According to the Louisiana slide-guitar maestro Sonny Landreth, it took all of five seconds to identify Derek Trucks as the great white hope of the jam-band scene.
“I first heard Derek when he was a kid,” Landreth told this writer. “I saw this clip on the news, this little kid playing slide. With everything being so accessible on the internet, it’s chops galore, so here’s another cute kid playing guitar. But it was a whole different thing with him, right from the get-go. I remember me and my bass player, Dave Ranson, we looked at each other and said: ‘Yep, that kid’s got it. That’s an old soul there.’”
Nature and nurture were both on Trucks’s side. Born 38 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, being the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, there was a certain inevitability to the guitarist’s early path.
When he was nine years old, Derek bought his first guitar, a five-dollar acoustic, from a garage sale, and took up slide after hearing Duane Allman’s freewheeling playing on the Allmans’ live classic At Fillmore East. Young Derek soon showed a technical mastery that astonished even the jam-band royalty in whose orbit he moved, as well as a militant rejection of live music that was too easy, too neat, too glib.
“I feel like a lot of artists, guitar players, musicians, whatever, they try to find this formula,” he once noted. “You know, the buttons you can push to make a crowd react, the easy hits, the things that work, that are kinda a no-brainer.”
By the late 90s, Trucks was making a mark, both in his own Grammy-winning solo band and in sideman roles for the Allmans and, later, Eric Clapton. In each context, Butch Trucks noted a curious phenomenon: his nephew never played the same thing twice.
“I guess that could be scary,” says Derek, “but my heroes played that way. You’re always trying to find new things. You enjoy the tightrope walk. The beauty for us is that it’s not like actual tightrope walking, where if you fall you’re gonna die. As long as you’re okay with mild embarrassment, you’ll get by. And oftentimes the things that come right after a slip are the most brilliant, because the musical adrenaline kicks in and you go to your best shit.”
In recent times, Trucks has focused on the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he and his wife, vocalist Susan Tedeschi, have fronted since 2010. Each of the 11-piece collective’s studio albums is worthy of investigation, in particular 2013’s Made Up Mind, but the truest snapshot of their ethos comes on the stage, where the line-up thrillingly stretch the material to the limit of musical elasticity.
“On a great night, it’s effortless,” Trucks told The Blues Magazine. “I mean, for me, growing up around the Allman Brothers scene, that’s the way it was – you always push it and you always take chances. Because of that, there’s gonna be some nights that are messier than others, but it makes the great ones that much more special.”