By José Oliveira & Rosine Alleva – Rock At Night Eu Editors
As we announced the Baloise Session new program after two years of absence, Rock At Night Eu Editor, José Oliveira, was absolutely delighted to be back to this great venue!
What an honor and how exciting to start with the exclusive Interview of Derek Trucks from Tedeschi Trucks Band and see Beatrice Stirnimann, Lena and all the team again! We missed you!!! Rosine Alleva couldn’t join this time but still follows the Festival very closely!
As the Baloise Session described it so well, the evening with The BossHoss and Tedeschi Trucks Band was “like a Roadmovie with Wim Wenders!!”
When we go to see one of our favorite bands for the first time live, we always tend to let ourselves be charmed. This concert exceeded all our expectations. It’s obvious that Derek Trucks is known as a pillar of the world slide guitar but we were far from imagining to also be seduced by the guitar playing and the voice of Susan Tedeschi, as talented as him. Also impressive is the sense of sharing, celebrating the talents of the entire band. Not only there to back up and support the Duo up front. There’s an effort to make sure everyone gets a moment in the spotlight.
Beyond being an exceptional artist, Derek Trucks is an extremely friendly person which made this interview even more pleasant. It took place just before the sound check.
Derek Trucks Guitar
Susan Tedeschi/Trucks Vocals, Guitar
Michael Mattison Backing Vocals
Tyler“Falcon”Greenwell Guitar, Drums
Gabe Dixon Keys, Vocals
Brandon Boone Bass
Kebbi Williams Saxophone
Mike Rivers Backing Vocals
Alecia Chakour Backing Vocals
Elisabeth Lea Trombone
Ephraim Owens Trumpet
Isaac Eady Drums
Derek Trucks is surely the most prolific artist to have lived these two years of pandemic. Coming on the road to promote his most ambitious project “I AM THE MOON”.
Four albums, four films, a story that unfolds over 24 songs. It’s rare to see such a move nowadays. Can you explain us the genesis of this project?
As Derek Trucks told us, for a touring band travelling constantly, the pandemic was the first time they set at home in 20/30 years. A lot of they built up was creativity they’ve been waiting to get out. Mick Mattison, singer, songwriter in the band had this great idea while they were locked down at home, before they could be together, just thinking about the same thing. It was a perfect opportunity to dig into the poem, think it from different angles and see what they came up with. It was just a seed of an idea that took live on its own. Gabe, Mike, Falcon, their drummer and Susan, everybody had those incredible ideas, spanning inspiration from each other.
Without touring for nineteen months, whenever they could play music and writing in the studio and live together, it felt good. “So it was definitely a silver lining to the pandemic for us”. They needed to rethink everything anyway cause they lost Kofi Burbridge, their keyboard player, a huge friend of their live and band. “And writing music together is the best way to do that. It felt like a nice restart, in a lot of ways it saved us as a band. Fresh blood, fresh energy, rejuvenation of the band. We were excited like we hadn’t been for a long time. That’s nice!”
Your first approach to this LAYLA & MAJNUN story was Eric Clapton’s song, “LAYLA”, right ?
Derek Trucks explained that he was named after Derek and the Dominos record and Susan was born the day the record came out! So they have a deep connection to it! When he was playing in Eric Clapton’s band, they played a lot of that music. Derek grew up listening to it “but still digging in that music, in that kind of the source material of the poem, it felt like a long time coming. I’m surprised I hadn’t read it sooner”.
You have a wonderful recording studio at home which for sure contributed to this creative thrust…
For the band, it’s a save spot, a band was formed in that studio, a lot of people from Tedeschi Trucks band met there for the first time. Whenever they get back it’s like they just remember the beginning of the group, a very creative place where it seems to be more and more so. “It feels really good in there. And you learn the room, you learn the way it sounds. All the records, with the atmosphere of a room have a very distinct feeling and sound”. When they get back in the studio , it reminds them some of the best moments as a band when they recorded a tune like Midnight Harlem remembering when Kobi played his part for the first time…“We have friends who recorded sometimes in the studio, you don’t hear them anymore and you feel them there”. Derek added they’re very lucky and it’s nice having a home base! In a band as big they probably couldn’t afford to record a week at a time if they had to do it else where.
When we hear these four chapters, each with different songs styles and a multitude of ideas, how could 12 musicians work, is it a collective work? How did you proceed?
