A Conversation With Derek Trucks
Mike Ragogna: Derek, are you addicted to Spotify yet?
Derek Trucks: Not yet. I'm still semi in the Dark Ages, but I do have a cell phone and a laptop.
MR: That definitely counts. And you do have a Facebook page.
DT: I hear I do, but I don't get into that world. I'm terrified of it.
MR: (laughs) You just like to play.
DT: Yeah and you know, I feel like as musicians, we're always out and we're always meeting people and it's wonderful, but I feel like some parts of your life you have to keep somewhat to yourself. I'm not one of those that tweets or Facebooks constantly; I'm a little more close to the vest, I guess.
MR: It's like a toss-up, isn't it? It's like artists are being told, "Hey, if you want to make it, kid, you have to keep up with your social media. It's all about marketing, babe." On the other hand, you've got musicians pushing back, saying, "Can I just make the music, please? Can someone else do that?"
DT: Oh yeah. I certainly have heard it before. People on the business side are, you know... I'm sure it works for a lot of people, but I'm of the mind that I want the extra energy that I have after traveling and being a husband and a father, to go into the music and not keep up with everything else going on. It's all choices I guess.
MR: Nice. Is one of the thoughts behind your new Tedeschi Trucks Band album Everybody's Talkin' to show people, "We're not just a studio band, we're also on fire live"?
DT: When we did the first record, we were thinking long. I knew how powerful the band was going to be just by the people that were in the room and knowing how they play. And I knew that once we hit the road, it was just going to blossom -- I didn't know in what direction, but we had faith in the musicians that were in the band and the mindset. So the first record we really wanted to showcase the birth of the band and the songwriting and everyone getting behind Susan's voice when that was the focus and the guitar breathing life into the tune, but not going too far from the tune. We knew that on the next record, the fangs would come out a little more. I wasn't sure if it would be a live record or not, but we were thinking a record ahead when we did the first one, and the live record just turned out to be the perfect thing. Once the band got on the road after about six months of heavy touring, you could just feel the shift, and you could feel that it was really starting to happen, so we wanted to document the band during that first peak that the band had and luckily, we caught it. We recorded twelve shows right in the heart of some of the best shows we had played as a band, so I was excited on all counts.
MR: Derek, when a lot of artists record their sophomore albums, the projects almost seem like too big a jump, like the first album wasn't celebrated thoroughly, you know? What I mean is from your album Revelator to whatever your next project of new material would've been, it almost seems like it would have been a lost opportunity without this live reflection, especially because Revelator was so soulful and needed further exploration in some respects.
DT: There's a lot of ways to do a live album; you can just record a few shows and throw a quick mix on it and throw it out there and if the playing is good enough, it'll hold up. We really treated it like it was a studio record in the sense that Bobby Tis who engineered and Jim Scott who mixed it and Bob Ludwig... everybody kind of put their heads together and said, "What's the best way to record it? Like let's pretend it's 1970 and we're pulling the record truck behind the shows and we're pulling tape machines and a full-on recording console and how do we do that now?" We took a lot of the gear out of our studio and we kind of bridged that gap between old analog gear and a new way to record. Those guys just knocked it out of the park. We spent a lot of time -- I mean it was twelve shows, twenty hours of music or so -- digging through and finding the best performances. We spent as much time mixing this, maybe even longer, as we did mixing the studio record. We treated this like it was a studio album as far as how much production time we put into it. I just wanted it to be handled right. I wanted it to sound as good as it could. Even when it comes down to mastering and cutting vinyl and the whole thing, you want it to be audiophile quality, and I was really thrilled with the way it turned out.
MR: Since many of the songs were from Revelator, this being the associated tour, if you were to A/B them with the original studio versions, you obviously hear the way they were reworked as far as breathing space, leads, and et cetera. What's your take on that? I don't want to ask which recording is the more legitimate recording, but when you listen to the second version, do you sometimes think, "Yeah, this is where it should have ended up with the studio version"?
