Derek Trucks: Southern Blues 'N Boats

By Pat Piper

Derek Trucks on making music.

photo of Derek Trucks performing on stage

Derek Trucks is looking out the window of his tour bus as the 11-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band winds up another successful road trip playing tunes from their new album "Revelator." He looks at his wife, Susan Tedeschi, a Grammy-nominated blues singer on her own, sitting next to him and then pulls out his cell phone. Susan knows who's about to get a phone call and the topic. It's part of the Derek Trucks routine anytime the bus nears their home in northeast Florida. In the next few seconds, Derek, the 33-year-old slide guitar player for not only this band but also the Allman Brothers Band, and who's toured with Eric Clapton as well, is talking to his brother in Jacksonville, Florida.

"Let's get the boat ready," Derek says. "We're flat for the coming week." That's tour bus talk for, "We've got seven days before we go back out on the road."

The boat is Miles Ahead, named after a 1957 Miles Davis album; it's a 32-foot Donzi center console that sits on a trailer at his house. "Growing up in Florida, we were always fishing," Trucks notes from his Jacksonville home, with a view of the St. Johns River at the end of his dock. "My grandfather would take me and my dad and my brother fishing in a little 16-foot boat. I have always been in boats whether on the river, offshore, or as a kid on Rodman Reservoir in central Florida, which was a great spot where you could go camping and take a boat out every summer. I kind of grew up with it."

These days, a favorite destination is taking Miles Ahead to "the Ledge," about 50 miles offshore at the western edge of the Gulf Stream, launching from St. Augustine. "It's not that we plan our tours around fishing, but I do plan my days off around it," Trucks laughs. There's a pause as he reflects about this passion that began long before he picked up a Gibson guitar. "You know, growing up on the road, you meet a lot of people, and you get to visit a lot of places, and if I had a day off near the water, I was always looking for somebody that had a boat."

That's no exaggeration when Derek Trucks talks about "growing up on the road." His uncle, Butch Trucks, is a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band and continues to tour with them. During rehearsals years ago when Derek was 11, he got to sit in with the group that put a name to "Southern rock." They were astounded with the child's ability to play guitar riffs similar to those played by the late Dwayne Allman, who had died in a motorcycle crash 20 years earlier. In fact, there's a YouTube video of a 13-year-old Derek playing with the Allman Brothers in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1993.

By age 15, he had opened for Bob Dylan, and at age 20, the younger Trucks was touring with his uncle's band across the country and internationally. In 2003, Rolling Stone proclaimed Trucks as one of the top 100 greatest guitar players of all time. Three years later, he was touring with Eric Clapton.

photo of Derek Trucks and his family with a nice catch

Today, Trucks has a recording studio in his home, which is where "Revelator" was recorded. And when it is time to take a break, Derek thinks nothing about inviting one or two of his non-boating band members out for a boat ride. "We have a smaller boat at the dock and I remember taking our trumpet player, Maurice Brown, who was from New York City and had never seen anything like the waters we have around here. It's just so beautiful and there's undiscovered stuff to be seen all the time. So Maurice and I are taking a boat ride, and he sees a gator, and then he sees a manatee, and I watched him move to the center of the boat. I was trying to get our drummer Yonrico Scott out for a boat ride and he was making excuses while we're standing at the dock. He's from Detroit and his girlfriend looks at him and says, 'C'mon you big ___, get in the boat.' He went and enjoyed himself. The waters here are historic-looking and you can catch a glimpse of the old Florida as you travel by boat."

When he isn't being a tour guide for band members who have never been on a boat, Derek is offshore aboard Miles Ahead in search of a dolphin or two. "One of the things I love about going offshore is it's generally me, and my brother, and maybe my son, and when you're 50 miles out and not seeing land, you're focused on what you're doing. You can separate from the thousands of things you're doing and running, and all the BS back on land that you deal with on a daily basis. This 11-member band and tour is a large organization so when I get out on the water, it's pretty therapeutic."

On those weekends when the band is "flat" and the Jacksonville Jaguars are in town, Derek and Susan take friends and family to the game, by boat of course, getting a slip at the city dock and walking to EverBank Field where the team plays. "I don't know of many places on this planet where you can do that," he says.

Derek Trucks has been to 30 countries playing slide guitar, and he just may know where to find a boat in each of those places. In the meantime, if you should see the Trucks tour bus heading to Florida, you can pretty much guess where he's headed next. 

This article was published in the Winter 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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