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New rock guitar god is Indian shishya
Sumit Bhattacharya | February 13, 2007 15:23 IST
It was an ad in the Village Voice. Derek Trucks Band, live at the Nokia Theatre, said the Manhattan free newspaper. The name rang a bell; I had heard a live recording at a friend's place.
$40, read the minimum ticket price. It was a day's money for me. A day of starvation never killed anyone, I figured. Because even through the sputter-sized laptop speakers, Trucks sounded special.
I turned up an hour early. The cheapest tickets at the Nokia Theatre -- in Times Square, New York -- are on a first-come-stand-wherever basis. In the line, I was the only Indian, and one of the few people attending alone.
"What does Sahib Teri Bandi mean?" someone in the line asked me, when he had figured out I was Indian. It was only later I found out what he was saying. The accent made the words incomprehensible. And I didn't know that was the name of the tune I had heard through laptop speakers.
I told the man I didn't know. The guy said, "You know, the Indian tune Derek plays?"
About two hours later -- after a nice blues set by Derek's wife Susan Tedeschi -- the man was screaming at me, "This is from your country." Trucks had just launched into the alap-like beginning to Sahib Teri Bandi, the tune from his album Songlines.
I nodded. Every glissando screamed that this 20-something blonde white guy had been classically trained in Hindustani music.
It was a gooseflesh moment. A Gibson SG-5 guitar through a Fender amplifier -- as vintage rock as a guitar set-up gets -- never sounded like this. This was a man who knew his ragas.
Which was uncanny. Because Derek is the nephew of Butch Trucks, the percussion player from the 1970s cult rock group The Allman Brothers Band. It was natural he played the blues as well as he did. It was natural he played guitar with a glass slide -- like Duane Allman, the legendary Allman Brothers' guitar player whose most-known tune is his collaboration with Eric Clapton in Layla.
But Derek is no Duane Allman wannabe, though he plays with The Allman Brothers now. Even the way Derek plays the blues is flavoured with Indian techniques and whiffs.
After about one-and-a-half hours of Derek Trucks, I had become a fan. The people around me were nodding: "See, we told you he'd floor you."
I walked back from the Nokia Theatre almost freezing -- there was a storm on, I later heard -- but my insides were warm, because after a long, long time, I had heard a new rock guitar player who could touch your soul.
And I was wondering where Derek Trucks could have learned the nuances of Hindustani music like that. I was re-living the concert, and Derek, completely motionless on stage, making his guitar cry and sing. I was singing the last song, the brilliant version of the Grateful Dead's Sugary. And I don't even like the Dead.
Then, a few days ago, came the Rolling Stone cover story, called 'The new guitar gods.' It featured John Mayer, Red Hot Chilli Peppers' John Frusicante, and Derek.
In the story, Derek explains how he studied at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in San Rafael, California. And from his interview, it was evident he was overawed by the sarod maestro, and his education in Indian music had left an indelible stamp on him.
I remembered the gooseflesh moment in New York, many months ago. And my insides felt warm again.
Photograph Courtesy: Derek Trucks Band