WHAT DO YOU DO FOR AN ENCORE AFTER PLAYING
a stint with Eric Clapton, and accepting a personal
invitation from Carlos Santana to open a string of dates
on his tour? Derek Trucks drew upon those thrilling
experiences—in addition to touring as the Soul Stew
Revival with his wife Susan Tedeschi—to craft Already
Free [Victor], arguably the most satisfying CD of his
“It’s not a snapshot of the Derek Trucks Band
onstage—the experience is completely different,” says
Trucks, who produced the record at his newly built home
studio. “I wanted to make a definitive album of songs
in the vein of the Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach.”
His ongoing tenure in the seminal Southern rock
ensemble provides Trucks—who turns 30 in June—with
insight beyond his age, as well as the challenge of defining
himself beyond the band’s boundaries. This year
marks the ABB’s 40th anniversary, although it’s an entirely
different affair without the presence of founding guitarists
Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. Well, almost
entirely. Trucks and co-lead guitar player Warren Haynes
each sound as if they have inherited slices of the late Allman’s
legendary soul, and singing slide tone—and Trucks
takes the master’s time-honored licks to breathtaking
new heights via his use of Indian-inspired microtonal
ornamentation. He has matured into a player with the
confidence to wield—or not wield—his singular chops
according to context, rather than as a demonstration of
Already Free contains no instrumental tracks or prolonged
jams, but it’s loaded with tasty phrases and layers
of vintage tonal glory. Fellow Clapton tour veteran Doyle
Bramhall II co-wrote and co-produced several numbers,
and there are some killer covers. Trucks’ slide solo on
Penn & Oldham’s “Sweet Inspiration” plays like poetry,
and he brings a gang of grit to Bob Dylan’s “Down in
the Flood.” Trucks’ rendition of Big Maybelle’s “I Know”
begins with a strikingly authentically Eastern-sounding
intro before morphing into an Allmans-approved blues
boogie. Time will tell if Already Free is on the level of Eat
a Peach, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, or Abraxas—
but the guitar icons that created those classics appear
eager to pass the torch to Trucks.
How did you come to work with Clapton, and what was the experience
He asked me to join his band out of the blue. I think
he was just looking for a new guitar foil to play off. I certainly
appreciated the magnitude of the situation, as I
was weaned on Derek and the Dominoes. It’s funny,
because I even played in a band called Derek and the
Dominators when I was 12 or 13. I experienced a moment
of realization that I was in Clapton’s actual
band one night during “Why Does Love Got
to Be So Sad,” when I looked over and saw
him there playing! It was certainly surreal,
but there was no fear moment. When you
play with the pedal down regardless of the
situation—as I always have—it inspires a certain
confidence that you’re ready for anything.
What struck you about touring with Santana?
I was struck by the fact that even with all
his experience, he would show up an hour
before his band trying to improve his tone.
It made me realize that you have to keep that
flame lit because it can easily go out.
What’s your current gear, and what kind of
adjustments do you make at sound check?
I’m digging the drive and power of Paul
Reed Smith’s new amps. I’m using a Blue
Sierra head through a Randall 4x12 cabinet
with the Allman Brothers Band, and I ran a
prototype of the Original Sewell through a
Marshall 4x12 for some of the more overdriven
stuff on my record. I haven’t experimented
with much gear for my own thing,
however. Once I discovered the sound of a
Gibson SG through a Fender Super Reverb—
that was that. I’m still using a large Dunlop
Pyrex slide on my ring finger. My main guitar
is a 2000 SG ’61 Reissue loaded with ’57
Classic humbuckers and tuned to open E [E,
B, E, G#, B, E, low to high]. We hacked off
the vibrato, and put a stoptail on it.
I don’t tweak the Fender much. I set the
Reverb control at about 3 because I want to
feel the effect, but I don’t want it to be too
loose. I set the Volume and Treble controls
at around 8, and the Middle and Bass controls
at 3 or 4. Using such a simple rig keeps
me on my toes because I have to adjust my
approach to the instrument according to the
venue. Some theaters can leave you feeling
a bit naked and hung out to dry if there’s
not enough liveliness to the sound, in which
case I might alter the set list or play it a bit
safer during improvisation. I feel like I can
air out just about anything in a live-sounding
room. That was also a consideration
when we built the studio. You want a room
to feel too live to begin with because you
can always deaden it.
How did you develop the material on Already
We recorded most of the material on the
first day we wrote or attempted a tune, and
things came together in various ways. We
tracked “Down Don’t Bother Me” and “Get
What You Deserve,” with the full band live
in the studio, and added overdubs as we saw
fit, but other tracks were pieced together.
