One for the road: Derek Trucks

(Image credit: Stuart Levine)

Slide maestro Derek Trucks reflects on the menace of unreliable tour buses and how he’s always on the hunt for good bourbon.

What was your first ever gig and how did it go?

“It was at this local blues club up in Jacksonville; I was nine years old and I got up with an acoustic guitar. I think it went well - I was probably terrified! But the first time I played with a live band was at the same place with this blues band called Ace Moreland.

“Ace was a great singer from Oklahoma of Native American heritage and a great player. I learned a lot from them and I think that went pretty well. I ended up touring with them for maybe a year or so, sitting in on a few tunes a night - hop up after the Junior Wells tune Messin’With The Kid and finish out the set. Those are fond memories.”

Describe your current stage rig…

“It’s pretty simple. There’s an amp maker in New Jersey, his name is George Alessandro and he kinda built this amp for me because I love the sound of the Super Reverb and it’s kind of beefed up - somewhere in between a Dumble and a Super, so there’s a little more juice, a little cleaner. 

Once in every four or five shows, a good bottle of bourbon will show up. That’s probably the only sneaky thing on our rider

“It’s just four 10s, a head and a few guitar cables [laughs]. I have this delay pedal that I sometimes loop into it - an Echoplex pedal - just to toy around with, but I don’t use it very often. Maybe for a moment every two or three shows, but I unplug it if I’m not using it. I unplug the guitar if I go into a tuner, too; I like keeping it as clean as possible.

“My SG is a reissue - Duane Allman’s daughter, Galadrielle, gave me it. They copied her father’s guitar, the guitar that Dickey Betts gave Duane or vice versa, and they made a few artist proofs and it’s a great relic’d guitar - super light. They’re usually quite light, but this is a great piece of wood. From the first time I played it, it just felt right and so I’ve been playing that for four or five years now.”

What’s on your rider?

“Ours is pretty simple, it’s a 12-piece band, so there’s a lot of beer and water and probably just some random junk food for the tour buses, but we don’t have anything super crazy. I’m always looking for good bourbon, though. I have our road manager ask the runners to try to search out good bourbon like Weller - and you can never find Pappy Van Winkle - or Blanton’s… But once in every four or five shows, a good bottle of bourbon will show up. That’s probably the only sneaky thing on there.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

“I really think it comes down to not getting too far down the wormhole with monitors. If you’re cranking your monitors, it affects everyone around you and then they’re adjusting. I think the closest you can get to hearing the instruments together with each other the better.

“I know so many bands now use in-ear monitors and I just feel that it takes you completely out of the game, as opposed to improvising with each other and really listening to each other. If you’re just playing the parts and trying to recreate something, then it’s fine because you really only need to hear yourself, but if it’s a living, breathing band and there’s spontaneity involved, I think it’s really important to hear what everyone’s hearing. I don’t use monitors, personally. I just walk around the stage and find the right spot. You have to be willing to turn down or turn up when you need to.”

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“I’m simple - I usually travel with one good book on the road. Every once in a while you get some time to yourself, but outside of that, I don’t have anything. You have to have your phone and tablet - I just have a phone. I guess in this day and age you’re kinda stuck with it, but I enjoy turning that thing off for days at a time and hiding it!”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“I think the audience can feel when you’re inspired and you’re having a moment. We’re not a group that outwardly looks for crowd reaction. We’re not egging them on too much, but there are nights when it’s really working, there’s a great synergy with the audience and the music on stage - and they feed each other. But if you hit the stage relaxed and you let it unfold, you’re having these musical moments, I think that people feel that.

“There’s no real tip for that other than don’t try to force it, but I think people’s [bands’] natural reaction when things aren’t going well is,‘More!’And that usually backfires. It’s important to take a deep breath and remember that you probably did something good to get you there, so just go back to that place and you’ll probably be okay.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?

“Man, there are quite a few… We play the Beacon Theatre in New York City a lot. I probably did 175 shows or more there with The Allman Brothers and we’ve done 21 sold-out shows there and that place just feels good. There’s something about knowing all the crew, everybody that works there, the audience - if you know most of the people in the audience, it’s comfortable - and it’s a great-sounding place. I was never at the Fillmore East, but everyone who was in the Allman Brothers camp felt that The Beacon was the natural heir to that venue in New York. So that place is pretty special.

“Also, there was an amphitheatre that we played on the Clapton tour in Verona, Italy, an old Roman Colosseum that was just a special place. I don’t remember much about the show other than just being in awe of the venue.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

“We’ve had some good ones, especially in the days when we were driving a 15-passenger van with a trailer. So many mechanical issues. I remember one time we were driving between gigs and we ended up in this place called Dumas, Texas with a busted axle in the trailer and there was just nothing for miles and miles, and the only place that was open on was this old farmer who fixed things.

We were on the road for 300 days a year there for a while and there were a lot of shitty days

“We ended up towed to his farm and there was this bunch of orphaned calves wandering around the property and these old cars and this newly birthed calf who was bumping into the van in his garage… It was an awful, awful day, but he eventually fixed our trailer. We were on the road for 300 days a year there for a while and there were a lot of shitty days.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment?

“We had the van break down in North Carolina and we had a gig that night in a place called Pleasant Gardens, North Carolina, some kinda festival. So we get the van fixed at the last minute and we’re calling the promoter. 

“We’re supposed to be on in three hours and we’re three hours and 20 minutes away and we’re just hauling ass - I’m sure going well over the speed limit. We show up in this town, Pleasant Garden - with no ‘s’ - and we realise that there are two Pleasant Gardens in North Carolina, one with an ‘s’ and one without and we’re in the wrong city! The right one was 40 miles away… 

“We ended up making the gig, but the festival was so terrible, I guess the cops had come in and busted everyone and all the rednecks in the middle of nowhere were just losing their minds. It was not a good scene. We pulled in, pulled up to the makeshift stage and some of the crowd were messing with the van, asking us if we had beer.

“We ended up slowly turning the van around and leaving. The only show we’ve ever not played. We actually wrote a song about that: Pleasant Gardens ended up on one of our records in my solo band [Out Of The Madness, 1998].”

As a musician, which airline do you find it easiest to travel on?

“Lately, Delta has been pretty good. I think it’s because we fly so much - if you’re a Medallion Member they seem to be a little bit nicer. But we’ve had trouble with all of them! [laughs] They all try to take a guitar out of your hand. I remember I had Duane Allman’s Goldtop and they wanted me to take it over to Europe. So I was trying to fly over and I made it there fine, but on the way back they were like,‘No, you have to check it.’ I said,‘It’s not possible to check it; it’s worth more than my house and studio. It’s a musical holy relic, it’s not an option…’The captain came out and finally put it in the crew quarters for us.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“It’s a toss-up. The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East was the record I cut my teeth to and made me want to play, so that’s up there. And the Donny Hathaway Live record [1972] is just special. It was great getting to play with Willie Weeks in Clapton’s band. He was on the Donny Hathaway record and I was such a fan of that, it definitely added to that tour.”

The Trucks Tedeschi Band’s new album and DVD, Live From The Fox Oakland, is available now via Decca

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