Six-String Creation: The Derek Trucks Band Acclaimed guitarist Derek Trucks knows something about musical lineage. He joined his uncle to play in The Allman Brothers Band, and has just released a new studio album with his own band. Songlines is named for a book about Aboriginal creation myth.

Six-String Creation: The Derek Trucks Band

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

When you're tapped at the age of 20 to take the place of the late guitarist Dwayne Allman in the Allman Brothers Band, where on earth do you go from there? That's a question for Derek Trucks to figure out. He's played with the Allman Brothers Band for six years. The Wall Street Journal this month called him the most awe-inspiring electric slide guitar player performing today. Downbeat magazine has called him a soaring inspirational blues guitarist. And the New York Times called it a delicious pleasure to hear Derek Trucks play.

Mr. Trucks has pushed the boundaries of blues-rock with his own band for almost a decade; the Derek Trucks Band has a new CD called Song Lines. It's their first studio recording in four years. Derek Trucks joins us. Along with the rest of his band you can hear them.


Mr. DEREK TRUCKS (Guitarist, Derek Trucks Band): Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Derek, let's introduce the band mates first. You're obviously playing the guitar. And on base we have...

Mr. TRUCKS: Todd Smallie playing base, and we've been together for about 12, 13 years now on the road.

WERTHEIMER: That doesn't make any sense. Neither one of you are old enough to have been together for many, many years. Yonrico Scott, the drummer?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yep. Yonrico's been in the group for about 11 years now, too, so many miles in the van.

WERTHEIMER: Kofi Burbridge.

Mr. TRUCKS: Keyboards and flute.

WERTHEIMER: And you've got a big array there. You've got the, an organ. You've got a keyboard and two different keyboard sets.

Mr. TRUCKS: Got brakes and accelerator pedal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: A lot of stuff to carry around. Mike Mattison, you are the lead singer?

Mr. MIKE MATTISON (Lead Singer, Derek Trucks Band): I'm a singer.

Mr. TRUCKS: Don't let him fool you. He's lead singer.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. And Count M'Butu, I'm really glad to see you because you're almost as old as I am.

Mr. COUNT M'BUTU (Congas and Percussions, Derek Trucks Band): Probably older.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: And you're playing the conga drums and other kinds of percussion?

Mr. M'BUTU: Cahoon(ph), bata cahoon(ph).

WERTHEIMER: Now, could we talk a little bit about why you play the slide guitar?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah. I think it was the lyrical quality of it, as well as, when you have really small hands at nine, it's just easier to play fud(ph) and it doesn't hurt as much.

WERTHEIMER: You mean putting actually fingering on the frets?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah, for some reason it just, it felt a lot cleaner, a lot more natural. You know, I remember it always reminded me of the human voice. But you could tell it was, it was something else.

WERTHEIMER: Well, like just you, by yourself, could you show us what you, what you're talking about?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah. Like, you know, some of the, the more gospel vocal lines, like...

(Soundbite of slide guitar)

WERTHEIMER: Sort of a, kind of a crying sound that...

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: ...that the guitar will make.

Mr. TRUCKS: And you know, the early Delta blues players, that's what they were doing. They would sing a line and then answer themselves back with a, sometimes it was a steak bone; sometimes it was a wine bottleneck. Whatever it took to get the sound.

WERTHEIMER: You're using a little glass. They don't make pill bottles like this anymore, but they use to.

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah, of course (unintelligible) bottles were, that was the medicine that you would buy, dump it out, and use the bottle. But they're not making the glass anymore. So you either have to track them down in antique stores or buy the reissues.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I was, I wonder if I could ask you and your band to play a cut from the new album. Tell us what it is and...

Mr. TRUCKS: This is a tune, the version that we're playing came from a Nina Simone version that really influenced the group. And it's called I Wish I Knew.

(Soundbite of song I Wish I Knew)

WERTHEIMER: I'm completely blown away by that, by the slide guitar, the flute. I mean the combination is great and the vocal was just amazing too.

Mr. TRUCKS: Thanks. It's a fun group.

WERTHEIMER: I love the way that you pick up on the kind of growly quality in Mike's voice when you play the guitar way down low. Mike, did you grow up hearing Nina Simone? I mean taking on a song that she made famous?