DT: Occasionally. I see it as documenting the growth of a band. With Revelator, a lot of the songs were written sometimes hours before they were recorded, and I love catching that glimpse of something at its birth. It's fresh. The sentiment is there. The message of the tune is captured the way it was meant, so I think there's a timeless quality to that. Then when you get a song on the road I think a different side of the song comes out. A lot of times, you break a song wide open and it's kind of a song within a song, so a tune like "Bound For Glory," once it's cracked open in the middle and there's this amazing B3 solo, it takes on a life of its own. I think it's two different views of something. There have definitely been records I've done in the past where I feel like a song was recorded early on and then as we hit the road, it became what the song was supposed to be. But I feel like with these last two records, I really like the sentiment of both. I guess it's bonus material.
MR: Yeah, it's sort of like the adolescent and then the matured adult pictures.
DT: Yeah, having kids, I think about songs that way. It's just different pictures of your children growing up.
MR: Derek, "Everybody's Talkin'" is a very famous Fred Neil song, and of course, a hit by Harry Nilsson. What drew you to that? Was is something, maybe, from one of your parents' record collections?
DT: We had heard it again recently. There's a great kids' movie called The Point that our kids used to watch all the time
MR: One of the great animations of all time.
DT: It's really great. Harry Nilsson did all the music in it, so that got us thinking about him, and then Mike Mattison played us his version of "Everybody's Talkin'" that Bill Withers did, and it's just funky. It's in such a good spot and it hit us that we could do some kind of hybrid version of it, with a lot of ideas that you're like, "All right, let's give it a shot at sound check, and if it goes, it goes, if not, no time lost." That one just took pretty quickly. Everyone remembered the tune and kind of put their own spin on it. The next thing you know, it's the first song on a record and the title track. You know how those things happen.
MR: You also do a couple of other covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Uptight." What a party.
DT: Yeah, that one was really an excuse to turn the drummers and Oteil (Burbridge) loose. Whatever it takes to turn them loose, I'm in.
Listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Uptight":
MR: I asked you all of these historical questions last time we spoke, so I'm going to spare you that now, but right now, I want to introduce you to drummer David Proctor Hurlin. He's is a huge fan, one of the Midwest's best drummers, and also has a few questions to ask you.
DT: Fire away!
David Proctor Hurlin: Hi Derek, this is David. I just wanted to say it's an honor to meet you. I kind of feel like you are the first experience I've ever had of actually being a "fan" of someone. As a musician, I'm constantly listening, and it was kind of surprising for me because I grew up listening to jazz and more syncopated stuff and the rock thing is not really what I'm drawn to. But for some reason, you can make me cry, and it's really, really beautiful what you're doing and I'm just really honored to meet you. One of the things that strikes me the most about your playing is your ability to soar over the band with this really almost celestial grace and then the next moment, you can turn around and electrocute the entire audience. I think that you synthesizing those two realities--weaving between the sacred and the profane -- is something that's really attractive and beautiful to me. I just wanted to hear your thoughts about the interplay between the sacredness and a more grounded reality.
DT: I appreciate it man. All of the guys and girls that I listen to, my favorite musicians, they always seem to have that same thing. You take a Coltrane recording like Live From Birdland and the version of "Afro Blue" is pretty ferocious, and then you listen to his ballads record or the ballad "Naima" and it's just a totally different side of things. But I think the best musicians take the human experience and show all sides of it. Sometimes it's ugly and dark; sometimes it's the other side of that. I think that's what you're going for. I think the Great Delta Blues artists were able to do that; I think great classical musical does that; I think Indian classical music does that -- different melodies for different times of day and different feelings -- and I think that's what music is supposed to do. Growing up around someone like Colonel Bruce Hampton, who's kind of a Southeastern musical guru, a lot of musicians -- Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring -- just a lot of guys I know played with the Colonel growing up, and he was great about turning you on to the right music and the right musicians at the right time, and a lot of his thing was, "I don't want to hear good musicians, people who are just technically good, I want to hear 'life.' I want to hear good days, bad days. You shouldn't sound the same every day. You're supposed to not be good all the time." I kind of took that to heart, you know, the concept of speaking your life. Everything you go through is going to affect you in different ways and you should be able to, in some small way, emote that musically. That's what you're going for. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you get in ruts and you fall into your bag of tricks and then there are nights where you don't even feel like you're playing at all -- it's just kind of playing itself -- and those are the great nights, when you can kind of just step away from it. That's what we're going for, you know? That's what the people I'm lucky enough to play with are going for on most nights, because you're really trying to tap into it, and it's great when it works.
