The Derek Trucks Band
Derek Trucks Guitar, sarod,
bass & drums
Todd Smallie Bass
Yonrico Scott Drums
Kofi Burbridge Keyboards
Mike Mattison Lead Vocals
Count M'Butu Percussion
Additional musicians/guests: Doyle Bramhall II, Susan Tedeschi, Oteil Burbridge, Duane Trucks, Tyler Greenwell, Ted Pecchio, Eric Krasno, Mace Hibbard, Paul Garrett, & Kevin Hyde
There are moments in music when a young artist establishes himself as his own force and an exciting new presence comes alive. For Derek Trucks, that time is now. Some would say he was born into a unique place in the history of American music, but one look at his extensive background shows he has earned it. More importantly, it is the powerful way Trucks has taken those experiences and turned them into his story that marks him for greatness.
Over the course of several albums, various bands and countless tours, Trucks has explored an exciting array of musical styles. Obviously someone with an avid and thirsty ear, his new album Already Free combines the influences he has been witness to in a very personal expression, one that freely crosses boundaries. On Already Free, which he produced himself, Trucks has written original songs and reinvigorated old ones, introducing a profound new vision. It can be difficult to identify watershed moments in a musician's career without the benefit of hindsight. However, as Already Free attests, Derek Trucks has just hit his.
Some guitarists rely on pure brawn to get their sound across. Others emphasize by-the-numbers technique. Derek Trucks has taken his own path, one blazed by a soulful and very real inquisitiveness. One hears blues, soul, jazz, flourishes of world music from afro-beat to qawwali, even the advanced tonalities of the modern European masters. This complex, but unmistakable, personal style has been his calling card. In the past several years Trucks has been a member of Eric Clapton's band, performed on Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival Emmy-winning DVD, opened a tour for Carlos Santana, and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, to name a few of the highlights. With the Derek Trucks Band, the guitarist has also toured the world, including extensive dates in Europe and Japan. It all adds up to the moment when he steps forward on Already Free.
Recorded in Trucks' newly built home studio rather than a high-gloss room in a large city, the new album is the finest crystallization yet of the sound he's been seeking. Hearing the natural evolution of Derek Trucks' music has been a learning curve of the highest order. Traveling through blues, rock and jazz, the guitarist is someone clearly comfortable living without musical labels. He combines a newfound focus on creating original material and introduces adept production skills for a result that is so naturally strong, Trucks is close to creating his own genre. Of course, there are many who say it was meant to
be this way.
Destiny definitely dealt Derek Trucks this hand. "Sometimes I think that the fact I was raised by two people who looked at music as religion has a lot to do with who I am," he says, "probably even more than having an uncle who was in the Allman Brothers Band," referring to drummer Butch Trucks, who brought him to jam with that legendary group before his nephew had even reached his teens. "Yes, it's true that I went to sleep every night to Live at Fillmore East and Eat a Peach," Trucks says. "I also think there have been a lot of different influences as far as band models and archetypes. The John Coltrane Quartet with Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner is one, just because there was a certain intensity and almost militancy to what they were doing. They were on a serious musical mission, like 'Get out of the way or get run over.' That's what I believe in. You have to play music like you really mean it."
Already Free is a testament to that faith in the ultimate power of music, one shared by the co-conspirators who grace its grooves. Along with the long-standing members of the Derek Trucks Band are guests like the guitarist's wife Susan Tedeschi, and kindred spirit Doyle Bramhall II, who played alongside Trucks in Eric Clapton's touring band. Bramhall takes vocal duties on two songs: "Maybe This Time," which mixes languid guitars and Eastern flavor, and "Our Love," a companion piece more haunting and painful. The organic way the album came together is an indication of its strength. "Everyday I would get up, and me or Susan would drive our two kids to school," Trucks says. "I'd come back, have some coffee and then head to the studio and start messing around with a guitar and hope a song idea appeared. Somehow without fail, there was at least a song written every day, or some great cover idea that came to us and we recorded it. So there was a good three- or four-week period where every day we were writing and recording a song. That was different
One of the cover ideas came from an unexpected source. Iconic guitarist Carlos Santana took a liking to Trucks when the two toured together last year, even going so far to say, "I can see the future in Derek Trucks. He has the heart for it, and I will gladly give him the keys that God gave me." But Santana went one better and suggested that the Derek Trucks Band cover Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn's "Sweet Inspiration," which singer Mike Mattison takes to new edgy heights with a vintage soul growl.
"Carlos was great." Trucks says. "He would grab me and a few of the guys in the band, or Susan, bring us in the dressing room and play us a song he thought the band should record, or just some idea he had, and that was one that he played for me. He really thought it was a great vehicle for the band, so I tracked down the tune and we just decided to give it a whirl. It turned out to be a great track for the album."