Derek Trucks described it as being very relaxed, everyone in a good mood. They often write in a small group of 6, like a full band! Everyone trusts each other in that session more than any. It also was a lot of gratitude that they could be together, just playing music and writing. With pandemic everyone was stuck in their hole. When they had the full band down, songs almost finished, they presented them to the singers, the background section and it very much became a project. “You could see the light bulbs go off that everyone had collectively, the ideas just flowed. Alecia, one of our background singers, was incredible about grabbing on an idea and then the horn section often comes in. We play the tunes down, someone comes in with an idea, we sit around, it’s a very organic process, a very collective thing”. Derek pointed out that this record, of all records they’ve ever done before, felt the most complete as far as everybody contributing. Everyone having a big picture of it. Often records are piecemeal, it’s hard to have a feeling. But this one, where they never left that feeling, was a gift. And somehow this reset their way of thinking. “We don’t have to tour 200 days a year and it would be nice to set aside big pieces of times to make records and spend time together”. Their main recording room is big enough to put twelve people on the floor. “But twelve is a lot! Sometimes with the horn section upstairs working on a section, people recording or outside writing on a song, it’s a circus when everyone ‘s there…, it’s quite fun!”
There is no border of styles, listening to these four parts of “I AM THE MOON”. We feel a certain creative freedom in this area. But your jazz and blues influences are always perceptible….
“You can try to run away from your roots but you can’t hide them. We’re getting more and more comfortable at just accepting what we are and where we came from”. But Derek mentioned that when you realize having a lot of influences and if it feels good you’ve got to follow it. This time when they didn’t know if they were going to make a record, or hanging out and record, they didn’t put any boundaries. Maybe it wouldn’t have turned in anything but why not, they had nothing else to do! “It was beautiful, that freedom is really nice and I think we learned from that”.
Your slide guitar playing is simply breathtaking. I always wondered how is it possible to play and stay in tune?
Derek Truck thinks some of it is the ear, that’s the main thing, some of it just comes a little natural and then a lot of it is listening: to the singers, singing is intonation, like an instrument and to the horn players too. Also listening to people that are always better than you. For him it’s Elmore James, Duane, those are the first influences and then Jesse Ed Davis, Johnny Winter, all those Electric players and then going back to the Delta guys Charley Patton, Bukka White. But for the guitarist, it was this classical Indian thing that set off a light bulb, Ali Akbar Khan. “His sarod playing, his intonation is so perfect, so pure. I would have listened to it constantly. That kind of became a pinch mark, always coming with a note, barely sharp and on purpose you know”
The Slide remains your trademark. All guitar players have rubbed shoulders with it one day without necessarily mastering it. What would be your best advice?
Derek Trucks said here again, listening and playing all the time, whether it’s practicing or playing with other people. He was lucky, starting at 9 years old, sitting on with bands and he never stopped. Most of his playing has been in front of people. There is no substitute for the time put in and there is no substitute for just hearing things. Most of the ideas come from something you’ve heard and that you reinterpret or reimagine, also from all the influences you have and to some point slam together and create this other thing. “Especially when you’re improvising, you’re playing a melody and you don’t have any idea where it came from and suddenly remember that’s some record you heard 20 years ago!. You should better be careful to what you’re listening to as well”
Last year you released “LAYLA REVISITED”, a concert you gave in 2019 in Virginia. You covered the cult album by DEREK & THE DOMINOS in its entirety. What do you remember from this experience?
One thing the musician remembers is that he found out Susan was born the same day as the record and thought it made sense. It was a good thing they were doing. The rehearsals were going well and feeling really good. “But whenever you do something like this, where it’s one shot, you never know how it’s gonna land”. From the beginning of the show until It finished he was feeling like “I think this is gonna work”. It was an amazing night, a special night. Derek’s dad was there, walked on stage after the set with this huge smile , so Derek thought it must have been good as his father had seen them all, Hendrix, The Allmans at the Fillmore!
Are there any plans to hold the Sunshine Music Festival in St. Petersburg this winter?
The band won’t unfortunately this winter, but would love to do it again. They love doing those festivals.“Covid or not, we’ll get back to it. I hope so!”
It was a real pleasure to meet and discuss with this exceptional musician and human being! An artist Derek Trucks always wanted to meet is James Brown….he was so excited to discover that, through all the artists José Oliveira met since 1976, James Brown was one of them! A great way to end this exclusive moment.
Many thanks again to the Baloise Session lovely director!