ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 2, 1999
By Steve Newton
Teenage blues-rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd has a great story about how he got inspired to take up guitar. It has something to do with him, as a little kid, watching Stevie Ray Vaughan perform from atop one of the Texas guitar legend’s amp cases.
The story of how 20-year-old Derek Trucks picked up his first guitar, at the age of nine, isn’t nearly as much of a publicist’s wet dream.
“There was a garage sale next to my house, and the only thing that seemed interesting was a guitar,” recalls Trucks, chuckling over the wires from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. “So that’s where it started. It wasn’t something that I had in mind to do; everything just kinda fell into place. And then once you get started, music usually takes over.”
When one of his father’s friends brought over a slide for the youngster to try out, the six-string connection was solidified. “It felt really natural,” recalls Trucks, “so I stuck with that, and spent a lotta time on it.”
The blond guitar-slinger has spent a goodly portion of his last 11 years with bottleneck in place, and whether he’s going for deep, dark southern blues (Son House’s “Death Letter”), fiery jazz-rock fusion (“Younk Funk”), or a mix of Delta swamp and Indian classical music (“Deltaraga”), it sure shows on his latest CD, Out of the Madness. It’s his state-of-the-art slide work that is getting Trucks—who plays the Starfish Room on Monday (December 6)—compared to Duane Allman, the legendary guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band. (If the Trucks/Allman connection sounds familiar, it’s because Butch Trucks, Derek’s uncle, is a founding member of the ABB. The younger Trucks also recently toured as a member of the fabled southern-rock outfit, trading licks with Dickie Betts after guitarist Warren Haynes left to concentrate on his power trio, Gov’t Mule.)
Mentions of his stylistic similarity to Duane Allman abound in Trucks’s press clippings, but he isn’t about to complain of the constant comparisons. Since the first music he remembers hearing is the Allman Brothers’ Live at Fillmore East, it’s a suitable reference.
“It’s always a major compliment,” he says, “but my goal is not to play like Duane Allman. And I don’t listen to him very often any longer either, just because I went through a long period of just listening to that. For the last four or five years I’ve been listening to the other masters that have been out there.”
Though just barely old enough to legally drink in some of the bars he plays, Trucks has already performed with Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Widespread Panic, Tinsley Ellis, Bob Dylan, Gatemouth Brown, and the late Johnny Copeland. But there are still a few names he’d like to add to the list.
“I definitely want to either jam with, or just see, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, and the old Delta blues guys that are still around, ’cause to me those are the closest thing to the real deal that’s left. And then, as far as sitting in with people, there’s a lot of people that I’d love to see that I wouldn’t want to sit in with, just because”—he laughs self-deprecatingly—“you don’t think you’re quite ready yet. I mean, there’s a lot of Indian classical guys, like Ali Akbar Khan, that are probably my favourites, and people like that there’d be no chance of playing with, but I’d just love to be close to them and check ’em out.”