Derek Trucks' encyclopedic knowledge of different musical genres ensures he knows a great track when hears it, as borne out by the smattering of covers that pepper Already Free. Take a stinging cover of Big Maybelle's "I Know," which starts as a meditation with an anxious tamboura and a weeping slide guitar until it explodes into a Southern strut. Or the Derek Trucks Band's take on Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes song "Down in the Flood," a tune that may have more portent now than when Dylan wrote it in 1967. "That was one that was kind of an afterthought," admits Trucks. "We just went in and tracked it. I think it really turned out to be one of the most powerful songs on the album. Lyrically it's pretty timely. Crash on the levee, down in the flood, are significant post-Katrina. There are good metaphors, as there are in most Dylan tunes."
That's pretty strong territory, to be sure, but Trucks has been acquainted with Rock's royalty from a very early age. Trucks was on stage at 9 years of age, jammed with his own group at 11, and formed the core of the Derek Trucks Band at 15. The young player even sat in with the author of "Down in the Flood", Bob Dylan that same year. He was asked to join the Allman Brothers Band as a permanent member five years later in 1999, an offer he accepted after careful consideration and assurances that he'd be able to concurrently pursue his own work as a leader.
Those parallel streams helped make Derek Trucks the youngest musician named in Rolling Stone's list of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, and one of those featured on the cover of the esteemed magazine's 2007 New Guitar Gods issue. However, accolades aside, ever since the release of their self-titled 1997 debut, the Derek Trucks Band has operated more as a unit than as a band under the control of
a single leader.
The backbone of the Derek Trucks Band its core members have been with Trucks for years. Bassist Todd Smallie joined the group in 1994 when Trucks was only fourteen. Drummer Yonrico Scott came on board shortly afterwards in 1995. The group toured America furiously via van and R.V. sometimes up to 250 days a year refining their sound and attracting a diehard audience one dedicated listener at time. Keyboardist and flutist extraordinaire Kofi Burbridge joined the caravan in 1999, with singer Mike Mattison following in 2002. Percusionist Count M'Butu a perennial Trucks associate completed the lineup a few years later, giving the Derek Trucks Band a four-decade age span, a quality that has had an indelible impact on the group's musical vision.
"Musically, it's always been wide open in this band," Trucks says, "and I feel like this particular recording process was such a liberating experience for us. It's the feeling you get when you know you're doing the right thing or you're on the right path. I think underneath the struggle, and in the constant push, there's this feeling that you're already home."
And home is exactly where Already Free took shape specifically, the Trucks-Tedeschi homestead in Jacksonville, Florida. There, underneath 100-foot pine trees where osprey swoop down upon their prey and alligators lie by silently watching while manatees graze in the warm shallow waters, Trucks and his brother David built a recording studio shouting distance from his back door. With the help of some folks they know in Jacksonville, the two brothers, along with the band's guitar tech, Bobby Tis, laid the foundation, put on the roof and basically did all the manual labor themselves. But their secret weapon was Tis' father, Bob, who had been chief engineer at both Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, New York, and at the esteemed Electric Lady Studios, the room originally built by Jimi Hendrix.
In fact, when Trucks and young Tis walked into the newly-built studio last January to get acclimated to the place, running their hands over the vintage Neve recording console (formerly owned by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Kink's Konk studio in London) and turning on microphones that they had raided from the old Sony studio in New York after it had closed its doors last year, magic began to happen.
"When we went in the studio originally it was just to write and kind of get comfortable in the space. It wasn't to do a record," Trucks says, "so there was no pressure. There were some times when everybody would go out to dinner and I would stay behind. If I got an idea, I would run into the control room, hit 'play,' then run out into the recording room and set up a mic. You'd hear this thing banging around and then this guitar part comes in. A lot of the album was completely done by the seat of our pants, and a lot of the sounds we got, it was just so in the moment."
From that free-form and open way of recording, Derek Trucks found his muse and his place. That's how great albums are created. No matter what the future holds, the young musician knows he's already home. "This definitely feels different than any record we've ever done," he concludes. "I think the music feels more realized, and I believe this will be on the list of two or three of the great records we ever do as a band." Already Free, indeed.
Nearly a year in the making and brimming with a newfound focus on original material, Already Free is The Derek Trucks Band's natural evolution as they move forward integrating influences that span a variety of musical genres. Known for their blues roots, the group takes this album well beyond blues to incorporate the larger sounds of rock & soul. Already Free, features a stirring cover of Bob Dylan's Down In The Flood as well as the new songs, Down Don't Bother Me and Get What You Deserve. Guest appearances on the album include vocals from Susan Tedeschi and Doyle Bramhall II.
15 New 'ON' this week / 118 Total
TV: Late Night with Conan O'Brien SYND: NPR/World Cafe, Blues Deluxe Markets include: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Wash DC, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New Orleans, Honolulu, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Canada Online: RadioIO, Jazz From Gallery 41, Jazz & Blues Report, JazzWeekly.com, Hot Time Radio Show, Radio 666, CRB
Crossover Media Projects with: The Derek Trucks Band