Emerging from the long shadow of Duane Allman

By Sergio Ariza

Normally there are two different points of view about life: one says that it is unjust and terrible, while the other says that itis beautiful; but it could be that neither are right and that life is unjust and terrible, as well as beautiful. Life took Duane Allman away from us at 24 years of age, a tremendous injustice and cruelty, but life gave us Derek Trucks so we can listen to where he might have arrived if he had lived longer (even if it was almost 30 years after Duane’s sad goodbye).   

Sometimes it is hard to believe in destiny but when you see the story of Derek Trucks and the Allman Brothers, you may think that it seems to be taken from an old mythological fable. Derek Trucks came to the world on June 8, 1979, his uncle was Butch Trucks - the original drummer of the Allman Brothers - and his father called him Derek, in tribute to Derek & The Dominos, the band in which
Eric Clapton invited Duane Allman to play and in which, together, they created the immortal Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. His birthplace, Jacksonville, Florida, is the same place where the Allmans had been formed ten years before. Derek was not the only member of the Allman family they named in his honor; Duane's mark on the other band members was so deep that Dickey Betts' son is called Duane, the son of Berry Oakley is called Berry Duane Oakley, Gregg Allman's youngest daughter is called Layla, and even Derek's younger brother is named Duane. It seems evident that the gap left was difficult to fill but, as in universal mythology, everyone seemed to be waiting for the arrival of the heir...

Derek did not take long to emerge, raised on the basis of a strict musical diet consisting of Eat a Peach, At Fillmore East, Layla and some Elmore James; the sound of Duane was part of him almost from birth, almost as if, in addition to the name, they put a slide on his finger at birth. At the age of 8 he got his first guitar, an acoustic Jay for which he paid $5. His first electric was not a marvel but this child was capable of making mischief with it, the slide seemed the natural step, both from that influence, as well as the fact that this small child’s hands had it easy.

As if fate were knocking on their door again, in 1989 the Allman Brothers reunited, for the first time since Derek's birth, to celebrate their 20th anniversary. So his father invited his brother, Butch Trucks and several other members of the band to come and see him, namely: Trucks, Warren Haynes, Allan Woody and Gregg Allman. The latter came to him after the concert and gave him one of Duane’s 'bottlenecks', and the first part of his fate had been fulfilled, in a few years he would become part of the band and the ghost of the eldest Allman brother would return to stroll once again across the stage, especially when their parents decided to buy him the guitar of his dreams, a reissue of the year 90 Gibson SG '62.

There would be times in the future when Gregg would close his eyes and once again see himself on stage with Duane; Derek will always be aware of when the only living Allman brother looks at him in that special way. One of the first times was on July 4, 1993, when he was only 14 years old, when Derek opened for the band and, dressed in with a Duane’s T-Shirt, launched into an incredible version of Layla's final coda.

The following year Trucks formed the Derek Trucks Band (by that time he had already played with
Bob Dylan and B.B. King who, in addition, had signed his guitar). In 1997, he released his debut album, The Derek Trucks Band, on which one can see how his influences had been expanding, with the huge footprint left on him by jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, as well as his liking for traditional Indian music, especially Ali Akbar Khan, another of the great influences in his life. That same year Warren Haynes and Allan Woody left the Allman Brothers to form Gov't Mule, and Oteil Burbirdge and Jack Pearson replaced them, but a couple of years later Pearson left and Butch Trucks decided to call his nephew to appear on the 30th anniversary tour. And at 20 years of age he became the youngest member in the history of the band.

