Sure there are some rock legends at Bluesfest 2011 (April 21-26 Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, QLD). You’ve got Dylan, Tull, Costello, Leon etc… but the real muso nerds will go nuts this year for guitar heroes such as BB King, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Warren Haynes, Robert Randolph, our own Diesel and Derek Trucks, who will share the stage with his Telecaster slingin’ wife Susan Tedeschi. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to Trucks prior to leaving for his Australian tour.
GP: You finally get to play our Bluesfest!
DT: Yeah I haven’t played that festival before. We’ve been invited a few times before but the timing has never quite worked out. Just part of juggling multiple bands whether it was The Allman Brothers or a Clapton tour. Finally going to make it this year.
You are known as a great slide player, but who is your favourite slide player?
The first one was the family connection, you know Duane Allman. the first and biggest influence. Then I think it was Elmore James. The sound is so immediate with those guys. The attack and approach and it’s kind of other-worldly. Then it was a lot of the Delta blues guys from Sun Hose to Fred McDowell, Booker White, Blind Willie, hearing that human voice, that call and response. Then the next big revelation was the sacred steel guys from the church like Chuck Campbell and Johan Jansen. Robert Randolph is a young guy who some people know now too. But it was really hearing some of the elders, where the guitar sounded like a women’s voice. It was just a revelation.
I imagine you have a bunch of slides at home. Any that you have a great attachment to or have a romantic story attached to them?
I love the sound of glass. I think originally after seeing pictures of Duane playing with a Coricidin bottle, and the myths surrounding playing with an old medicine bottle. That’s the one I enjoy playing with. You know glass bottles break on the road so you don’t get too attached to them. When I first met and played with the guys in the Allman brothers, Red Dog, one of Duane’s roadies gave me a Coricidin bottle that had been played by Duane, so that one is at home.
What sort of gear will you be bringing with you on this tour?
For me it’s generally the same. I use an old Fender Super Reverb and my Gibson SG. You plug into an old Blackface Super and you carry extra tubes. There’s a lot of fine tuning that goes on with those amps … different power tubes, different pre amps tubes, different driver tubes, that make a difference. Generally if you find a good amp, and you know a guy who can work on it and keep it runnin’ then it’s all you need.
What are your amp settings generally?
Depends on he venue. Sometimes if you are playing theatres, the stage is loud and you adjust. I run my amp pretty hot and control the volume with my guitar. Because I play with my hands and not a pick, I will run the treble pretty much flat out. Then I’ll have the bass and mids on 3 or 4ish. The only effect is the reverb on the amp. But it’s just one cord into an amp, sometimes going through a tuner, but sometimes even running through a tuner bugs me! I feel like there is a little bit of connection loss. I try to keep it simple, especially on the road.
You’ve built your own studio. Are you a student of the history of recording? Do you like to learn about studio tricks that band shave applied in the past?
I have been fortunate to have been around guys like Tom Dowd. Before Tom passed away, he spent some time at our house. I got to record with him a hand full of times. Just hearing him speak about recording with Ray Charles and building him a home studio and just deciding one day, that knobs were cumbersome and thinking we should invent a fader. These major jumps in recording that were done on a whim. Incredibly intelligent guy of course. My guitar tech, with my band Bobby Tis, grew up in studios. His father was chief engineer at Electric Ladyland studios and he helped build certain rooms at Bearsville, so Bobby is a total student and in the case of his dad, a total master at what he does. So I am kind of always around it, picking up little tips. They’ll have ideas all the time, like for this guitar sound, what you want to do is get three amps, put one flush, the other two at 45 degree angles, and put stereo mics about 4 feet back. There’s all these tricks. You know, throw an amp in a refrigerator box and record it. I find just improvising is the way to go.
I wonder with your SG, how much back and forth there has been between you and Gibson to get what you wanted?
You know, the SG I have been playing heavily is one I bought off the shelf around ten years ago. It’s just a re issue that we cut the tail piece off and put a stop tail on. One of those flying vibratos. We kind of modded it ourselves. We’re just in the process now of trying to get that guitar re made. A lot of it is just road testing it, beating the hell out of it, trying out pickups until you know what is right. Sometimes it gets to the point where I don’t even know what the hell is in there! I just know if it feels good.
Of all of the gear that you own, is there one piece that is your most prized?
The old Super Reverb that I have had since I was 13 or 14 years old. That amp has been with me through thick and thin. It was stolen with our trailer then it resurfaced. The fact that it is still around is pretty special. That and an old set of timpanis that were owned by Elvin Jones, which were played on ‘A Love Supreme’. So that one, I feel like they should really end up in a museum at some point. If anyone has a Coltrane exhibit or Elvin exhibit, I’ll gladly send them along.
What can we expect at Bluesfest. What will be in the repertoire?
We have been playing a lot of new music but since the record is not out and people aren’t familiar with it, we’ve been digging back a little bit. Sometimes it’s from the Delaney and Bonny period, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen or Derek and The Dominoes. It can really go in any direction at any time. We are really excited about coming to one of my favourite places on earth.
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s new album is due out in America on June 7. The working title at time of this interview was Revelator. www.derektrucks.com