A More Perfect Blues Union
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If you want to quickly understand why Derek Trucks is widely considered to be one of the best blues guitarists in the world, seek out a YouTube video of a B.B. King concert from 2012.
At one point in the show, King, John Mayer and Derek Trucks are performing a Jesse Blevin song that came to be associated with King called “Guess Who?,” and King asks Trucks to do a solo.
What ensues is nothing less than magical. Mayer, no slouch himself in the guitar department, gawks at Trucks in disbelief.
The world of electric bluesman and blues rockers is full of shredders, but there aren’t many guys who can make a guitar gently weep like Trucks can.
His solo is a poem in notes. It is more soliloquy than solo.
Afterward, King says, “That’s about as good as I have ever heard it.” And Trucks looks genuinely embarrassed by the praise.
Trucks will perform with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the group he formed in 2010 with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, at the Embassy Theatre on Nov. 17.
Trucks had an unusual childhood. He picked up his first guitar for $5 at a garage sale when he was nine, not an uncommon thing for an American kid to do. By the time he turned 12, he’d performed with music legends like Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy, an utterly uncommon thing for an American kid to have done.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” he said in a phone interview. “I have kids now who are the age I was when I was traveling on the road.”
Trucks said he never craved rock star adulation, so the mere act of taking a stage wasn’t enough to swell his head or scare him stiff. He said he just saw playing guitar as a welcome challenge at that age, very much on par with playing Little League baseball.
The joy he got from playing as a kid was unencumbered by adult responsibilities and ramifications.
“When you get in the zone playing sports and music, there’s a thing that happens where everything slows down,” he said. “It’s a very pure thing that happens and you start looking for it more and more.”
Trucks’ father was (and still is) a music aficionado who took his young son to rock, blues and jazz shows.
He was a huge fan of Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers, so one can only imagine what a thrill it was for him to see his son perform with both those classic acts.
“It was all pretty surreal,” Trucks said. “I think I’d been on the road for a decade when I got the call to join the Allman Brothers. I had a record out. At that point I think I figured that the band was winding down and the guitar chair was never going to open up again. So it came out of left field, and was certainly a major honor. I had no idea it would last 15 years.
“I don’t really believe in the preordained script but this was kind of part of it,” he said.
It was during Trucks’ first tour with the Allmans that he met his future wife. Tedeschi, a rising star on the blues scene at the time, was an opening act throughout the tour.
“I always joked with the guys in my solo band at the time,” he said. “I’d just gotten out of a relationship, and I was like, ‘It’s kind of fun being a single guy on the road.’ I remember telling them, ‘Unless I find a woman with a CD collection that has John Coltrane, Howlin’ Wolf and Mahalia Jackson in it, I’m just going to hang back a while.’
“And then, when I met Susan, I called Yonrico (Scott), our drummer, and I said, ‘I think I stepped in it,'” Trucks recalled.
Members of the Allmans and of Tedeschi’s band picked up on the future couple’s chemistry and musical compatibility right away, he said.
“They were like, ‘We don’t care if you date, but you’ve got to have at least one child,'” Trucks said.
The couple married in 2001, had a son a year later and a daughter two years after that.
Trucks said they knew they would collaborate some day but they wanted to wait for the right moment.
“Her career was taking off,” he said. “I think not long after I met her, her first record went Gold and she was up for Best New Artist. Things went from 0 to 60 with her. I was working with my solo group and the Allmans, and things were intense and great. So there was this sense for the first eight years: ‘Your thing is your thing and mine is mine. Let’s not cross-pollinate too much.'”
But after their family had been established for a while, they started talking about teaming up professionally.
In the days when they had two separate bands, they arranged their tour schedules so one parent was always home.
That aspect of things became more challenging after they joined musical forces.
“We’re very fortunate,” Trucks said. “My parents live not too far from us. My brother and his wife live right down the road. We all live on the same street now. Now when we leave, my mom kind of moves in. And we don’t leave for any extended period of time when the kids aren’t out of school. We have the small village thing working for us. I don’t know if we would be able to do it otherwise.”
Doing a lot of shows is imperative for the large band in these economic times. The band has swelled to 12 members, including three singers and a horn section.
“It’s an evolving thing,” he said. “When we first put band together, we definitely had a horn section in mind. But you can’t bring 10 people on the road right out of the gate.”
The band always grows after it tries something new and everyone realizes they can’t live without it, Trucks said.
“You don’t go backwards,” he said. “You just keep finding a way to make it work.”
There are no sidemen in the band, Trucks said. Every member is a virtuoso and a visionary.
“Really everyone in the band has done or could do their own thing,” he said. “There are no pick-up musicians. With that, you’re getting a world of experience; you’re getting big personalities.”
The band performs 200 shows a year because Trucks and Tedeschi want everyone to be financially comfortable.