We tried a couple of covers at the last
minute—Carlos had recommended “Sweet
Inspiration”—and they turned out to be
among the strongest tracks. The first time
we played “Down in the Flood” all the way
through is what we caught on tape. I laid
out the arrangement from the control room
on an old Harmony acoustic while Count
M’Butu played shaker, and we built it up
Did you use any overdrive pedals on that or
No. It was just guitars and amps. I used
combinations of two or three amps on each
song—including the vintage Fender Deluxe
and the Princeton shown in the CD insert.
I used a funky old Airline guitar through the
built-in amp in its case to get the super-compressed,
crunchy rhythm sound on “Flood.”
I used a beater Silvertone/Supro guitar
through the Princeton for the main theme,
and the SG through the Sewell for the lead.
The second, more overdriven solo on “Something
to Make You Happy” is a vintage SG
through a cranked vintage Marshall.
You make a commanding entrance on that one.
I wanted the entrance to be noticed, so I
plucked a note on the low-E string really
hard, and bent it as far as I could. Sometimes
when you’re standing in the tracking room
you do something outlandish just to get a
rise out of the people in the control room—
or even onstage for that matter. I enjoy
throwing curve balls at people who know
my playing really well, just to see if I can
surprise them and make them move their
How did you create the call-and-response guitar
parts during the outro to “Something”?
Doyle and I set up a couple of partially
isolated amps in the playing room and traded
phrases. The bulk of what’s there is from
the first take. That was a pretty live moment.
Did you compose the “Sweet Inspiration” solo,
or did it come about spontaneously?
That’s another song that was built from
the ground up. We started with a percussion
track, and my Pops Staples-style guitar part,
which I played through a vintage Fender
Vibrolux. Then, we cut all the vocals, and I
played the drum track myself. Sometimes
it’s good to hear a song with a hole left for
the solo over and over because the solo starts
to write itself in your head. In a sense you
are composing it in your memory, retaining
a few phrases that you know are going to
make the cut.
Are you using an octave pedal, or doubling the
No. I’m just playing slide in open E at the
fifth fret, so you’re hearing an A played in
“I Know” is interesting because it starts
with an Eastern flavor, and then it turns into a
blues. What was the thinking behind that intro
Shrinivas is an Indian classical mandolin
player who makes a fretted instrument feel
fretless, and that’s what I was going for at
the beginning of “I Know.” I turned the volume
on the SG way down and played it
through my Super Reverb. That was one of
those moments in the studio where you
expand an intro, and fake going left before
taking a right. We do that a lot in our shows.
The band will drone, and I’ll pick a scale to
freeform with for while before we launch
into the next tune.
When I spoke with Jimmy Herring about your
playing on his CD, he mentioned the importance
of the b9 in your repertoire. Can you elaborate?
I go to it often. The b9 always felt good,
and it got stuck in my head when I learned
a few Indian classical motifs that rely heavily
on that tonality. I try to find as many
motifs like that as I can to go to throughout
a show, and I often write the set list with
such things in mind. I want certain sections
to feel light and airy, and others to feel muddy
Do you plan for fingerstyle versus slide playing?
It depends on the tune, and on the night.
Sometimes I don’t plan on touching the slide
for a given song, but then inspiration hits,
and I do it anyway. And there are times when
I intentionally start a solo one way knowing
that I’m going to build it up and switch gears,
so I’m thinking one or two steps ahead.
Can you share some thoughts on vibrato?
It’s just a taste issue. I’m constantly balancing
what’s appropriate and what’s not,
and sometimes the idea is to play what’s
Can you explain your plucking concept from a
A lot of it is just instinct and feel. I never
felt comfortable playing with a pick, so I
found other ways to pluck using my fingers
and my thumb—and I try different things
each night. I come back to some of them,
and I only use others once or twice. It’s definitely
not about putting technique first. I
hear a sound in my head, and then I try to
find a way to get there.
What’s going on with the Allman Brothers Band.
Are there any special anniversary plans?
The Beacon theatre run in New York is
going to be a tribute to Duane, and there are
going to be a ton of guests sitting in. We’re
trying to round up anybody that had any
kind of real connection to him, such as the
people he recorded with or who were heavily
influenced by him. Each night will be
Is Dickey Betts going to be involved?
He’s invited. In a perfect world, he would
be there playing at least one night. But we
don’t live in a perfect world, so the best you
can do is extend an offer and the right spirit.
I’m really hoping it happens, but it’s a touchy
situation, and I respect his decision either
Do you ever feel pigeonholed as the slide guy
in the Allman Brothers Band, or worry that will
overshadow your own identity if you don’t eventually
step away completely?
In the past, I would intentionally include
a Qawwali tune to show there was more to
my identity than being just another blues
guitar player. This time, I felt free to focus
on recording the best batch of tunes without
regard to how it was going to be perceived
or received. The Allman Brothers Band is
not going to last forever. A time will come
in the very near future when I abandon all
that stuff, and dig in firmly with my thing,
or the band with my wife—and I welcome