Derek Trucks on Growing Up a Guitar Prodigy

Photo by Stuart Levine
Even though his uncle was the drummer of the Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks says it wasn't preordained that he became a musician. "My dad was a roofer and my mom worked at a school. There were records spinning in my parents' living room and they were supportive, but they didn't force it on me," Trucks says in his Jacksonville drawl. "I went to a garage sale when I was 9 years old, and the only thing I could buy that I wanted with the $5 in my pocket was a guitar."

After taking lessons and sitting in at local music clubs, the 9-year-old was impressing Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. "I played a show at Tropics in South Beach, and my uncle [Butch Trucks] brought all the Allman Brothers Band to watch me play. That was the first time I met Gregg Allman." As a child, Trucks learned the only way to improve his guitar skills was to play with great musicians or, as he puts it, "surround yourself with badasses and try not to drown."

At the age of 15, he formed a jam band and hit the road with the Derek Trucks Band. "My family never traveled, so it was great seeing the world. It was weird being on the road and having all these girls screaming at me and then having to go back to high school in Jacksonville the next week." It wasn't just the girls screaming for Derek; critics and guitar aficionados were going nuts as well: Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

In 1999, he lived up to his family's legacy by joining the Allman Brothers Band. That was when an opening act changed his life forever. He met Susan Tedeschi, whom he would not only marry but also form his current band with, the Tedeschi Trucks Band. "Music and family has always been a blurred line for me, so being in a band with my wife didn't scare me," Trucks says. "We were married for close to ten years before we decided to have a band together. We already had a house and kids, so we didn't jump into it. During a time when I thought of starting a new band, I started thinking who's got the best voice for my music? I happened to be married to her."

Beyond recording three blues-rock studio albums and two live records, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has also initiated the Sunshine Music Festival, which will celebrate its fifth year Sunday, January 14, at Mizner Park with performances by Galactic, Hot Tuna, and Mike Gordon. "We like to put together bands we'd like to pay to see," Trucks says of their band selection process. "When I put together a list of bands, it can be eclectic, but I try to get people we respect both musically and personally."

Besides touring heavily as usual, the Tedeschi Trucks Band this year will record its fourth record, which Trucks says was "inspired by a lot of loss and crazy shit." Two of those losses were his uncle Butch Trucks and his other former bandmate, Gregg Allman. Trucks says their spirits will be drawn upon in the studio and onstage. "We got a lot of living to draw from. We've got to figure out a way to tap into it. That way, making music can be our therapy."

Sunshine Music Festival. Noon Sunday, January 14, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton; 561-544-8600; Tickets cost $35.90 to $244.95 via
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland

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