DPH: Totally. I'd be curious to hear about your experience with Indian classical music, because I studied tabla in India for a year, and I've been playing it for ten years, so I'm definitely aware of time theory and playing music at different times of the day. That's one of the reasons it resonates so deeply with your playing is because you have this ability to be emotional to the point of implosion, and then at the same point, it's grounded in this real humble, earthy quality where you can go back and forth and it's really breathtaking. I hear that Indian sensibility coming from you and I'd just be curious about your experience with that.
DT: There was a time when I was on the road where I was so enamored with Ali Akbar Khan and Kuwali music and those melodies and the approach to the melodies, and you could just tell that these were sounds that had been passed down for generations. So I would go from listening to a few hours of Ali Akbar Khan and the sound of his sarod to Mahalia Jackson and hard gospel and old delta blues stuff. I think that's the extremes that I personally bounce in between. I did grow up in the south listening to the blues and blues musicians, and then when I got turned on to Indian classical musicians, I heard a lot of the same emotions in their music. It was completely different forms, but you hear a lot of the same honesty. For me, the bottom line is if something moves you and are you being told the truth musically. I think most great artists will pass that test. You feel like what they're playing is who they are. They're not acting through their instrument; they're just telling you who they are. I think with the feeling I get from blues music and Indian classical there's also this incredible time and energy put into the craft. At the end of the day, when I need a slate cleaner, when I need to get back to square one of what moves you musically, a lot of times, those are the places I go back to.
MR: When you're on the road and you're experiencing a lot of the fatigue and demands, what do you do to relax? Do you play or listen to more music?
DT: A lot of listening. Listening to music on the road and reading is kind of your out sometimes. But you know, this band is great in the sense that everybody really hangs together. There's a lot of band camaraderie that kind of energizes you. But you find your thing on the road. Sometimes when you get caught in a rut -- because you know, traveling, it takes a lot out of you -- you just have to get off your butt and sweat. Exercise on the road makes a difference. It seems counterintuitive, but it always seems to work.
MR: Speaking of camaraderie and hanging together, a certain Joe Bonamossa and I spoke the other day and you came up in conversation with a certain story about Hooters.
DT: (laughs) Yeah, I just saw Joe in Cleveland, we did that Rock And Roll Hall of Fame show and somebody had just given me pictures cause when I think I was eleven or twelve and Bonamossa was maybe fourteen or fifteen, a few years older than me, they flew him down to Jacksonville to for the battle of the kid guitar players. It was pretty ridiculous. So I met him there, but he reminded me that when we played in Jacksonville, Florida, in this outdoor venue, I guess there was a Hooters attached and that's where we ended up eating. I don't remember the whole story but I heard him talking about it the other day. I hadn't seen him in quite some time.
MR: David, got another question?
DPH: I'm kind of primarily drawn to music that revolves around improvisation, especially in the age of computers where music is kind of pre-made. As a drummer and a performing artist myself, I'm really interested in any philosophies you have about improvising and then also how you frame a solo. How do you create that tension and the emotion that you capture so incredibly in your stuff?
