Onetime Slide Guitar Prodigy Leaves Wonder Years Behind

August 13, 2009|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Success came fast and furious for guitar whiz Derek Trucks.

At 9, he was hailed as a slide guitar prodigy. As a teenager, he was touring with his own band. At 19, he joined the Allman Brothers as a full-time member. He even toured with legend Eric Clapton.

Now 30, Trucks has spent just about half his life on the road, either with his own band or supporting the Allman Brothers. His career took off quick and has never slowed down. Saturday, he headlines the Hot August Blues Festival in Oregon Ridge Park.

Turning 30 has made Trucks pause and reflect on where he's been and where he wants to be.

"It really is a crossroads in a way," Trucks said. "Your youth isn't gone, but it's certainly running away from you. It's time to dig in and do what you want to do. I really feel like next year for me is a time to jump in and experiment and maybe even take a new slant on things - a new path."

That new path might just involve less touring and more time spent at Trucks' home in Jacksonville, Fla. He's married to singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and has two kids.

Last year, Trucks built a studio next to his house. That's where he and the rest of the Derek Trucks Band wrote and recorded their sixth studio album, "Almost Free." It was a restful break from their usual recording process: booking a quick studio session in the middle of their endless touring and worrying over how much money the record company was willing to shell out for studio time.

"Almost Free" was recorded over a monthlong stretch last December - the longest break from the road Trucks has had in a long time, he said. Most of the songs were recorded the same day they were written - not hammered out and performed time and again on the road.

"It was about as content as I've ever been - at least in the last decade," he said. "You can feel that - the weight falling away, taking a deep breath and looking back over the chapter of a career in a way. That's what the record feels like to me. It feels like a deep breath."

Released Jan. 13, "Already Free" debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, making it the band's highest-charting album yet. A mix of gospel, blues and soul, it's comfort music, full of - but not dominated by - down-home grooves and delicious guitar licks, courtesy of Trucks.

"The record industry has seen better days for sure," Trucks said. "Normally, to debut at 19 and hang on for a while, you've got a gold record coming. That's certainly not the path we're on. But we're fortunate. We're a touring band. That's what keeps us afloat."

Trucks said he spends about 300 days on the road every year. All his work ethic has paid off with a wide fan base; thanks to Trucks, Hot August Blues founder/producer Brad Selko thinks this year's festival will be the biggest one yet. Now in its 17th year, the festival started on Selko's farm, and drew 400 people its first year. These days, about 3,500 come to the annual event. And considering the number of tickets sold in advance of this year's festival, Selko thinks Trucks will bring a record crowd to Oregon Ridge.

"This is the year of Derek, man," Selko said. "Old people and young people love Derek. ... He hits it all."

Trucks' schedule is booked until the end of the year, when he might finally get a breather. He'd love to spend more time in his home studio, and with his 7-year-old son, Charlie, and his 4-year-old daughter, Sophia. Both his kids have great taste in music, he boasts. When he drives them to school some mornings, they ask to hear legends like Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding. He's dreading the day Sophia asks for the latest Britney Spears album.

"I'm sure it will happen," he said. "But I won't be buying her the records. She'll have to get a job for that."

And what if that job just happens to be playing guitar in a nationally touring band?

"If they show a natural inclination toward it, and there's a spark there and the intention seems right, I would have to get behind it," he said. "It's nothing I would ever force on them."

If Trucks' kids do want to be serious players, they're definitely growing up in the right environment, he said.

"They're surrounded by world-class musicians, there's a studio in the backyard and equipment everywhere," Trucks said. "They would certainly have a leg up."

If you go

Derek Trucks headlines the Hot August Blues Festival Saturday at Oregon Ridge State Park, 13397 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. and the music starts at noon. Tickets are $40. Call 877-321-3378 or go to hotaugustblues.com.

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