Derek Trucks on Juggling Touring with Family Life: "It's Oddly Healthy"
Derek Trucks: "Having a big band is almost like having a lot of kids..."
Photo courtesy of Tedeschi Trucks Band
His uncle is percussionist Butch Trucks, original member of the Allman Brothers Band, and he himself was named for the Eric Clapton album credited to Derek and the Dominoes. Naturally, it'd seem Derek Trucks' career in music was predestined. Rather than simply fall back on birthright, though, the young Trucks took the reins on the family business from a young age, playing with the Allmans while still in his mid-teens, leading his own band, and playing a key role in Eric Clapton's touring band by his 20s.
Trucks' current day job finds him at the helm of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, alongside the equally adept singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, his wife and music collaborator for the past dozen years. After playing on each other's respective solo albums, the two officially joined forces in 2011, releasing the band's debut album, Revelator, which garnered a Grammy for Best Blues Album, several top prizes at the prestigious Blues Music Awards, widespread critical acclaim, and a top-15 debut on the Billboard album charts.
“It’s been an amazing run,” Trucks reflects, speaking on the phone from his New York hotel during a day of interviews and promotion in support of Tedeschi Trucks' new album, Let Me Get By. “When we put this band together, we definitely had high hopes for it, but it's definitely exceeded what we hoped for...Being able to play music you love to play, with people you like being around, is definitely hard to beat. There’s a lot of hard work, and you’re wrangling a lot of people, and things do happen, but in the end, it’s a good day’s work," he laughs.
Trucks, an incessant multi-tasker, regularly shows up on lists delineating the greatest guitarists of our era, and so it's no surprise he's found himself performing some of the most prestigious gigs imaginable: onstage at the White House, the United Nations, the Grammy Awards ceremonies, and the all-star tribute to blues great Hubert Sumlin, set at the iconic Apollo Theater. In the process, he's shared the stage with legends like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, and McCoy Tyner, to name only some. Now, with a new album to tout — their first independent release — the band has added incentive to take their show on the road.
Nevertheless, with past commitments to the Allman Brothers, Clapton, and the other artists who would ring him regularly, it wasn’t always easy spending quality time with his growing family. “It helps being married to someone who understands what you’re doing. Because if Susan hadn’t been a musician and understood what [being on] the road takes, I don’t know if doing this would even be possible,” Trucks concedes. “She understood the opportunities and understood that it wasn’t a 24/7 party [laughs]. So now, I’m devoting myself entirely to this band. I’m not involved with those outside gigs like I used to. We’ll actually bring the kids with us to our festivals. Building the studio allowed me to spend so many more months at home and be productive and work and make records. We’ve been fortunate, but you also have to be pretty proactive to make it work.”
As if Trucks and Tedeschi didn't have enough on their plates already, the two launched their Sunshine Music Festival five years ago, a three-day-long Florida festival that's featured their own Tedeschi Trucks Band with an array of special guests across two different locations. The festival project expanded their roles as entrepreneurs; They already own and operate their own recording recording studio, Swamp Raga, located behind their home in Jacksonville Florida.
“[Sunshine Music Festival] was an idea we had for a really long time, and the folks from Live Nation were extremely supportive,” Trucks says. “We really wanted to put a festival together where we hit the road, and eventually do it nationwide if we can make it work. So we put some of our favorite bands together that we would want to go see, and this way we can sit out front and watch. We had a long list, and we just tried to piece it together. I remembered the Horde tour in the early-‘90s, when I went out with Aquarium Musical Unit and a bunch of different bands who I loved learning from and playing with. Now, there’s been a huge influx of different festivals. But this festival is family-friendly. You can actually bring your kids.”
Still, he admits, it can be a daunting challenge to coordinate touring schedules. “You just have to start early, maybe a year out or so in advance,” he explains. “You put a wish list together and then start at the top and work through it. And starting at the top doesn’t always mean the biggest names… it’s the people you really want on it. We were lucky — sometimes it doesn’t always work out."
We mention the Festival Express, a mobile festival circa 1970 that put performers like the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, and others on a train and travelled from one end of Canada to another, and Trucks acknowledges that it was one of the things that inspired them. “Oh yeah. We talked about that too,” he responds. “We did a tour of Europe with our band where we did it by train. An 11-piece band with 20 people in the crew — we took over a whole train car. It got rowdy a few times, but I was thinking it could be fun," Trucks laughs.
Though their domestic situation often requires the duo bring their work home with them, Trucks brushes aside any idea that it can be awkward. “It’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be,” he maintains. “I went into it with my eyes open and believing it could cause a lot of added stress. But I think having a big band is almost like having a lot of kids; Your attention is often focused on keeping things rolling, and so you don’t have enough time to be annoyed with each other. This group of people is so much fun to be around, and there’s always an outlet, always a place to blow off mild steam if you need too. It’s oddly healthy. When we were at the Lockn’ Festival last year, we played a tribute to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and that was kind of the template for what we do. I feel like we’ve kind of sanded off a lot of those rough edges, but it’s still pretty free-spirited and it still gets crazy, Fortunately, it never gets destructive."
Sunshine Music Festival 2016
With Tedeschi Trucks Band and others, Sunday, January 17, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. GA tickets cost $49.99, reserved seat tickets cost $99.50. Call 1-800-745-3000 or visit sunshinemusicandblues.com.
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