4 Ways Derek Trucks Can Tell A Story

This is a phrase in the style of Derek Trucks-  it is more or less copped from a solo he took on the Elmore James tune “The Sky is Crying” with  performed his group, The Tedeschi Trucks Band. Derek's playing on this resonates with me for a few reasons:

-Vocal Phrasing
-Deep Pocket
-Development of Phrases



All of these qualities are hallmarks of Derek’s playing and his mastery and finesse of each is what makes him the musical luminary he is. 

His vocalistic style phrasing, to me anyway, sounds like a nod to Aretha Franklin- particularly from her gospel record, Amazing Grace with the great Rev. James Cleveland. As always he is also borrowing from the Sacred Steel school of players. These two influences are worth a whole post unto themselves so I will delve more into that in another video.

Good Time Solves Everything: Playing with a Deep Pocket

Truck’s sense of time seems to be the bedrock for everything else. His lines, although flawlessly executed and brilliantly in tune, wouldn’t hit you in the chest like they do with out the assertive rhythmic placement he commands over each phrase. My guess is this is a deeply subconscious thing that is rooted more in the body than the mind, although, obviously the mind is in the body but hopefully you know what I mean.  

When something has groove and rhythmic conviction it almost puts the listener into a trance where they are much more tuned into what is being played. This makes me think of so many singer/songwriter albums where the rhythm section is made up of players with a deep sense of pocket. The groove enchants the listener in with an open heart to really hear and connect with the story that the singer is sharing. The relation to rhythm and the body is a connection as powerful as physical touch.

Play From Your Soul, Not Your Fingers: Developing Phrases

Amazing Grace- Aretha Franklin Atlantic Records, 1972.

Amazing Grace- Aretha Franklin Atlantic Records, 1972.

I think to have command over a phrase, you have to be able to sing it. I don’t necessarily mean sing it beautifully in tune and so forth, but what I mean is the phrase has to be coming from inside you and almost feel like it’s coming from your chest or your core rather than just your fingers twitching out memorized licks and patterns. I don’t think your fingers can groove like your core body can- but I do think you can make your fingers do the talking once your core is singing the phrase. I hope that makes at least a little sense and I don’t sound like a hippie? Basically this is a long winded way of saying- play from the soul!  

A Native American elder sharing a story. William E. Weiss—Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming/The Art Archive

A Native American elder sharing a story. William E. Weiss—Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming/The Art Archive


I think if you are playing something honestly and from the deep core center I spoke of earlier, then the development of phrase almost takes care of itself. The sequence of phrases present themselves as a story- beginning, middle, end, main theme, climax, fall of action etc. There are a bunch of exercises to help develop the ability to effectively phrase but I should save that for another post- for now I just want to think about how Derek's ability to tell a story while he is playing seems to be something that is at the center of all art across all cultures- it’s innately human. Art is story telling. It’s sharing our experience of life with each other and it serves to connect us to each other. It is so powerful it can even connect us across time and place. 

"Your Doing too Much, Do Less:" Playing With Restraint

-Kunu giving surfing advice in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Finally, let’s talk about Derek's restraint- Man this can be a tough skill to learn. I equate it to when a child finally learns to speak with some authority- roughly kindergarten. They let their mind start blabbing straight out of their mouth with out really structuring the most coherent sentences or stories. Most guitarist can relate to that when they learned the minor pentatonic scale. They feel like they have suddenly achieved mastery on the instrument and can solo over a song  non stop because everything they play seems to work... well, sort of anyway.

"The ability to speak does not make you intelligent."
-Qui-Gon Jinn

Derek seems to be able to carve away at all the bull shit and only play a solo that has the arc of a story. I think knowing when to edit your flow of improvisation down to something that has narrative takes a lot of self control and personal artistic development The ability to do that in any medium- film, painting, poetry etc. is what makes a work really moving. One of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing a short story is that; every sentence has to push the plot forward or has to reveal character. If the sentence doesn’t do this it’s not worth keeping in the story.  I think Vonnegut's principal applies to any art form.