Derek Trucks Keeps It All in the Family Band

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For many a bluesman, standing at the Crossroads is a mostly apocryphal experience, the stuff of myth and legends. But when Rocks Off reached Derek Trucks at his New York hotel room last month, the myth is quite real.

In a few days, he'll take the stage with the Allman Brothers Band for their annual run of shows at the Beacon Theatre. Except it will be the last-ever live dates with the venerable group for both guitarists Trucks and Warren Haynes, both having previously announced their departure. And - depending on which member speaks to the media on which day - may be the ABB's last live dates ever.

"It's a trip. We started rehearsals last night for the last run, and I can't tell who is processing what in what way yet. I don't know if we'll ever be on the same page about [any future for the group], but for me, this is it. And I know Warren as well," Trucks says.

"But I think these last six shows are going to be great, and everyone's head will be in the right space. Whatever happens down the road, who knows? But I'm stepping away. I bought a one way ticket."

Two days after the Allmans took a final bow, Trucks began his fall tour with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-piece ensemble he runs with singer/guitarist/wife Susan Tedeschi, which stops at Bayou Music Center Thursday night. Their sophomore studio effort, Made Up Mind, came out last year.

For Trucks -- who also fronted his own band and served as a touring guitarist for Eric Clapton in recent years -- it was just time to simplify his musical life and thus his home. Still, just one day's rest?

"When I'm out on the road, I want to be out. And when I'm home, I want that [lengthier] rest. I mean, our kids are 10 and 12, and it's busier there!" Trucks laughs.

"And spending time with [my kids] was one of the biggest factors for me getting out of the Allman Brothers," he adds. "It's been 15 pretty insane years and I wouldn't change it for anything. But it will be nice to have that space to focus and breathe."

That musical focus can finally be on the TTB, which have become he and Tedeschi's de facto "other" family since they decided to merge their careers to tour and record together. The debut album Revelator came out in 2011, followed by the live double disc Everybody's Talkin' the next year.

When Rocks Off spoke with Tedeschi in 2012, she joked about the pressures of meeting the payroll for such a large unit, but Trucks says he wouldn't have it otherwise.

"Each year we look at our schedules and see how many gigs we have to do so that the band makes a living wage, and we make it work," he says. "There's a sound you get with this large a band you can't get any other way, and it's hard to go back. And people realize you're serious about music when you show up with that many people. They know you're doing it because you want to."

And while he admits that touring such a large unit has "bumps in the road," he says the chemistry is right both musically and personally for the modern traveling gypsy/hippie caravan. And their philosophy is reflected in the cover art of Made Up Mind that features a large buffalo running for a head-on collision with a locomotive train.

"We thought that art went perfect with who we are!" Trucks laughs. "I feel that myself and the band try to do things the old way, and you then realize your running up against this inevitable force. That's like us. We'll probably lose, but it will be a beautiful mess!"

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For the record, in addition to Trucks and Tedeschi on guitar and vocals, the band includes Kofi Burbridge (keyboards/flute); Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson, drums/percussion; Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, harmony vocals; Kebbi Williams, sax; Maurice Brown, trumpet; Saunders Sermons, trombone; and Tim Lefebvre (bass).

And while the TTB's sound melds blues, jam-band, jazz, funk, soul, and rock, he still keeps an ear out for other sounds. Even if he has no use for them personally or professionally.

"We do a lot of festivals, and I try to hear some of these acts with an open mind, but it's so goddamn depressing!", he laughs. "It's EDM everywhere! I mean, I don't get it. I guess I'm not taking the right drugs. Then I'll see something amazing on a side stage with a real human playing a real instrument and singing as song that they really care about, and my faith is restored."

For the current fall tour, Trucks says the setlist will likely vary each night, not be so heavy on tracks from Made Up Mind as it's been out awhile, and find dips into both he and his wife's solo/other group catalogues, as well as some "weird covers." The band has also started writing and recording their next record.

While he plays a lot of genres, Trucks is probably most rooted in the blues, so it's not surprising that he was affected by the recent death of Johnny Winter. The blonde bluesmen recorded a cover of the warhorse "Dust My Broom" for Winter's 2011 effort Roots. However, the influence went back much further than that session.

"He has been in my musical life as long as I have been playing gigs since I was 9, 10, or 11. After Duane [Allman], Johnny was it for me. And as a slide player, he took it past Elmore [James]," Trucks says.

So he relished the handful times Winter would join him onstage either with the Allmans or at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, a "mythical looking figure just standing on the side of the stage" at times.

"I thought every time I saw him, it could be the last. That's the same way with B.B. [King]," Trucks says. "But it was a big loss. Johnny was a true musician and true blues man with no bullshit around him. And he had a low tolerance for bullshit in others."

Finally, asked about any particular memories of Houston, Trucks offers an anecdote at least tied to the city.

While touring with Eric Clapton -- who also had ex-Arc Angels guitarist Doyle Bramhall II in the band at the time -- the three would play a game where one would play some obscure song that the other two would have to identify.

"You could never get anything by Eric, but Doyle got him once. It was one of the few times I ever saw him stumped!" Trucks laughs.

"It was this raw, nasty, lap steel playing by Hop Wilson on a [CD] called Houston Ghetto Blues. I'm always looking for new, old music, and it's rare when you find something that twists you. But Hop was a revelation. I'm definitely going vinyl shopping when I'm in Houston!"

Special thanks to blues scholar Dr. Roger Wood (Down in Houston) and Cactus Records manager Quinn Bishop for sorting out the story of Hop Wilson and Houston Ghetto Blues.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band plays Thursday night at Bayou Music Center. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.


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