DT: I remember when I was nine or ten, the first time that I sat in on a local blues band in Jacksonville. You're kind of terrified to do it, but then all the things you've heard, all the things you listened to growing up; it kind of comes out in your playing. It's really the time you spend offstage that makes the improvisation happen. There's a great Elvin Jones quote in one of the Coltrane box sets where he talks about his mom and her sisters. When he was playing, growing up, she would always stop him if it wasn't swinging or if it wasn't musical enough and she'd say, "Son, tell your story. Tell your story. It doesn't matter what instrument you're playing, you should be saying something. If you're not; then shut up." Either you're grooving or you're speaking. That's kind of my mindset. You can solo all day long, you can practice all day long, there are plenty of scales to run through, but if you're not telling a story, I just feel like you're spinning your wheels. For me, when you're improvising, there should be a dynamic arc to it. Sometimes great music, you can't really put it into words. You can't specifically say what emotion you're going for, but there should be an overarching theme to it. I think great players have that ability, you feel like they're speaking to you. When I listen to Wayne Shorter, it feels so conversational, it feels like you could almost translate it to actual concrete words. I feel like that's what you're going for. You're trying to speak.
MR: Derek, this ties into my traddy question, which is what is your advice for new artists? You got hit with this one last time but what do you think this time out?
DT: You know, I think it stays pretty consistent. You've got to find what moves you and you've just got to keep that inspiration lit. You've got to listen and play. You've got to pay your dues. There really are no shortcuts. There are no magic bullets. You've got to get out there and do it. If you get bit with the bug, you're going to do it regardless of how much money you're making or any of that. Once you get that music disease, it's there, and you do it. If it works, it works, and if it doesn't, you're probably going to do it anyway. I remember having that realization when I first put our band together. I was probably fourteen or fifteen and a few years into it. We're in a fifteen-passenger van with a trailer and we've already put a hundred thousand miles on it giggin' and I was like, "You know what? I'm fine with this. It's forty people a night maybe, some nights it's not" and I was like, "I'm perfectly happy doing this forever. If it gets better, great. If not, it works." It's a great thing when you find what you love to do. I've thought of that; you just have to keep your eye on the prize musically. You can't let the career and all those things get in the way of why you got into it in the first place. I think that's where a lot of people get derailed. The important things start getting overshadowed by the less important things. It's easy to do. But I think to have a long career, as long as you're keeping the music in mind, you'll be alright.
MR: Speaking of keeping your eye on the prize sir, you and Susan got a prize for that last album, a big fat Grammy.
DT: It's pretty funny. I remember maybe five or eight years ago, we were riding down the road and we got our first nomination with one of our records and I remember going, "You know what? Music is not a sport. Screw this." It's nice to be in the running, but it doesn't change anything one way or another, and after we won the first Grammy with my group, we stopped touring. We'd been on the road for sixteen years. We put sixteen years into that group and I thought it was nice to go out that way, kind of putting a cherry on top. It's not why you do it, but it's nice occasionally. It carries far too much weight on the outside. It's not really all that important. It's great when it happens, but there are a lot of people along the way who have deserved them and not gotten them and vice-versa. I don't know what it means for us personally, but it was nice. It makes the band feel good. It makes everybody feel like you're in the right spot, which, with an eleven-piece band, whatever it takes to keep people around, I'll take it.
MR: David, what else you got?
DPH: The other thing that strikes me about the band and your recordings, in general, are the dynamics where they really are sensitive to those moments where you go into the celestial mode and start soaring. I feel them really drop and honoring that space for you. I'm just wondering about how you -- I don't want to say "train them" -- but what's your approach in leading a band in terms of dynamics and also volume-wise and creating enough silence and real estate in the composition to allow you do this really subtle and delicate stuff in a way that it can be accentuated and heard in a rock setting?
