ARCHIVE: Trucks Will Roll at Basie Benefit

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Derek Trucks (left) and Susan Tedeschi bring their all-new big band to the Count Basie Theatre for a special fundraiser show Friday night. (Photo by Allison Murphy)

By TOM CHESEK (First published on RedBankGreen July 7, 2010)

When Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi roll on in to the Count Basie Theatre this Friday for a show to benefit the facade facelift and other ongoing restoration projects at the Red Bank venue, it will be a family affair.

The husband-and-wife pair, who tend to collect Grammy nominations like other people collect utility bills, are  on the road in support of Truck’s appropriately named Roadsongs set, and they’ve put together a big new touring supergroup for the occasion — complete with entourage that includes their summer-vacationing kids, ages 5 and 8.

The family angle is standard operating procedure for Trucks, who at 31 is already a 20-plus years’ veteran of the major concert stage. Having served a very public apprenticeship in The Allman Brothers Band(where uncle Butch Trucks has steered that firetruck for 40 years), the prodigiously talented kid with the bottleneck slide technique of the old masters was a full-fledged member of one of the world’s most respected organizations by the age of twenty — and had already played on stage alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy.

Trucks will be bringing a full lifetime of musical experience and experimentation as carry-on luggage when he returns to the Basie stage; with no expectations other than a constantly surprising set that moves with ease from blues to rock to jazz (catch Tedeschi and Trucks here in their recent collaboration with Herbie Hancock) to traditional Indian music, a special passion.

Trucks and Tedeschi will be meeting VIP ticketholders at a pre-show reception in the Basie’s Carlton Lounge on Friday evening. In the meantime, we’ve got ten questions for Mr. Trucks, just ‘cross the road.

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A serial Grammy winner and the youngest old soul in the guitar pantheon, Derek Trucks returns to the Basie with new music. (Photo by Vikas Nambiar)

Thanks for taking the time out from your busy tour, there, Derek. Where exactly are you talking to us from, anyway?

We’re in Auburn, Maine, and we just enjoyed a rare night off. The weather’s really nice up here — it was 98 back home when we left — and we’re looking forward to being at the Count Basie, where I played about a decade ago.

So what kind of format can we look forward to for the Red Bank show? His and hers sets, and then a big jam at the end?

No, we’re actually doing something new and different this time out. It’s a whole new band that we’ve started from scratch, with two drummers, two backing singers. And I’d say it’s about 30 to 40 percent new material. It’s the first time I’ve been in a band where I don’t see any limits; there are a lot of options — we can do a full band lineup, or break it down to a trio, quartet, quintet. We put this band together so we can spend time as a family, see the kids, because we plan not to be touring as much as before.

How weird is it to go out on the road with the family unit? Or is not weird at all?

We’re doin’ the family bus thing, and the kids are having a great time, with school being over. Of course, their dad’s been on the road since he was nine — I was incredibly fortunate to have played in a band with my uncle, and a sense of loyalty that made it a real extended family.

Are your kids picking up on some of the music you’re into, or do you just let ‘em investigate things for themselves?

Our kids know stuff like Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack — even Indian classical music — while their neighbors just know Taylor Swift and things like that. A lot of kids’ music is just awful!

What’s your take on the whole School of Rock thing? You certainly know what it feels like to be the child prodigy, but is this necessarily the way you think is best for introducing a new generation to the sort of stuff that influenced you?

If the natural inclination is there — otherwise it’s just a hobby. You have to have the desire to do it, and to do it again, and to not make any cash for at least 15 years (laughs)! It’s not like sports, where if you excel you get rewarded — failing to meet expectations is where you learn, and while you can be taught the chords and the moves, you can’t teach anyone ‘the road.’

When exactly did you get the sense, being in the public eye all those years, that you had turned a corner and were now being accepted as who you were, rather than that novelty of being the little kid with the guitar?

Only recently. Like when I was 25. When you start at age 9, that becomes the story for a long time, and that’s still the story. When I did the Clapton thing (playing Duane Allman’s parts in the old Derek & the Dominoes tunes on Eric Clapton’s 2006-2007 tour), it introduced me to an entire audience who didn’t know me, and that was a real turning point for me.

Well, by that point you had already established yourself as someone who didn’t conform to a strict set of expectations.

If you take your own career path, and don’t play what people expect you to play, you can break out of those expectations. At a certain point you just dig in and find why you play music in the first place. And you have to put some stuff in there to challenge the audience; kind of like hiding the medicine inside the crowdpleasing stuff.

Looking at some of the other bands who hit the summer concert circuit this time of year, do you feel as if a lot of them are prisoners of their own fanbase; kind of frozen in time and unable to tamper with the crowdpleaser formula?

Guys like Miles Davis, Clapton, they constantly evolved, and then moved on. To keep the flame lit, you have to make sharp turns — otherwise you’re just phonin’ it in. That’s why I’m trying to start something wholly new with this band.

I should say here that the Allmans always seemed to strike a pretty deft balance between the 60s and 70s legacy, while tapping into the latter-day jamband thing and whatever else comes to mind…

Years ago, (Allmans percussionist) Jaimoe told me to think of it as something like the Count Basie, Duke Ellington band, with new soloists coming in all the time — you’re playing the songbook, and sometimes you’re tipping the hat, other times you’re abandoning the rules.

Fill in the blank with a guilty pleasure: a lot of people might be surprised to learn that Derek Trucks likes to listen to…?

I’m thinking of Krzystof Penderecki (laughs)! I don’t really have guilty pleasures anymore — just the pleasure, without the guilt.

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