Three months into the new year and Derek Trucks has already toured Japan with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, a group he leads with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, prepped the ensemble’s upcoming live record, Everybody’s Talking introduced a Derek Trucks Gibson guitar, accepted a Grammy for Best Blues Album, received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, played Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre alongside Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Keith Richards in tribute to the late Hubert Sumlin, and oh, by the way, performed with Tedeschi and Warren Haynes at the White House’s evening of blues music for the President and First Lady, and notable guests. We caught up with Derek before he began some spring dates with the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Congratulations on both the Grammy for Best Blues Album awarded to the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator, and to you personally for Gibson’s Derek Trucks signature model guitar. That’s a great start to 2012.
It’s pretty wild. I always try and stay in a mental bubble of not thinking about those things or ever stepping backing and reflecting. It is a little crazy. When you get into doing this and you start hitting the road, it’s always been an uphill climb. You grind it out. You never expect to really reach anywhere; you enjoy the playing and you enjoy the work. In some sense, you really enjoy the underdog, under the radar status. That kind of becomes your identity. You do that for 15, 20 years and (that identity) becomes almost accepted. So, it’s a little hard to comprehend. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?’ It’s an honor on a lot of levels.
Not to mention a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award as a member of the Allman Brothers Band.
Being out there with the Allman Brothers for the Lifetime Achievement Award was absolutely surreal. They didn’t have to include the new band. This lineup has been together for 12 years which is the longest version of the band, which is pretty hard to wrap my head around. End of the day, you appreciate those things, you acknowledge them, then you put it aside and get back to what you do. You make sure you never dip below the level it takes in earning that stuff. Always move forward. In some ways it gives you the confidence to realize in some sense that you are on the right path, but then you have to scrub it from your brain.
In the middle of global economic uncertainty, rising fuel costs, and diminishing or stagnant growth, you and your wife decide to put an 11-piece band on the road. To me that implies some potential financial sacrifices for the sake of playing this music.
Yeah, if you ask our business managers, they’re like, ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?’ Yes, absolutely. When we first put our bands on hold, me and Susan, and started this new project I remember reading a little backlash. Somebody had written that the band was selling out, and I was thinking, ‘Have you done the math here?’ We’re playing the same venue with twice the band. We did a New Year’s show when we did our first gig with the full 11-piece band. Up to that point we had the core, the 8-member group, which is already a big band, but we wanted to try out the horn section. I remember getting off stage and me and Susan looking at each other, laughing, and feeling, ‘We’re screwed. There really is no going back.’ It sounds good, it feels right.
Were you ever concerned about whether or not it would be a successful?
We’ve been fortunate in our careers where I don’t think we ever expected too much out of it. The fact that is has been going really well makes us really appreciate how far we’ve come and makes us not really need for more than we have. We built our studio. We live in Jacksonville, Florida, not a high rent district. Our cost of living is pretty damn low, so you can put the work first, put the music first. It’s a choice from the beginning. You make that decision and you roll with it. Every time we get onstage with that band, it emphasizes to ourselves why we are doing it. I think it’s important to care about the work and not care about the rewards. This day and age especially everything is so skewed. There is this whole culture of celebrity with zero talent, and a whole culture of get paid first, that’s what matters; you win if you have more. I think the whole idea of this band, of great music and art, is the exact opposite of that. Pour everything you have into what you care about and then it doesn’t matter where it falls as long as the work is sound. That’s what you keeps sane, what keeps you, in the end, alive. I don’t think you sleep well at night when you are bullshitting people. At least, I don’t.
In your acceptance speech at the Lifetime Achievement awards, you commended the inaugural incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band for having ‘balls of steel,’ referencing their early years on the road, traveling as a racially integrated band in the chitlin’ circuit of the deep South. Now some 43 years later, you lead a multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-regional band on both national and international tours. You recently performed at the White House for a multi-racial sitting president for an evening recognizing blues music. From your perspective, how are we doing with regard to race?
I certainly think we have come a long way. Hearing some of the stories of the early days of the Allman Brothers, actually seeing contracts that Duane Allman had to sign, where there is a race rider, where you’re disclosing to these clubs that you have a black man in the band. You had to sign a piece of paper so that the club knows what they are getting into. That’s kind of hard to fathom in this day and age. Having blues music honored in the White House is an amazing thing. When these guys first started playing, inventing and creating this music, they couldn’t have gotten within 800 yards of the White House, much less being honored in it. There are steps, but I think it is delusional to think that we are beyond it all the way. You certainly see it and feel it. There are other avenues of it that go un-talked about. One thing that happens when you have a black president is a lot of those feelings of racism that were buried come right to the surface. It makes people ugly. You see their true colors. You get a sense of that when you travel around, but all you can do is dig in and give people the medicine whether they know it or not. Our work is by example. You just get out there and do it, show that it can be done. Music is a great salve that way. It can change your perspective on things without you even knowing it. It’s hard to have these really shitty stereotypes about people if their performance makes you weep.