The heir had arrived but things in the band were not at their best. Dickey Betts had become the absolute leader of the band and the other original members were resentful of him. In the year 2000 the live record Peakin 'at the Beacon appears but it is not one of their better performances and shortly after Betts leaves. In the beginning the fans can not conceive of an Allman Brothers without Betts but after the return of Warren Haynes the band recovered its best level, with the best performances since the times of Duane and Dickey. One of the best pair of guitarists in history finally had heirs at their level. From the start, the connection between Trucks and Haynes was almost telepathic, the two main guitars again harmonizing and dialoguing fluidly, as you can hear on the only studio album they made with this band, Hittin 'The Note, released in 2003. Songs like Desdemona are among the best the band has ever produced and Derek's solo with the slide is capable of sending chills down the spine. They complement each other perfectly, proof of this is the remarkable One Way Out, released in 2004, where the two guitarists show tremendous respect for their predecessors but, at the same time, are able to keep their ‘own voices’ in mythical compositions such as Dreams or Whipping Post.

But Trucks did not leave aside his solo career and in 2002 he released his first notable album with his own band, Joyful Noise, where Trucks tries to show that his universe expands far beyond the music of the Allman Brothers and the long shadow of Duane. But he returned again after receiving a call from abroad in 2006. To his surprise he found a voice message from Eric Clapton asking him to collaborate with him. This was the only ‘missing piece’ that he needed to complete his link with Duane.

First they collaborated on the album that Clapton was making with
J.J. Cale, Road To Escondido, on which also played Billy Preston and where Trucks can be heard on songs like Missing Person. But Clapton also saw in him the same thing he saw decades ago in Duane; a twin soul capable of getting the best out of himself, so he invited him to be part of his band and with him on board he gave some of the best concerts of the last years of his career, recovering, as was obligatory, several of the classics of Derek & The Dominos such as Layla, Tell The Trutch, Anyday and the incredible Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?, on which the guitars of Trucks and Clapton updated the dialogue that Duane and Eric maintained years previously. Trucks had always followed the maxim of Elvin Jones: every time you play a solo try to tell a great story.

After this excellent test, in which he gave the best of himself and made Clapton again feel inspired, Derek was able to free himself from the enormous weight of being the Duane’s heir and could fly free. It was not surprising that his next album with his band was called Already Free and it was the best that he had released to that date, with an excellent version of Dylan's Down In The Flood. Soon he decided to form a band with his wife, the excellent singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi, with whom he has been able to continue broadening his palette, this time with a large group of musicians, gathered under the name of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. In this band soul and funk sounds are present, and he ‘risks’ playing other guitars beyond his beloved SG (of which he ended up having, as could not be in any other way, a signature model), such as a Firebird V Sunburst of 65 connected to an Ampeg V-12.

His playing has continued to improve over the years and in 2012 he received the definitive compliment when B.B. King took him on stage with his wife Susan Tedeschi and John Mayer and he produced one of the most exciting solos of his career, causing Mayer to stop playing to simply admire him. King, on the other hand – a man who has listened to more than a million solos by the best guitarists of all time - told him that it was the best he had ever heard.

Trucks had earned his place among the greats on his own merits - beyond the huge presence of Duane – but there was left a last time where he had to puto n his shoes again. It was on October 28, 2014, at the last concert of the Allman Brothers, at the legendary Beacon Theater in New York. It was not just another occasion, it was the end of an era and, to some extent, the final goodbye for the group that Duane created in 1969. So for the occasion Galadrielle Allman, the daughter of Duane, brought them Skydog’s three Les Paul and Trucks and Haynes took turns playing them. Gregg closed his eyes as he had done on the occasions when the magic was present and he was once again playing with his older brother, and when he opened them he saw that blonde man make the most incredible notes with the slide on Duane’s Les Paul during Dreams and he wondered if he was dreaming or had traveled back in time. At the end,
Muddy Waters' Trouble No More sounded, the first song they played together in Jacksonville, the day that Gregg joined the band and his brother asked him to really let himself go and sing.


When the concert ended, it was 1.25 on the morning of October 29, 43 years after the death of Duane Allman. Again, like in the movies, the spell was broken and Derek Trucks could no longer be the reincarnation of Duane, he had to be himself. Something that, on the other hand, is not bad either, as he is one of the best guitarists that inhabits the planet Earth. We hope that he has many more stories to tell on the six strings.