Music News & Reviews

Ever-busy Trucks fits his style into several bands

The Derek Trucks Band and Van Ghost

8 p.m. Sept. 12 at Buster's Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $25.

There is an attitude — a vision, almost — that emerges from the grooves of The Derek Trucks Band's recent album, Already Free.

It has brewed throughout a recording career that began when the lauded Florida guitarist was in his teens. You hear it also, in slightly modified form, during the performances that he has delivered over the past decade with his "other" group, The Allman Brothers Band.

But on Trucks' new tunes, that feeling is inescapable. It is born of the blues, borrows from deep Southern soul and remains, at heart, powerfully uplifting. In a word, it's almost righteous.

"We've always made it a point, as a band, to be aware of the overarching theme of things," Trucks, 30, said last weekend by phone after an Allmans concert in Boston. "My band has records titled Joyful Noise, Soul Serenade and, now, Already Free. It's all part of a theme where I think music should be a medicine. It should release you from your day-to-day life. It is supposed to help you dig a little deeper.

"A lot of the music I hear nowadays is just too self-serving, too demeaning to people. It's everybody's choice. It's your music. Do what you want to with it. But I do think when you have a certain platform, it's kind of your duty to put the right things out there.

"My favorite records are always the ones that change your life for the better, whether it's Eat a Peach (the seminal Allmans album of studio and concert material released in 1972) or the great records by Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. You know, a lot of times when there is great social change, there is music right there with it that is a catalyst for that change or, at the very least, a snapshot of the times."

As traditional as it might sound, much of the faith and joy inherent in Trucks' music has its roots in family. His involvement with the Allmans, in fact, is practically a birthright. He is the nephew of founding (and current) Allmans drummer Butch Trucks. The younger Trucks also has been compared frequently to the great Duane Allman, the band's founding guitarist, who died in a 1971 motorcycle accident.

Like the late Allman, Trucks has an arresting slide guitar sound. Similarly, both players explored soul connections outside of the Allmans. Duane Allman recorded with such R&B legends as Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and Aretha Franklin. Derek Trucks has cut sessions with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and he has been featured on more jazz-inclined albums by Béla Fleck, David Sanborn and landmark pianist McCoy Tyner.

"Certainly Duane's legacy and his presence remain large around this (the Allman Brothers) camp," Trucks said. "He lit a fire here 40 years ago that keeps everything rolling with a lot of musical integrity today."

Perhaps the greatest link to Duane Allman came from outside the "camp." In 2006, Eric Clapton designed a world tour to re-highlight music from the classic 1970 Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. His co-guitarist of choice for the recording: Duane Allman. Clapton's pick for the 2006 tour: Derek Trucks.

"Listening to the Dominos music again, to dig in and decipher which parts were Eric's and which were Duane's, was great," Trucks said. "There was some tremendous music on that album, obviously. But Eric also had some great stories to share about how those sessions went down. That whole tour was a true honor to be part of."

But to imply that the late Allman's playing dominates the styles promoted by the younger Trucks is misleading. Trucks also is immensely versed in jazz and world music. Aside from recording and gigging with players like Tyner, he is versed in the music pioneered by the pianist's onetime employer, the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane. In fact, a stunning concert EP disc by The Derek Trucks Band released last spring as a companion piece to Already Free (titled Already Live) features a 17-minute variation of Coltrane's arrangement of Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things.

"We love playing those tunes and stretching out," Trucks said. "But it's hard to make something like that fit thematically on a studio record. Our last three or four albums have been introductions to the band for a lot of people. Putting a 20-minute instrumental on there isn't really the way to gain new fans. So it's great to be able to have a live EP and throw any crazy stuff you want on there. Songs like My Favorite Things make for some of my favorite moments in a live setting."

Today, the sense of family that has long pervaded Trucks' music with the Allmans spills over into his own work. He is married to Susan Tedeschi, the popular guitarist/vocalist with a similar affection for blues and soul tradition. They maintain separate recording careers but frequently pool their band resources to tour together as the Soul Stew Revival.

Trucks and Tedeschi have two children, which makes juggling their respective careers, not to mention the former's commitment to performances with his band, the Allmans and one-off projects like the Clapton tour, a continually difficult challenge. Trucks appreciates the opportunities that have come his way, but he is already making plans to make his work life more complementary to his home life. The first step was building a full recording studio in the couple's home in Jacksonville, Fla. But more changes might be in the offing.

"The last three or four years have been ... well, not overwhelming, but whatever the step below that is," Trucks said. "We've had a really insane schedule. Everybody is on the same page and working toward the same thing — whether it's family, band or management. And I'm very fortunate to be married to somebody who absolutely understands the world I run in because she's running in it herself.

"But in saying that, part of the reason in building the studio was the realization that I don't want to be on tour 300 days a year with 10 different bands for the rest of my life. I love touring and performing live. But I really think within this next year or so, it will seriously be time to shift gears, go home, write and start a band with my wife — you know, really, in a way, clean the slate and just kind of start from scratch. You need to just hit the reset button every once in a while."