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Derek Trucks - Slide King

Issue #13

Trucks started at the age of nine, purely by chance after getting a guitar from a garage sale, “Just because it was the only thing interesting I could get for $4”. At that age, it's certainly a struggle to fret the strings (especially if it's a cheap poorly set up guitar!) so the young Trucks would play around with a bottleneck slide. Influenced by Duane Allman, Elmore James, and Albert King, Trucks displayed all the traits of a musical prodigy and by the age of 11 he was playing paid gigs. By his 20th birthday he had played with Joe Walsh, Buddy Guy and Bob Dylan.
Levi Clay

Derek Trucks - Slide King.

Derek Trucks is one of a new generation of American Bluesmen breathing new life into the genre. Acknowledged as one of the world's finest slide players, Trucks recently spoke with Gi's Stuart Bull. Levi Clay, meanwhile, offers a profile of the man keeping the slide tradition very much alive

The Blues is the genre that you just can't keep down. As time moves on it seems to evolve - even mutate at times - all the while retaining its core following and picking up new fans along the way. From the original greats like Robert Johnson, through BB King and T Bone Walker, to the British revival of Clapton and Peter Green, and now the success of contemporary artists like Joe Bonamassa and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, there's always going to be a place in our hearts for good rootsy Blues. And at the heart of that Blues tradition there is slide guitar and few better exponents of that dark art than the American slide maestro, Derek Trucks.

Trucks started at the age of nine, purely by chance after getting a guitar from a garage sale, “Just because it was the only thing interesting I could get for $4”. At that age, it's certainly a struggle to fret the strings (especially if it's a cheap poorly set up guitar!) so the young Trucks would play around with a bottleneck slide. Influenced by Duane Allman, Elmore James, and Albert King, Trucks displayed all the traits of a musical prodigy and by the age of 11 he was playing paid gigs. By his 20th birthday he had played with Joe Walsh, Buddy Guy and Bob Dylan.

In 1996 Derek formed The Derek Trucks Band and by '97 they had released their self-titled debut. This album really showcases both Trucks' phenomenal slide style and Blues phrasing, but also his passion for various legends of Jazz, playing renditions of classic compositions by John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis. It's beautiful to hear such staples of the Jazz scene played with such a soulful slide approach. Over the years the Derek Trucks band have released six hugely popular studio albums and three live albums. 2009's Already Free netted them a Grammy award for best contemporary Blues album.

His own band notwithstanding, it's undoubtedly his long serving stint in The Allman Brothers Band which he is best known for. His uncle, Butch Trucks, was actually a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, so Derek was often around while he was younger, even touring with them when he was 13. He became an official member in 1999, his first album with them being the live Peakin' At The Beacon, alongside original Allman's guitarist Dickey Betts. From there Warren Haynes came in and replaced Betts for the writing and recording of Hittin' The Note, which features the incredible Old Friend - the only Allman Brothers tune to not include an original member, but bearing a stunning display of slide talent from both Haynes and Trucks.

While the band haven't put out a disc in eight years, the Allmans still gig semi-regularly, having played a string of shows in 2012. If you get the chance, they're certainly a band to behold, and if you don't there's always the spectacular Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD, which contains three hours of classic Allman Brothers material with Derek and Warren on fire.

If you want to sound like Derek, there's plenty of good news but, inevitably, it will have to be contrasted with the sad reality that you'll probably never sound as good as the man himself, however hard you try! You could consider Derek to be quite a cheap gear date. He doesn't use any pedals, or even a pick, just his guitar straight into a Blackface Fender Super Reverb. The guitar itself also nothing particularly earth-shattering either, just a Gibson '61 reissue SG loaded with a set of '57 classic humbuckers. You could try to hunt one of these down, or go for the Gibson Derek Trucks signature model, though an SG standard will do the exact same job, especially if you switch those pickups.

Action wise, Derek uses a standard set-up which requires an incredible amount of control from his slide so as not to fret out. His slides are always glass, styled like actual bottle necks. Fortunately for us, Dunlop manufactures a signature slide which will give you a good starting point. Just as an aside, Derek wears the slide on his ring finger.

The other key to Trucks' signature sound is his tuning. He pretty much always plays in open E (E,B,E,G#,B,E) and uses a custom set of 11-46 (.011, .014, .017, .026, .036, .046), this is certainly not an easy gauge to find as its the top two strings from a set of 11s and the rest from 10-46. When it comes to EQing your tone, you're going to want to roll off the bass quite a bit, you'll be thickening that end by the use of the neck pickup and fingers.

In 2010 Trucks put TDTB on a hiatus and decided to form a project with his wife, Susan Tedeschi. An accomplished singer in her own right, she married Derek after meeting him when her band opened for The Allman Brothers band. Tedeschi had been nominated for five Grammys herself (including best female Rock vocal performance) prior to the formation of the Tedeschi Trucks band, so her pedigree as a Blues, R&B Soul singer was the perfect blend for Derek's unique brand of slide.

The Tedeschi Trucks band released their debut album, Revelator, in June 2011 and it was an instant hit. Showcasing everything that was great about TDTB, the Delta Blues, Memphis Soul, classic Soul and groovy funk vibes, It all comes together to make one of the most authentic Blues albums in a long time. This sentiment was reflected when the album won a Grammy for best Blues album at the 54th Grammy Awards.

This success was followed by a series of tours around the world, from which they compiled a double disc live album, Everybody's Talkin', which was released this year. This contains several Tedeschi Trucks band songs as well as classic Blues numbers like Rollin' and Tumblin'.

With Blues currently making one of its periodic returns to popularity, it’s hard not to see Trucks Tedeschi gaining far wider attention from the music buying public. Let's hope they admire Trucks' astonishing slide playing even half as much as guitarists, who can understand what he is doing and why it makes him one of the greats.

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