add an appearance this coming Friday on Conan O'Brien -- his band's national television debut
::reprinted w/o permission from the Wall Street Journal::
Allman and Clapton Are Playing With Trucks
By ASHLEY KAHN
March 1, 2006; Page D10
Three things worth knowing about Derek Trucks: He is young, he is a veteran, and he is the most awe-inspiring electric slide guitar player performing today. That may seem both a bold and contradictory claim; let's take it one step at a time.
A youthful 26, Mr. Trucks played his first paying gig at age nine in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and at 14 began building the band he currently leads. Since then, he has toured under his own name, jammed with guitar heroes like Buddy Guy and Joe Walsh, and, since 1999, been an integral part of the Allman Brothers Band (which includes his uncle Butch Trucks on drums) filling the role originated by slide guitarist Duane Allman, who died in 1971.
In recent weeks, rock radio has leaked the news that Mr. Trucks will be part of Eric Clapton's handpicked touring entourage for most of 2006. "Last year I started hearing various rumors that Clapton might be looking for a slide player, and then I got a call to come out to Los Angeles," Mr. Trucks said recently from a hotel room while appearing in San Francisco. "To hear his guitar sound! He's one of those guys who's been able to keep his tone. It was the same hands, the same technique. You remember really quick why he is who he is."
An obvious question: Will they re-create "Layla," the timeless rock anthem from 1970 that featured Duane Allman alongside Mr. Clapton as Derek and the Dominoes?
"Eric brought up the Duane connection, but it was more off the cuff. It would be a thrill to play those tunes with him, but I think once the band gets together it will kind of lead itself. I know when and where I'm supposed to be for rehearsals, and that's about it."
The recent release of Mr. Trucks's sixth album, "Songlines" -- which will itself require time on the road -- promises an exhausting year ahead. But Mr. Trucks's commitment to his own group is steadfast. "I could feel it was a real turning point while we were doing the record. We grew into a band making this album, rather than just capturing a live performance in a studio, which is pretty much what we've done till that point."
Mr. Trucks is proud of his groove-producing sextet, whose musicians range from men in their 20s to one in his 60s. Singer Mike Mattison, percussionist Count M'Butu and keyboardist-flutist Kofi Burbridge are recent arrivals, while bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Yonrico Scott started with the guitarist when he was in his mid-teens. "The last three years it's been snowballing. I think everyone's starting to realize that the band is forming its own sound now."
Combine the band's progress, the new album, and the Clapton world tour, and add an appearance this coming Friday on Conan O'Brien -- his band's national television debut -- and it seems certain that Mr. Trucks's career is poised to reach a higher level. Whatever happens, he's already drawing to his concerts 20-somethings who regard the Allmans, Mr. Clapton and similar '60s stars as progenitors of the current jam-band scene, as well as gray-haired rockers who heard those bands in their prime and still prefer their music with guitars out front and a solid blues foundation underneath.
Yet whether it's blues-rock or jam-band, Mr. Trucks bristles at being confined to any one musical category. "There's not a scene I really am head over heels about. I don't think there's any that completely fit the bill for what we're trying to do, you know?"
Mr. Trucks's new album opens with a rousing version of jazzman Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery," leading to the Southern soul of "I'll Find My Way," the electrified Delta blues of "Crow Jane," and eventually Caribbean rhythms and an Indian raga. "I think there's a way to incorporate all these styles that the band is playing so that it's more of an original music and not just a collision of different genres."
When Mr. Trucks appears live, the band's set lists are as diverse as his recordings.
When he slips a small medicine bottle onto his finger and touches it to the strings, his guitar is the thread pulling it all together with an unhurried fluidity that reveals a musician who has learned to speak through his instrument. That he chose to focus on slide guitar as a pre-adolescent has much to do with it.
"The first connection I had with it was listening to Duane Allman on the Allman Brothers' 'Live at Fillmore East' and to [bluesman] Elmore James. The sound just really struck me and made me want to do that. That, and having small hands. When you're nine years old, it didn't hurt as much to play slide.
"Later on I felt like it was pretty much only with the slide that I could get out what I was trying to do musically. It's a fretless instrument, so you can get all the little nuances that vocalists get that you can't get on other instruments."
Mr. Trucks found that what he was attempting on slide guitar had little precedence:
The majority of slide specialists who came before him had kept to an established blues-rock approach. "As an instrument, it has territory I could really explore,"
he says, "while with the electric guitar, after Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, you have just a thousand clones out there. The slide guitar really is kind of untapped."
Onstage, Mr. Trucks is unorthodoxy in action: Often his right hand snaps, more than plucks, the strings. Unlike most guitarists, he plays straight to the amplifier without pedals or special effects, yet can elicit the breathy detail of a saxophone or the growl of a well-tempered chainsaw. On his new album, he produces a grating, oil-drum effect on "Mahjoun." On the "Crow Jane" track, he follows the vocal so closely that it is moments before it registers that the melodic line has been assumed by the guitar.
"I try to be ultra-sensitive with whomever I'm playing, even the guys that I've played with for 10 years," he says. "I think part of it is I don't want to feel like I'm completely comfortable, so I just keep working at it."
Today, Mr. Trucks still resides in Jacksonville, where his father bought him the garage-sale guitar that started him on his journey more than 17 years ago. He and his wife, the singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, are raising two children while pursuing their respective careers. (Mr. Trucks added lyrical touches to Ms. Tedeschi's latest album, "Hope and Desire.")
Among his generation, Mr. Trucks is an anomaly: a rising rock star who is unpierced, untattooed -- a long blond ponytail his most outstanding feature as he closes his eyes and works his guitar in concert. Don't expect any windmill strumming or stage leaps. (Of the recent Grammy Awards broadcast, he says, "You had all these superstars on stage and everyone was trying to make their big moment count. It's just not musical, man. At least sing in tune!") Like many of his musical heroes, he favors art over artifice, musical growth over grand, momentary gestures.
"They all stayed students, you know? They're always learning. Playing with the Allman Brothers I get that feeling, especially with [drummers] Jaimoe and Butch back there. They've been at it almost 40 years and they're not resting on their laurels. They keep that fire burning."