Derek Trucks: Sweet Inspiration (Relix Revisited)
Photo by Dino Perucci
Given his devotion to his family, Trucks feels an increased internal pressure to be around the house. He has no plans to return to the road with Clapton, citing his other responsibilities. What’s more, Trucks can envision a future when he might step away from The Allman Brothers Band.
“There does come a point where you have to say, ‘There’s only so much time in a day and only so many days in a year.’ I have kids who are six and four, and a wife who has sacrificed quite a bit so that I could do the three gigs. She’s put her career on hold at different times to have babies and things like that. I feel there comes a time where I’m going to have to look at my situation and return the favor. It’s only right.”
The home studio represents a step toward this end. Originally envisioned as a rehearsal room, the project soon escalated, aided by Derek’s discovery that Bob Tis, the father of his guitar tech, Bobby Tis, had served as chief engineer at both Bearsville and Electric Lady Studios and consulted on the design of numerous recording spaces. The elder Tis was soon enlisted to provide blueprints and then helped secure equipment, including a vintage Neve recording console previously owned by The Kinks.
As soon as the construction came together, Trucks invited Mattison down, and the vocalist bunked above the studio-in-progress, while the pair took a stab at some new material.
“As we were beginning,” Mattison remembers, “the shell was in, they had just put the board in but there were a lot of raw wires. And as the studio came together, the music also started to get momentum, so there was an interesting parallel there to watch both things happening.”
“The original idea was just to mess around and figure out how to get sounds,” Trucks adds, “and the first tune we tracked was ‘Already Free’ which is the last tune on the record. It was just me playing guitar, Bobby Tis stomping his foot on the ground and Mike singing. Once we realized that everything was sounding amazing in terms of the sound of the studio, it really blossomed. It was really uplifting. The kids were running around the yard and we were writing a song a day, tracking a song a day, mixing a song a day. It was pretty amazing.”
The setting certainly had an impact on the recording, which feels looser, more animated and more true to the spirit of the band that its predecessors. Count M’Butu contrasts the situation with some of his prior experience in more sterile environments where “the musicians tend to turn professional on you, and just play with the music with no life. But here we’d kind of hang out, record, come out into this big backyard and play baseball or walk through the woods to the swamp and see alligators and manatees. Then we’d go back and create songs. It’s just fun.”
As the project moved forward, additional guests stopped by as well. A visit from Doyle Bramhall yielded half a dozen tunes that had been hanging in the air since the Clapton tour, two of which appear on the album. Warren Haynes came down to write new music for The Allman Brothers Band, which never made it to the stage due to Gregg Allman’s treatment for hepatitis C but may well surface this year (Here’s some bonus ABB dish: When asked about the likelihood of Dickey Betts returning to the stage with the group during its 40th anniversary shows at New York’s Beacon Theater in March, Trucks offers “I don’t really know but I would say it’s even money or better.”). Along the way, Haynes contributed lyrics to the gentle “Back Where I Started,” music Derek originally composed on acoustic guitar to calm down his children at bedtime, which really hits home with Susan on lead vocals.
The process also opened up Trucks to new production possibilities with “Down in the Flood” recorded backwards, starting with an acoustic guitar and shakers, leading up to the drum tracks added at the very end. “I was always against recording any way other than setting the band up, tracking it live and capturing that. But there are a lot of other emotions, feels and vibes you can get by just rethinking the process. If something great comes out of it then so be it.”
Along these lines, it is worth noting that the definitive Derek Trucks Band album doesn’t always feature the Derek Trucks Band. Tedsechi’s rhythm section of Ted Pecchio (bass) and Tyler Greenwell (drums) who were on hand doing pre-production for her record and also have appeared with Mattison’s Scrapomatic project, contributed to the gestation of some songs while the full DTB was away. As a result, Trucks opted to record with them because “it just seemed like the right way to do it. I didn’t want to force it away from that. And strangely, while this record has the most diverse line-up, it feels the most coherent to me. There’s a common thread which I think is me being at home, being comfortable and just writing tunes every day. It was much more the atmosphere and the ambience and 15 years of being on the road and finally settling down and just being able to feel relaxed and write music.”
So too Already Free achieves one of Trucks’ fundamental goals in that it feels unfailingly honest. The music is familiar; classic but not quite retro. It is timeless, unfolding in the moment. The same holds true for most any Derek Trucks Band performance, whether it takes places in its namesake’s Florida backyard or a tricked-out Connecticut casino lounge.
“Music is putting the emotion of the day into sound,” Trucks concludes. “So when I hear somebody play or I buy somebody’s record, I want to think I’m getting an honest representation of who they are, what they feel and how they think. To me that’s the whole point. I don’t want half of a story.”
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