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Derek Trucks backs luck with hard work

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Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

Blues-rock guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks seems like he's caught all the breaks.

Trucks grew up with music in his blood -- nephew to Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band, he was surrounded by blues and rock royalty from day one. By age 9, his guitar skills already were undeniable, and he was sitting in with local blues bands.

"They invited me on the road, and one thing led to another," Trucks says. "A lot of times when you're that young, you don't really think a lot about it. Some things come naturally. I have two kids now, ages 7 and 5, and I see how some things come really easily to them. That's just what it was -- I stumbled into the right thing at the right time."

Now, he's finally at the age where he's not the youngest guy in the room -- 30. In the blues world, though, he's still a baby. Even his wife, blues singer Susan Tedeschi, is eight years older.

The Derek Trucks Band is headlining the final day of the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown on Sunday, the renamed successor to the Johnstown FolkFest.

All this luck -- genetic or otherwise -- tends to obscure the sheer amount of work that goes into being Derek Trucks.

"There have been years where it's been well over 200 gigs in a year," says Trucks, speaking from a hotel room somewhere on the road. "Probably pushing 250, at times. Between the two bands, sometimes three (hundred), sometimes four (hundred) -- it gets pretty wild."

First, Trucks is a full-fledged member of the legendary Allman Brothers Band. Then he's got his own band. He also toured with the guitar gods' guitar god, Eric Clapton.

"Luckily, he's a real inviting, down-to-earth guy," Trucks says. "He made me feel welcome, which makes all the difference. When you're playing with somebody of that caliber, you certainly take it seriously and bring your best game."

That might sound like a dream come true to anyone who's ever picked up a guitar -- and it is -- but that doesn't mean it's easy. Even for one of the best slide guitar players on the planet.

"In 2006, I was touring with my band, the Allman Brothers Band, and Clapton, all at the same time," Trucks says. "It was three pretty distinctive ways to travel. My band had just moved up to a tour bus, so we weren't at the bottom rung -- which we were pumped about, actually -- but it was still getting three rooms at the Holiday Inn, and everybody bunks together. Then it was the Allman Brothers, two or three steps up. Then it's the Clapton tour -- the nicest hotels in the world and private jets."

Curiously, Trucks says he found the same highs and lows at every level.

"What really makes it is how content you are in the music you're playing," he says. "A great show makes or breaks a day, no matter what level you're on."

This path wasn't as inevitable for Trucks as it seems.

"I guess at one point, when I turned 15 or 16 and started traveling heavily with my own group, I intentionally distanced myself from the Allman Brothers' music," Trucks says. "With my name, and that connection, that's what people would come to hear.

"I played, essentially, in an instrumental trio -- music that would run a lot of the blues police and Allman Brothers fans out of the room."

Discovering avant-garde jazz like Sun Ra and Albert Ayler was a revelation for the young guitarist. But after a while, he found himself drawn back into the family business -- blues and rock.

"In doing that, you end up stumbling across a lot of what made bands like the Allmans so great," Trucks says. "A lot of the freedom and improvisational flourishes -- I think when I came back to my roots, I was better equipped to do it legitimately.

"I think it just makes you hone your craft that much more. The problem with music that's derivative of something else, or bands that just aren't quite getting the point, is really that it's all surface. You can hear the influences right up front, but you can tell they didn't go deeper. They didn't go 200 pages in. I think playing that music gives you greater insight into the common threads that run through all great music."

Additional Information:

AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival

What: Three-day music festival

With: Friday: Seven Nations, Ernie Hawkins, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals; Saturday: Endless Mike & The Beagle Club, Bill Deasy, Scrapomatic, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals; Sunday: Bill Kirchen & The Hammer of the Honky-tonk Gods, Scott Blasey, Derek Trucks Band

When: 5:30-midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

Where: Johnstown Festival Park, Johnstown

Details: 814-539-1889

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