Derek Trucks is an old soul. By the time he was out of short pants, the guitarist was standing on stage and holding his own with legends like Buddy Guy, Dylan, Junior Wells and Gatemouth Brown. But where his young peers seemed to want to go no further than deepening their blues roots, Trucks began to reach out and explore other ground. On his first album, Landslide, he covered Coletrane's "Mr. P.C.," Miles Davis' "So What" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." His last record, Joyful Noise, took care of some R&B roots by adding Solomon Burke on a couple of cuts.
For his latest, Soul Serenade, Trucks went digging in Duane Allman's soulful past to revitalize King Curtis' great soul classic of the same name, which Duane played on.
The Allman connection runs deep in the Trucks organization. Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks is his uncle, and Derek is now an official member of the band, playing alongside guitarist Warren Haynes on stage and in the studio.
Trucks is an eerie echo of Duane on Soul Serenade's title cut. He has Allman's tone and phrasing down, but doesn't try to duplicate the solos note for note, capturing the Duane's essence without stealing his soul.
But Trucks doesn't stop with recreating a great soul moment--he merges it with a reggae classic, weaving Marley's "Rasta Man Chant" into the middle of the piece. It's typical of Trucks, now 24. He doesn't let nostalgia get in the way of reviving or rearranging bits of musical history.
"When you try to photocopy the past, you're obviously not gonna get the right feeling or the right attention," Trucks said in a recent interview from the road. "I just think you try to tap into the purity of the images those guys were goin' for."
Trucks does some inspired tapping on Serenade, exploring a way out version of Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Song" with some string pulling that conveys a Far East vibe, and Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" by laying down a guitar track more suited to the end of an Allman Brothers jam than anything Santamara ever syncopated--but it works.
Blues fans will be satisfied with Brother Greg's raspy snarl on Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears." Blues are definitely still the roots, Trucks says of the band's mindset. Trucks believes that some people got scared off when the band first started expanding their sound and not doing the standard 12-bar blues. But they seem to be all coming back around, especially after he's toured for four years playing slide for the Allman Brothers.
"What we're doing now is much truer than maybe playing the same tunes for 20 years and not meaning them," he says. "I think if you're honest to your music, people understand that."
The guitarist credits Duane Allman and Elmore James for leading him to the blues.
"Those guys really struck me at a young age and it started making sense. I realized how intense music could be."
Soul Serenade was finished quite a while before it was released. The album was recorded in 1999, but the masters were held up due to contractual problems with the Platinum House of Blues, which filed for bankruptcy by the time the band got through recording. The band signed with Columbia and wanted to release this album before Joyful Noise, but couldn't get free of legal entanglements until recently.
Trucks believes that this record showcases his band rather than having him as the centerpiece. Throughout, the guitarist gives plenty of room to bandmate Kofi Burbage, whose soaring flute solos give the band a texture not found in most outfits led by a slide guitarist. Bassist Todd Smallie has been with Trucks since the guitarist was fifteen. At 46, drummer Yonrico Scott is the band's patriarch, and Bill McKay takes care of the keyboard duties.
The Derek Trucks Band sound is hard to pigeonhole. To date, the records seem like exotic musical samplers, and Trucks offers no clues as to what to expect from them in the future. "I think with music, it's never ending," he says. "Once you think you've gotten somewhere, you're lying to yourself because it's really about what you're doing in the immediate."
He says he'd like to work with B.B. King and Bobby Bland and some of the jazz greats who are still around like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, but that just to get to see them play is almost enough for him. Asked if any of those artists or those he has shared the stage with might intimidate him, he says that most legends he's appeared with aren't into that. "Usually they're trying to play music with you. I've always been kind of oblivious to what's going on around me when I'm playing anyway, so even if they were trying to intimidate me, I probably didn't notice."
For someone as young as he is with as much pressure on him to perform in high-level situations, he's remarkably calm about his musical future. "I think as long as music is your main goal and what you strive to do, the rest takes care of itself. It's hard to burn out if you're concerned with music and not the things that go with it."
The Derek Trucks Band appears at the Lincoln Theater Saturday, Nov. 8.