Derek Trucks: Sweet Inspiration (Relix Revisited)
“Bruce [Hampton] used to call him an old black lady, a 40-year-old black woman with the blues,” says Trucks.
Count M’Butu, laughs at the memory. M’Butu, the DTB percussionist and elder statesmen of the group at age 63, was performing with Hampton in Aquarium Rescue Unit, when he first encountered the young guitarist.
“Derek was about 11 or 12 when Bruce brought him out. Some people were so nervous playing with Jimmy [Herring] and those cats, one guy couldn’t even plug his guitar in. Well Derek walked right out and plugged into Jimmy’s amp, turned to me and Oteil and said, ‘Let’s go.’ It kind of blew us away, the kid was so calm.”
Trucks’ quiet confidence has long defined him as much as his guitar finesse. His bandmates all describe his penchant, both on and offstage, for putting his head down and getting things done. This is quite literally true in terms of his performance demeanor as he exhibits minimal displays of emotion, to which he responds, good naturedly, “There’s a lot of activity you enjoy in life where you don’t just grin the whole time. I think part of the enjoyment is being deadly focused on something and trying to push the bar a bit every night. There’s a huge amount of enjoyment and feeling of doing something and intellectually pushing yourself and emotionally pushing yourself and just leaving it out on the stage.”
However, Trucks acknowledges that particularly in his role of bandleader, he has become increasingly assertive.
“Over the last four or five years I’m really starting to feel comfortable asking people what I want or telling guys what I want. I don’t feel like I have to tiptoe around things so much. I feel much more comfortable saying, ‘This is what the song calls for, this is how we’re doing it,’ and not really worrying about how the chips are going to fall.”
Not even if this means displacing his emcee. For many years drummer Yonrico Scott, who joined the DTB shortly after Todd Smallie and sports a résumé that includes gigs with Peabo Bryson, Sonny Stitt and John Denver, took the initiative to announce song titles to the audience. “And then,” Scott recalls, “one day Derek said, ‘Don’t talk.’ If you look at the presentations of some of the major bands, they don’t talk. Miles Davis didn’t say a freaking word. He just walked out and bam! With us it’s not hokey, it’s artistic. There was an Eddie Bo tune we did where the Count would come out at the end with an umbrella and do a little dance and we did that for about a minute because that’s not how we roll.”
Trucks affirms, “As a band were not trying to be cute or one up the audience. It’s not flippant what we do and it’s not just entertainment. It’s not a garage band that just hit on some weird chemistry and settled into it. Everybody has spent many years learning and studying their craft. These are guys who have been on the road playing in hugely different situations for 30, 40 years. A lot of times you’re trying to move or impress the people in your band who have heard you every night for 15 years.”
The Derek Trucks Band is the only touring group in recent memory comprised of a member in his 20s (Trucks), 30s (Smallie and Mike Mattison), 40s (keyboard player Kofi Burbridge), 50s (Scott) and 60s (M’Butu). The Count is a great-grandfather. Scott is a father of two children in their 20s. Within this setting, it is understandable that Trucks finally became a bit more declarative with his band members, when his life outside the group took on additional responsibility and perspective following the birth of his first son, Charlie.
Family is exceptionally important to Trucks, who credits his own formative musical experiences and development less to the fact his uncle Butch was a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band than his parents own reverence for music (“I can remember watching my dad moved to tears by a Duane Allman solo or listening to a Joni Mitchell record with my mom and seeing how it affected her.”). By all accounts he’s a doting and devoted father who believes that “sometimes a little league game is more important than doing a gig or learning a new tune.” When he’s home, he draws morning carpool duty and takes joy in the experience: “I pick up the neighbor’s kids, and everyone is asking for certain tunes like John Lennon’s ‘So this is Christmas.’ And there’ll be a car full of four kids just belting it at the top of their lungs at 8 a.m. It’s pretty amazing.” For the record, there is, however, no Hannah Montana in the offing as Trucks explains, “Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand. I feel so strongly that the things you watch, the things you read, the things you listen to affect how you are as a person. And for me, that music is so throwaway. With me and Susan being musicians, we take music seriously. If my thing was a nutritionist, I wouldn’t want my kids eating junk food all the time and I feel the same way about music and culture.”
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