Derek Trucks says goodbye to one legend and continues to hone his own.
From what I hear, it was one hell of a way to go out.
The road had almost gone on forever, but to everything there is a season. The Allman Brothers Band had been basically going full steam ahead for 45 years, with a few typically acrimonious and disruptive Allman Bros pit stops along the way. But from their debut record in 1969 all the way up to their final show at the Beacon Theater in New York this past October, it had been one of the greatest tenures in rock and roll history. And now, it was time to walk away with a dignity and grace that befit a band like theirs, while they still could.
They had decided before the last show to not have guest players, something they had done basically every Beacon show prior. They wanted just family on stage. Only one guy had the name Allman, but there were true brothers everywhere you looked onstage that night, boys who became men together, bidding a fond farewell to the only band some of them had ever known.
And one of them, who had been around this clan for his entire life, from his early childhood to that night at age 35, was Derek Trucks. Whereas his real Uncle Butch, his adopted Uncle Gregg or drummer Jaimoe had been there since their early twenties, Derek had been part of this thing since he was old enough to teeter, stand and walk around the stage. He began to dazzle Allman Brothers audiences on the slide guitar when he was barely a tween, and since officially joining the band in 1999, had became a revered mainstay in the family business – a true and loyal member of Southern rock royalty. And damn if it didn’t all wrap up exactly the way he and the rest of the family wanted it to.
“In true Allman Brothers fashion, it didn’t get there cleanly,” Trucks said with a hearty laugh. “It was just a cluster f–k all year, like somebody saying one thing, somebody leaking another, it’s just like, what is wrong with you people? But the last handful of shows really were about as good as I could have hoped for, or better. I mean, it was everything you would plan it to be if you could. So yeah, in the end, it did what it was supposed to do and I wouldn’t change any of that. That’s a heavy legacy to uphold, and there’s no reason to let it end on another note. The last show being Duane’s, kinda the ‘anniversary,’ it felt right.”
But as the Allman Brothers slowly ride off southbound into the red-orange sunset of rock immortality, Trucks is galloping furiously along with a new band of brothers, and his wife, alongside. In fact, he’s at the pinnacle of his own career and is arguably the Allman Brother that is poised for the most ongoing success. The band he started with wife Susan Tedeschi five years ago has become a force to be reckoned with in top clubs, theaters and festivals across the world, with Trucks’ now trademark slide guitar mastery continuing to dazzle accompanied by his wife’s ever-stronger blues-soaked vocals, and an absolutely killer band.
I mean just this month, Bob Dylan personally requested Derek and Susan to play one of his songs at Dylan’s MusicCares tribute, even though, as Trucks said, they were poised to take some much needed time off. “We talked about really blocking out time and not wavering from it, and that was one of the calls we got, and they’re like, ‘They’re doing this Dylan tribute’ and I said, ‘Well that’d be great but…’ and they’re like, ‘Well, Dylan requested you and Susan to do this specific tune,’ and I was like, there’s no way to not do that! Beyond that, it’s an honor to even be in the conversation, and the fact that it came from him makes it doubly so.” Trucks clearly arrived a long time ago, but you know you’ve really made it when that happens.
The band has truly been beating the pavement, spending many months globetrotting their eleven piece tribe around the world. After a late winter to late summer U.S. swing this year, which will include a coveted main stage slot at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, they’ll go back over the pond to play Paris, London, Copenhagen and Berlin, among other European stops.
Writing new music is what keeps bands fresh, and the TTB is no exception. Trucks and Co. have an album’s worth of new material they’re just busting to play live, but patience is a virtue and those songs will see the light of day when the time is right. Timing is everything to Trucks.
“I’m thinkin’ end of the year, early next year it’ll be done and out there,” Trucks said. “We’re pretty far into one right now. It kind of just happened by accident. The beauty of having a studio at home is when you’re down there to write tunes or rehearse the band, it can easily turn into a recording session. There’s about ten new tunes that we’ve recorded and we’re trying to decide how many of them we want to play out. Because if it’s eight, 10 months from now before a record comes out, you don’t want to wear people out beforehand. When the album drops, you wanna be able to play these tunes as if they were just written. It’s kind of a tough thing because when you record a tune that feels really good, you wanna just play it immediately. So we’re having to exercise a little band self-discipline by not airing out every tune on the record.”
Now that the Allman Brothers experience has ended for Trucks, he wants to devote all his time to the TTB. That’s with the phone ringing a lot asking him or Susan to contribute to a record. And they often pick up the phone, collaborating with the likes of Herbie Hancock, JJ Grey, Roseanne Cash and others. But Trucks just wants to focus on one thing and hopes he can make that happen all while his legend grows.
“There are some opportunities with musicians I respect, or friends, or things you just can’t turn down,” Trucks said. “Outside of that I really wanna keep it to just this. I look forward to having a year where you wear one hat, and then you take it off and go home, and then you put it back on.”
And when I tell Trucks to keep that ever-burning rock and roll flame alive and that I’ll see him in Washington in a couple weeks, he says, undoubtedly with that wide Derek Trucks smile, “Beautiful man, we will do our best. We’ll try to keep this train rollin’ down the road.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band performs Friday and Saturday February 20th and 21st at the Warner Theater, 513 13th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, click here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind plus other local rock ensembles.