DT: You know, I think a lot of that is who you surround yourself with. That's one of the things you look for. You want to find guys who not only have the chops and can play, but who really listen. Having great ears is sometimes more important than having great chops. If you can find both, great. A lot of the guys in this band, they listen straight ahead, they play straight ahead, so they come out of that world where, if you're a drummer and you're playing behind acoustic piano and horn players, if you're not listening, you're fired. They take that mentality into this band. Even though it's an electric group and there's a B3 and loud guitars and electric bass, they still approach it with that sensibility, that it could be a jazz quartet and you're listening hard and you're kind of dancing together. It's having the right people around you for sure.
MR: Derek, we should wrap things up, but I really appreciate your time. All the best and I really appreciate your time, man.
DPH: Yes, thank you so much, sir. It's really an honor to speak to you.
DT: Thank you, and we will see you down the road for sure.
1. Everybody's Talkin'
2. Midnight In Harlem (Swamp Raga intro with Little Martha)
3. Learn How to Love
4. Bound For Glory
5. Rollin' and Tumblin'
6. Nobody's Free
7. Darlin Be Home Soon
1. That Did It
3. Love Has Something Else To Say (with Kissing My Love)
4. Wade in the Water
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation With Kat Edmonson
Mike Ragogna: Kat, you have a new album, Way Down Low. What inspired the songwriting?
Kat Edmonson: I have been writing songs since I was at least 9 years old. I'm always inspired to write and it's usually my own life experiences that inspire me. Very often, writing a song is a process that happens to me rather than one that I instigate. I feel a song coming on and, like a sneeze, I wait for it until it comes. For Way Down Low, I was particularly inspired by a breakup I was going through and a transition I was making from Austin to New York. I guess you could say those things brought on a series of sneezes.
MR: What was it like working in the studio with Al Schmitt and Phil Ramone?
KE: It's nothing short of incredible. All I could think was, "I have arrived." They are the ultimate guys in their field and they have so much wisdom, knowledge, and experience. On top of that, they are so wonderful and caring.
MR: What is the story behind your single "Lucky" ending up on the Showtime series United States of Tara?
KE: Not much of a story. I am very grateful that United States of Tara liked it and wanted to use it. Same goes for the Serta/Vera Wang ad.
Listen to Kat Edmonson's "Lucky":
MR: What originally got you into music and who are your influences?
KE: I took to music like a fish to water and was exposed to all different genres. But my foundation was established through the songs from old musicals. I watched musical after musical as a young girl. My mom was a single, working mother and needed something to keep me preoccupied and would pop in a VHS. I loved it! Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby... These were my primary influences.
MR: When did you decide you wanted to be a recording artist?
KE: I suppose when my mom gave me a tape recorder. That was around the age of 11 or 12. Before that, I thought I'd just be the youngest songwriter to ever write hit Nashville songs. I remember telling someone on the playground that I wasn't going to be a singer, I was going to be an actress and write songs for other artists on the side. I said, "Sure, maybe I'll sing some of my songs, but other people will record them and make them more famous than me." I was an ambitious child. Too bad that kind of motivation didn't extend into the classroom.
MR: Who of your musical contemporaries are you checking out these days?
KE: I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I don't listen to many of those who would be considered my contemporaries. The records I have purchased most recently are the latest from Tom Waits, Dr. John, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, and Lee Fields. I sound like an old fart, I'm afraid.
MR: (laughs) No problem, those are all awesome artists. So what advice do you have for new artists?
KE: Pay attention to your thoughts. If you hear yourself saying, "It must be this way" or "it can never be this way," ask yourself, "Why?" Look at everything as an opportunity, especially your greatest fears and challenges, and say to yourself, "If not now, when?" People will tell you you can't because they believe that THEY can't. You must always believe in yourself even when nobody else does. If your heart introduces an idea to you, don't brush it off. Your heart always tells the truth.
2. I Don't Know
3. What Else Can I Do?
4. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
5. This Was The One
7. Whispering Grass
8. I'm Not In Love
9. Long Way Home - with Lyle Lovett
10. Nobody Knows That
11. Hopelessly Blue
12. I Don't Know - reprise