Music is this family’s affair
What's the cut-off age for a child prodigy? You must be THIS high to be a wunderkind? We all know that newborn Mozart came out of the chute wailing a sinfonietta, but what about all those other underage musical geniuses? And at what point does life experience color the performance?
The Derek Trucks band with opening guest Papa Mali
Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. at the Castle Theatre, Maui Arts & Cultural Center; tickets $45; (808) 242-2787
Wednesday: 6:30 p.m. at the Kilohana Plantation, Lihue; tickets $45; (808) 337-9234
Dec. 7: 7 p.m. at the Events at the Tower, Aloha Tower Marketplace; tickets $45; 545-5900
Dec. 8: 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theatre, Hilo; tickets $48; (808) 934-7010
Take Derek Trucks. OK, maybe it's in his genes -- uncle Butch Trucks is a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band and still at it -- but seriously, little Derek picked up a guitar when he was 9 years old and, two years later, he was touring with his own band. Take that, Hanson!
"Ah, we were really just playing on weekends when I was 12. In middle school and high school, though, I tried to get an exemption, 'cause in Florida, if you miss seven or eight days a semester, you can get set back. We compromised. They gave me a boatload of schoolwork to take on the road," said Trucks.
Now 28 and already securing a place in Rolling Stone magazine's list of guitar gods, Trucks has been making his instrument sing for most of his young life. Trucks' style -- obviously influenced by the emotional phrasing of Duane Allman but less obviously by the meticulous nodal structures of jazz instrumentalists like Charlie Christian and Miles Davis -- is built around the purest tone possible: a Gibson SG plugged directly into a '65 Fender Double Reverb amp. No effects boxes. No processing. No stomp pedals.
We caught Trucks at a soundcheck in upper New York state before he and his band flew out to Hawaii to do a four-show interisland tour, starting early next week. "Semihectic!" he said cheerfully. "The snow's starting to drop. Being from Florida, I never really get acclimatized to the cold weather. I stay on the bus as much as I can. The temperature changes do wreak a little havoc on the guitars, though."
SPEAKING OF which, Trucks plays everything with an open-E tuning, a standard slack-key for slide players, but unusual for finger-pickers. He does both. "Learned it that way at 11. Works for me."
Sticking to a pure sound also "works well, for the most part. It's clean. And when I need teeth on it, it's there. Pedals filter the notes: I don't like it when it cuts in too harsh."
Graduate school for Trucks was his semiregular induction into the lineup of the Allman Brothers Band in 1999 while he was still a teenager. The Brothers through the years have evolved into an "extended family," said Trucks, a collection of fine musicians -- 40 or 50 of them in total -- who endlessly merge and separate, like amoebas, into various bands, including Trucks' own band, and Gov't Mule, and Sea Level, and Great Southern. It's impossible to keep track. And, oh yeah, Eric Clapton also has made Trucks a draft pick on occasion.
"Clapton! Derek and the Dominos was a big influence," said Trucks. "And old blues, like all the Kings -- Freddie, B.B. and Albert -- and I'd be taken away by their melodic phrasing. I try not to play like it's a guitar, more like the instrument is a jazz vocalist."
So how's life on the road?
"I get tired, but not tired of touring. Up until the last few years, I played strictly live. Lately though, I've built a studio behind the house -- our small compound -- to get into the mind-set of recording, to use it as a lab to experiment."
Trucks is married to fellow guitarist Susan Tedeschi, and they keep the music out in the studio "and focus on the kids. They're 5 and 3 years old. Our days are nap times and bedtimes. We do have a piano in the house, and it's Grand Central when we're at home. But if we go out the door and head into the studio, it's a whole different situation. Makes it feel like a business."
Given their genes, the kids likely will be musical. What if they want to leave home and tour while they're still in short pants?
"Well, they seem to like music, but it's a little hard to tell yet if they've got an ear for it," said Trucks. "But if the intention is right, then it was meant to be."