Mr. MATTISON: No, you know, I didn't come to listen to her until maybe my 20s, but for me, this song in particular, it was pretty apparent that it was gospel-influenced and obviously from the Civil Rights era, but you know, it's very universal that you can sing it at any time and it'll mean something to you whether you're literally in chains or not, you know.

WERTHEIMER: Derek, you have family connections to the Allman Brothers Band, your uncle is Butch Trucks, who's the drummer. Did they give you the inside track?

Mr. TRUCKS: In a way. I mean other than the fact that there's the novelty aspect of a nine or ten-year-old touring. Having the Allman Brothers' connection helps you get gigs. So yeah, I mean, whatever it takes to get in the door, then you have to either put up or you have to go home and practice.

WERTHEIMER: You're going to be touring this year with Eric Clapton?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah, it's going to be a busy year, but I'm really excited about that.

WERTHEIMER: Well, he is, I mean you know, he's a legend obviously. The notion of Eric Clapton and Dwayne Allman playing together on Layla, I think it'll be a little bit intimidating to think that you were kind of walking up to that one.

Mr. TRUCKS: You know, I think from the years of playing kind of that role in the Allman Brothers, you keep one foot back there because you want to let them know that you respect it, but you have to take some of that essence, some of that energy and turn it into whatever's happening in 2006.

WERTHEIMER: That one album, the album that Layla was on, the band was called Derek and the Dominoes. I mean obviously it's Dwayne and Eric, Derek. So did you get named for this band?

Mr. TRUCKS: I did actually.

WERTHEIMER: Did you really? I was really wondering that.

Mr. TRUCKS: Yep, true story.

WERTHEIMER: We, we're going to hear another song that's a very different performance. It's called Crow Jane.

Mr. TRUCKS: Mm-hm. This is a tune we got from Skip James, an early Delta Blues player. A lot of the tunes that came out of that era it seemed were almost protest tunes, but they had to be shaded differently. It couldn't be really obviously, so you can kind of read what you want to into them. So this is another great tune that way.

(Soundbite of song Crow Jane)

WERTHEIMER: I'm impressed. You have two whole voices, but you still have all the same style, I guess.

Mr. TRUCKS: Kind of blend them, yeah, you know, always working on the falsetto. Apparently the girls like it.

WERTHEIMER: Derek, you started out, your career, so very young. Does that really give you time to make mistakes and figure out what you're doing? You seemed to have just dropped into it.

Mr. TRUCKS: You make your mistakes the same way. It's just in front of people.

WERTHEIMER: A little more public?

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah, sometimes, but you know, there was different times when me and Todd and Yonrico were a trio where we were just listening to avant garde music and the idea was to run as many people out of the room as possible. So you know you got your teeth that way too.

Unidentified Man #1: Or that they won't switch instruments.

Mr. TRUCKS: Oh, yeah, we've done that.

Unidentified Man #2: We're not really try to run them out now.

Mr. TRUCKS: Yeah, no, we got over that pretty quick when we didn't have gas for the band.

WERTHEIMER: What about, do you have a preference? What kind of you music do you like best?

Mr. TRUCKS: You know, it's so hard to say. I mean one day it'll be, you're listening to Otis Redding, the next day it's Miles Davis, the next day it's Indian classical, the next day it's Western classical. I mean I'll hear someone like Ralph Stanley or a Delta Blues singer and hear a lot of the same inflections you hear in some of the Indian classical vocalists. It almost seems to be a poverty issue at times, like a lot of the music from really rough places ends up having the same feel, the same emotions people are trying to get off their chest. So you know, when we cover tunes, it usually doesn't matter what genre it's coming from. It's kind of coming from the same place emotionally.

WERTHEIMER: The Derek Trucks Band is Todd Smallie on bass, Yonrico Scott on drums, Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and you also heard him play the flute, Mike Mattison, who is the vocalist, Count M'Butu, percussion, and Derek Trucks, of course, on guitar. Their new record is called Songlines. Thanks very much.

Mr. TRUCKS: Thank you for having us.

WERTHEIMER: We actually talked to the band for a while longer and covered topics such as life on the road and Derek Trucks' marriage to singer Susan Tedeschi. To hear that and to hear the band play a couple of more songs, visit our website, This is WEEKEND EDITION. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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