyboardist for Eric Clapton), but he probably doesn’t even remember that. So the first time we really met was on the record of JJ Cale session, then he asked me to do the tour. That was a shock and a complete honor to be involved. He was really great to tour with and great to play with.
BQG : Do you still play with Eric?
Derek Trucks : No, I just did one year. It was a lot of fun and I learned so much of being on that tour. But there is only so much time on a year (laughs). I’ve been in the Allman Brothers for 10 years now and there is some loyalty there. I can’t just jump shift. And then my band, my wife and kids, that’s a full year already.
BQG : You couldn’t choose between Eric Clapton and your wife!!
Derek Trucks : No, I don’t think it would be a good battle.
BQG : Talking about Susan, when you’re at home, how do you organize your days? You are both successful guitar players, so how do you manage the tours, the kids, the studio in the backyard?
Derek Trucks : Generally, when we are home it’s straight up family time especially if we are home for only 2 or 3 days. If we here for a longer time, so my band or hers will come down to rehearse or record in the studio. Most of the time we focus on home school work, baseball games with my son, dance with my daughter. It’s their time at that point.
BQG : So they stay in the US while you are touring? Susan is over there?
Derek Trucks : Yes, she is home right now with the kids. I’ll fly home tomorrow and then she will tour. So I’ll be home with the kids while she tours. Sometimes, my mom will watch them for 2 or 3 days when we are both gone. In July, we are coming back to Europe and the kids are gonna come with for a little while.
BQG : That will be holidays.
Derek Trucks : Exactly, they are school vacant, they are free.
BQG : It’s cool for them I guess to travel around Europe.
Derek Trucks : They have well traveled for a 7 and 4 (laughs).
BQG : Do you tour all around the world, or only in North America and Europe?
Derek Trucks : We are doing Japan again this year. It’s been a while that we’ve done South America. We haven’t done a lot in Asia other than Japan. But I’d love to. We also toured in Australia.
BQG : Have you been in Africa?
Derek Trucks : Not yet… Sign me up!
BQG : India?
Derek Trucks : Not yet. The two are on the list.
BQG : You are fond of Indian music and I’ve read that you went to an Indian music school.
Derek Trucks : Yeah, Ali Akbar school in San Rafael California.
BQG : That’s something we can often hear in your play, but I’ve also seen that you are fond of jazz music, but it’s something that I don’t really hear in your music. Is it intentional?
Derek Trucks : yeah, I think all that stuff influences you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna be obvious. When we play live it’s a different thing than the albums. We do tunes like the Coltrane version of My Favorite Things over 20 minutes but it doesn’t really make sense to be in the records that we are recording. It would be out of place to have a 20 minutes instrumental on the middle of this record. It’s definitely an influence and lot of the guys in the band that’s what they grew up playing.
BQG : Do you plan on making a record with other slide guitarists?
Derek Trucks : I would love to but I’ve never really thought about as a slide record with other guitarists. But you never know. I think Elvin Bishop did something similar, he had a track where me and Warren played slide, that was kinda fun.
BQG : I didn’t know Elvin Bishop until this year and he is a nice guitar player.
Derek Trucks : Yeah he’s a great player and a really nice guy too.
BQG : Well, I guess that’s all.
Derek Trucks : It was good to see you, my pleasure.
BQG : Thank you very much.