With his virtuoso slide guitar chops and uncanny ability to seamlessly fuse many diverse genres together to create his own style, Derek Trucks has been blowing audiences away since age 11, when he first appeared with the Allman Brothers Band. (His uncle Butch is the band's career drummer, and Derek is now the lead guitarist.)
A few years later, Trucks met bassist Todd Smallie and percussionist Yonrico Scott and formed the Derek Trucks Band. Twelve years later, the core trio continues to tour with the help of Kofi Burbidge on keyboards, flute and vocals and Mike Mattison on lead vocals.
The band has developed a powerfully cohesive chemistry that allows them to reach beyond their blues roots and experiment with jazz and Eastern musics to establish a unique sound.
The Derek Trucks Band is fresh off a performance with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, a seven-date European run, and the recording of "Songlines," their third studio effort for Columbia Records this past summer (due for a Feb. 7 release).
The band has united with the dirty funk-soul of fellow Jacksonville natives Mofro for their current tour of the Northeast's small theaters.
They will be hitting the Lebanon Opera House this Sunday night, and tickets are still available for $25 ($30 on Sunday). I got a chance to chat with the 26-year-old maestro about his guitar, his heroes and the current direction of the band.
The D: As The Derek Trucks Band has evolved, you've drifted from your blues and southern rock roots and incorporated more jazz and world music into your sets. When and how did you first start getting into jazz?
Derek Trucks: At around age 14 or 15, I was just looking to expand my horizons musically. Hearing Coltrane and Miles play together was an incredible experience. I think you have to branch out and try new things. We've gone out and explored a lot of different styles of music, but it's come full circle back to the blues.
The D: What world music and artists have had the greatest influence on your playing?
DT: Definitely Ali Akbar Khan, an Indian sarod player, which is like a fretless sitar. He is one of the greatest living musicians.
The D: Did you have a certain goal or theme in mind when you recorded Songlines this past summer?
DT: We wanted to make a record to showcase what the band does, no guests. We tried to explore the sonic space of the studio and treat [the process] like a live set, building from the ground up. We were more interested in producing a good record than a great musical performance, and I think we were able to get both. Jay Joyce [Patty Griffin, John Hiatt] is a great producer who had a lot of great ideas.
The D: Are most of the tunes new, or had you played most of them live before?
DT: A little of both. A couple were Jay's. Some were ones that we had been bouncing around for a while, but had never really finished. Others we've been playing live.
The D: How has the addition of vocalist Mike Mattison changed your sound?
DT: When you find the right singer, it changes the sound a lot. You work to everyone's strengths. He was definitely the missing piece. People tend to notice the vocals first, so it's really important to find the right fit and I think we have.
The D: How was the European tour? What was your favorite city to play in/visit?
DT: It was a great experience -- very different feel from playing at home. Most nights the audience was almost entirely Dutch, German or Polish. Lodz, Poland, was probably my favorite. It's a wild place with a pretty turbulent history. It's not thriving economically, but the people were cool and very nice.
The D: What was it like playing with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra last month?
DT: It was really nice. The guy who wrote the charts really tapped into what we were doing. We only got to do one rehearsal, so they really had to nail it, and I think they did.
The D: What made you choose to stop at the Lebanon Opera House?
DT: This tour we tried to book nicer venues than we usually play. We like to bounce back in forth between playing standing rooms and nicer theaters.
The D; Have you played with Mofro before? When do you first meet/hear them?
DT: This is the first time we've played with them. I met them about 2 years ago, when they were opening for my wife's band [Susan Tedeschi Band.]
The D: Do you think there will be much collaboration on this tour?
DT: Yeah, as we hang out a little more we'll probably get some cross-pollination.
The D: How is playing with the Allman Brothers Band different from playing with your own band?
DT: With my band, I feel like I'm writing my own story, my history. With the Allman Brothers Band, it's such a great story already you kind of don't want to change it too much. But it's nice to feel that you've been a part of something so big and are helping to end it on a good note.
The D: Who are some of your biggest guitar heroes?
DT: First it was Duane Allman and Elmore James. Then it was Charlie Christian. I definitely went through a big Hendrix phase. Later it was B.B. King, Albert King and all the old blues greats.
The D: How do you feel about the upcoming shows?
DT: It's a great feeling right now. Everyone is really pumped musically and excited about what we're doing.