Derek Trucks: Music should be about “lifting people up and stirring something in their souls”

The Tedeschi Trucks Band guitarist talks about his band’s new album and the state of rock music today
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Tedeschi Trucks Band
Tedeschi Trucks Band plays the Fox Theatre on July 15.

Photograph by Tab Winters

“I live in Jacksonville, Florida, but Atlanta always feels like the hometown gig,” says Derek Trucks. “Just about everybody in my old band [the Derek Trucks Band] was from Atlanta, and a lot of the guys in this group are from there, too.” The cofounder of Tedeschi Trucks Band—which he formed in 2010 with his wife, musician Susan Tedeschi—also has strong family ties to Georgia. His uncle, Butch Trucks, was one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band, and Derek played with the reunited ABB from 1999 to 2014. We recently chatted with the renowned guitarist about the band’s latest album and the state of rock music today.

Tedeschi Trucks Band just released a live album and concert film, Live From the Fox Oakland. What makes you decide to do a live record?
Every once in a while a band will make a huge jump musically, and when you get to that place, you want to capture it. Our last tour, every show just seemed to get better and better. And I wanted to create a snapshot of what has become a unique thing this day and age, which is a dozen people up there on a stage.

The Allman Brothers Band recorded one of the most famous live albums ever, At Fillmore East. What meaning does that album have for you?
That record is a giant. But it’s such a different day and age now. In 1971, when that record came out, after you played a show it wasn’t immediately on YouTube the next day. If people traded shows in the 1970s, it was reel-to-reel. The days of a live record just totally breaking out like that, it’s probably not going to happen again.

Your uncle [Allman Brothers drummer] Butch Trucks committed suicide earlier this year. What do you hope his legacy will be?
It’s a tough one. It was such a brutal way to go out that I think it’s hard to fully overcome that. I hope the end maybe fades in some way because the work he did—those guys started a movement, and that music and legacy isn’t going anywhere.

Today rock bands almost seem to be a throwback. What’s your feeling on the current state of rock music?
I think music, like a lot of other things, has gotten very cynical. Whether it’s artists or labels or management, it’s people homing in on, “How do we make the most money on this tour? We don’t need a band; we need a light show!” It becomes a lot less about the emotional aspect and the artistic aspect and more about the bottom line. We try to throw all those things out the window and get back to what it’s supposed to be about, which is lifting people up and stirring something in their souls.

You’ve collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry. Is there someone who you’ve always wanted to work with but never got the chance?
I gotta say, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Most of my living heroes I’ve had the chance to either record with, or perform live with, or be on the road with. For a long time B.B. King was at the top of the list, but we ended up touring with him a few times before he passed away and had some pretty amazing musical connections. Stevie Wonder was the other one, and when we were down in the South China Sea doing some shows, we ended up playing with him, which was surreal. I can’t really think of anyone, and that’s a strange thing. When I got started, most of those names I’d be excited just to get a ticket to the show, much less get on stage with them.

What’s your favorite thing about playing in Atlanta?
It was always good to see Col. Bruce Hampton. In a lot of ways, he was the grandfather of the whole scene. It’s funny; meeting him at a young age, so many of his stories just seemed like things that were pulled from the air. But the most outlandish stories are the ones that turn out to be 100 percent true. Twenty years later you get confirmation from someone else, and you’re like, “Wow, I thought he totally made that up.” He’s the man, the myth, the legend.

You’re a renowned guitarist and this interview is happening on the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, so I have to ask: Who’s at the top of your list of all-time best guitar players?
For me, Duane Allman was my first influence, so he’s always right near the top. Then there’s Charlie Christian, who was one of the first electric soloists. He played stuff that people still haven’t quite topped. I love the old blues guys, too. The way John Lee Hooker approaches the instrument is so singular and unique. It’s not always technique and flash for me; it’s “how does it stick with you?” But I could give you my top 20, and it would be 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D. At a certain level, when you make it to that pantheon, you can be tied, but you can’t be beat.

With the slick computerized production available today, do you think there’s less of a tolerance for human imperfection in music?
When I hear EDM, perfection is not what I’m hearing. When I hear Ali Akhbar Khan or John Coltrane or Ray Charles, that’s the perfection I’m looking for: cutting to the chase and putting an emotion and a feeling out there and really connecting with somebody. But really more than anything, I think so much of it is just groupthink. When you’re dealing with the age of Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, then everything becomes very selfish and cynical. We were just touring Europe, and I noticed that we’d go to all these beautiful places, and everyone’s just taking a picture of themselves. I don’t understand that at all. And I feel like that extends to music. I think we’ve lost the script a little bit.

It’s still surprising to me when I go to a concert and everyone in the audience is watching it through their phone.
It’s an amazing thing. There are moments with this band that I think are pretty rare. This band uses a pretty wide dynamic range, so it gets loud and it gets quiet. But every so often we’ll get to this place where everyone in the room is fully focused on what’s happening. You see it happens in sports sometimes, when there’s a really important moment. It’s a great thing when you can get to those places, when you look up you don’t see a bunch of phones out. Even if I’m looking at the instrument and the band, and not the audience, you really can feel it when everyone is locked in.

Tedeschi Trucks Band plays the Fox Theatre on July 15.

A version of this article originally appeared in our July 2017 issue.

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