Guitarist Derek Trucks is an amiable guy, armed with a ready laugh. Then again, he's got plenty of reasons to smile. He's the nephew of longtime Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. He's amply employed, both as a regular member of the Allmans and as co-leader of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the sprawling 11-piece group he co-helms with his wife, blues singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi. What's more, when Eric Clapton is looking for a sparring partner, Trucks gets the call. To top it off, he lives with his wife and kids in what appears to be a perfect model of domestic tranquility.
No wonder, then, that the good vibes seem to emanate so naturally.
His band is headlining the inaugural Sunshine Blues Festival, which debuts in Fort Myers, then heads to Boca Raton and St. Petersburg. "We thought it would be fun to do a festival with bands that we would want to sit out front and watch all day," Trucks explains. New Times spoke with the gifted and fortunate Trucks about working alongside his wife and starting at the top.
New Times: How did you coordinate all the schedules?
Derek Trucks: You just have to start early, maybe a year out or so, and you have to 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 means the people you really want. We were lucky. Sometimes it doesn't always work out. We were kind of testing the waters with this to see if it was something we can make work and make fly and maybe turn it into something more.
You could do something like in the Festival Express movie where they put a bunch of bands on a train and they traveled from one end of Canada to another. That would be fun.
Oh yeah. We talked about that too. We did a tour of Europe with our band where we did it by train. That's an 11-piece band with a crew of 20 people. We took over a whole train car. It got rowdy a few times, and it made me think that a traveling festival could be fun. [laughs]
It sounds like you're already having a lot of fun. You play these incredible gigs, at the White House, at the U.N., with all these incredible musicians. You must be on cloud nine.
It's been an amazing run. When we put this band together, we definitely had high hopes for it, but it's definitely exceeded what we hoped for. It's an amazing start. 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 happen, but in the end, it's a good day's work. [laughs]
You seem like the ultimate multitasker. At one point, you were gigging with your own band, you were playing with the Allman Brothers, and then Eric Clapton called and you went out on tour with him. How do you keep it all straight? Do you ever start a song and realize you're playing the wrong tune because you got your gigs confused?
Luckily not! [laughs] When you're surrounded by great players and you're in that space, you learn the tunes and get them in your head. Once the band starts playing, there's this locomotion that happens and you get on board. [laughs] A lot of times, a song will start and you have this one second where you go, "Oh, shit. I don't know if I remember this one!" But once you get into it, it kind of plays itself. A lot of it is just the muscle memory that's always there.
You definitely have to do your homework, especially when it's the Allman Brothers or Eric Clapton. At one point, I was in three different bands that were touring full-time. I would have to listen to the records of whatever bands I was going to play with on the flight over just to refresh my memory a bit.
So how do you manage your time? You also have a family and small children? With all you do, isn't it a challenge?
For one, it helps being married to someone who understands what you're doing, because if Susan hadn't been a musician and understood what the road takes, I don't know if doing the three bands would even be possible. She understood the opportunities and she also understands it's not a 24/7 party. [laughs] When your wife and family are at home and you're running all over the world, it's nice to know that the understanding is there. So that helps. That's a big part of it. And when opportunities like that come up, you just have to take them. Those windows don't open often.
Still, it seems like a lot to juggle.
Yeah, we really thought about it in '06, '07, when it was nonstop. It was 20-something countries and multiple bands, and that's when I decided to build a studio in the house. It was a matter of planning ahead and thinking, "This is amazing, but I can't do this every year." We have kids, and I want to be home sometimes. Even when they're flying out and visiting me, it's not the same as being home. So building the studio allows 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.
Some people find that working with their spouse can be a little weird at times. Do you ever take the band business home with you?
It's been a lot easier than I thought it would be. I went into it with my eyes open, realizing it could cause a lot of added stress. But I think that having a big band is almost like having a lot of kids. [laughs] Your attention is often focused on keeping things rolling, and so you don't have enough time to be annoyed with each other.
Very diplomatic, sir. Very diplomatic.
[laughs] But also, this group of people is so much fun to be around. There's always an outlet, always a place to blow off mild steam if you need to. We have two buses on the road, so there are always spontaneous parties starting here and there. It's an unusually helpful situation to be in, because there's always some kind of outlet. It's oddly healthy too.