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From early days experimenting with a junk shop acoustic, Derek Trucks has become, arguably, slide’s greatest modern exponent, admired by everyone from Guthrie Govan to Clapton.
“Slide can sound like the most beautiful woman’s voice,” he reflects, “or like someone skinning a cat!” We ask Derek for his tips on how to coax heaven from six steel strings...
What first attracted you to slide?
“It was the sound of Duane Allman on the ...Fillmore East and Layla... records. I remember being eight or nine; it was the first music that really hit me hard. When I was around the same age, my father had some Elmore James records, and that was the next connection. It was that sound. There was something about the power of slide guitar, the way it emulated the human voice.”
What does slide let you do that regular guitar doesn’t?
“I think it’s one of the most lyrical instruments, if used correctly. Much in the way that a great gospel or soul singer hits me, it’s the microtones you can get. Y’know, the way you can lead up to a note, or fall away from a note. There’s no distinction between one note and the next: you’re hearing every inflection in between. On a good night, and in the right hands, it’s a pretty powerful thing. I think it’s a lot harder to bulls**t people as a slide player, as opposed to straight playing, because it’s so raw and honest.
"Y’know, you can sit in a room, practise all day, learn your scales and blaze blues riffs: it’s easy to hide behind that. But I think with the slide, it’s a little bit tougher. I’ve certainly heard people play that are bulls**tting.”
Slide sounds bad in the wrong hands, doesn’t it?
“Terrible. It’s a dangerous instrument. It can sound like the most beautiful woman’s voice in the world, or it can sound like someone skinning a cat.”
How about your first steps as a player?
“I was nine when I bought my first guitar at a garage sale. I remember my dad showed me some things, but it wasn’t until his friend brought over a slide – just one of those steel tubes – that it clicked. That was the sound I was looking for. I played it on acoustic first, and I’m certain the first riff I tried was Dust My Broom, which is the one everyone starts with, then Statesboro Blues.
"It came pretty quickly. When you’re that age, some things you’re just natural at, and I was fortunate that it came somewhat second nature. I was on the road a few months after really starting to play. I’m sure if I went back, I’d have a hard time listening to the early stuff now. You see the holes in it you didn’t realise when you were doing it.”