To get a good idea of where Derek Trucks's head is at musically, all you have to do is check out the autographs on his red Gibson SG, the one that dominates his latest CD, Already Free. He's had rock gods Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana sign it, as well as blues pioneers Otis Rush and Little Milton. But it's not just famed guitar slingers he's targeted for souvenirs. Country star Willie Nelson added his name, as did keyboardist-composer Allen Toussaint and session drummer Bernard Purdie. As long as you're a supremely gifted musician, your John Henry's welcome on Trucks's guitar. It just helps if you're a legend, too.
“It's pretty full of names, front and back,” notes Trucks on the line from a tour stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “Some of the signatures have already rubbed off, but it's your instrument—you gotta play it.”
And play it he does, dazzling guitar fans with his seemingly effortless but endlessly captivating slide work. Trucks is a nephew of former Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, so his formative influences were the early ABB albums that featured the bottleneck magic of Duane Allman. But while he's currently a full-patch member of that fabled southern-rock gang, he's also embraced other musical styles with the Derek Trucks Band. As heard on Already Free, his group—which includes vocalist Mike Mattison, bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott, keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, and percussionist Count M'Butu—brings blues, soul, jazz, gospel, world, and Afro-beat flavours into the fold.
“It's a pretty versatile band,” says Trucks, “and we can exist in a lot of worlds. We've got to play blues festivals, jazz festivals, world-music festivals. It's a unique group that way, where we can bounce around and just be accepted enough in all of them but not fully by any of them—which suits me just fine.”
The self-produced Already Free was the first album Trucks recorded at Swamp Raga Studios, the facility he helped build at his residence in Jacksonville, Florida. He loves the fact that he can now work at home and be with his wife, singer Susan Tedeschi, and their two kids. Lately, the couple has been enjoying putting the tots to bed and heading into the turntable-stocked studio to spin the old Sly Stone, Bobby Womack, and Jackie Wilson LPs that Trucks recently bought. He appreciates the warm, full sound of vinyl, and since he just turned 30, he doesn't mind the physical aspects of changing records.
“It's nice to get off your ass every once in a while,” he points out. “When music gets so compressed and there's 2,000 tunes on your iPod or however you carry your music around, you can become really detached by it. I appreciate the fact that an album has eight tunes and you have to actually work for it a little bit.”
The Derek Trucks Band plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday (June 27).