Derek Trucks has been amazing music connoisseurs and his own heroes since he was 12 years old.
He keeps the spirit of classic rock alive while also performing everything from old-school funk and vintage jazz to Rasta tunes and Oriental folk. A master of the slide or bottleneck style, his technical skills are matched by the beauty of tone that makes every note he plays rich and distinct.
Trucks joined his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks, in the Allman Brothers Band in 1999. A former child prodigy, he has also been performing and recording with his Derek Trucks Band since 1997. He performs with his wife, singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, as well. And then there was the call from Eric Clapton.
“They’re the good kind of problems,” Trucks joked when he called the other day from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. He was talking about the madman schedule he kept in 2006. It was a year in which he played with three bands in 17 countries.
Trucks and Tedeschi will play a few gigs around the South and then Trucks is scheduled to be in Singapore on Jan. 13 for the next leg of Clapton’s world tour. Gregg Allman and the other original Allman Brothers members agreed to make special arrangements so that Trucks could tour with Clapton. Trucks will rejoin Gregg and company for the Allman Brothers’ annual string of dates at New York’s Beacon Theatre in March.
“The Allman Brothers Band has been really great this past year working around Clapton’s schedule,” Trucks said. “I’m really grateful. They understood it was something I couldn’t pass up.”
No angry words from boss Gregg Allman?
“I was half expecting that,” Trucks said with a nervous laugh. “But I think because of the reverence between Eric (Clapton) and Duane (Allman, Gregg’s late brother), he understood. And it’s not like they’re competing groups. I think they were happy for me.”
The Clapton world tour finished the year Dec. 9 with a show at Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Set lists from the tour are peppered with cuts from “Layla and other Assorted Love Songs,” the album Clapton made in 1970 with Derek & the Dominos, the group for which Trucks was named.
As fate would have it, Trucks played the same slide guitar role for Clapton that Duane Allman did on most of the “Layla” album. The older Allman brother was the man who inspired Trucks to play and whose presence Trucks recalls in the rejuvenated edition of the Allman Brothers.
“When I joined the Allman Brothers Band was when I first had that feeling of all this music history coming full circle,” Trucks said. ” `Eat a Peach,’ `At Fillmore East’ and `Layla’ were the records that got me playing.”
“At Fillmore East” and “Eat a Peach” are the albums that established the Allman Brothers as stars and cemented Duane Allman’s legacy as a slide guitar virtuoso.
“So, yeah, it’s pretty surreal,” Trucks added.
Trucks is still 18 months shy of his 30th birthday, but has accomplished more this past year than perhaps any guitarist in rock `n’ roll. His solo band’s best studio effort to date, “Songlines,” came out on the venerable Sony imprint Columbia Legacy last February. The Derek Trucks Band hit the road to promote the disc and shortly thereafter Trucks was hired to play guitar on the Clapton and J.J. Cale album “The Road to Escondido.”
Trucks had briefly met Clapton backstage in the early 1990s but doubts the superstar remembered the meeting. Then one day last year he heard the guitar god’s voice when he checked the messages on his cell phone.
“It was totally out of the blue,” Trucks said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear Eric Clapton on my cell phone.”
“I flew out to do the J.J. Cale record with him and two days into the recording he asked me to go on tour with him.”
Most twentysomething guitarists would be petrified at the thought of sharing a stage with Clapton. But Trucks has been blowing audiences away for more than a decade. His first brush with a genuine rock legend occurred in Clearwater, Fla., in 1992. Trucks, 12, was the opening act for Bob Dylan.
“I recall leaving the show and I ran into Dylan,” Trucks remembered. “I was on my way out and he asked me if I wanted to stick around and sit in with him.
“I was only 12, but I knew how much weight he carried,” Trucks continued. “I remember my dad being completely freaked out. He was much more nervous than me.”
This reporter attended the same show. Dylan was performing “Highway 61 Revisited” when he turned his back on the audience and motioned to Trucks, who was standing with his guitar in the wings. The child with the long blond hair stepped on stage and laid down some nasty slide guitar licks that garnered a smile from Dylan.
“That night sticks out as a highlight,” Trucks said. “Definitely.”