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People Making a Difference: Derek Trucks

What are the chances that a nine-year old kid could buy a five-dollar acoustic guitar at a yard sale, figure out how to play it, and start touring a year later? If you’re guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, chances are pretty good.

From second-hand guitar to sitting in with Buddy Guy two years later–by the age of 23 Trucks was accomplished enough to merit a spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Now, at 29, Trucks has played with The Allman Brothers Band, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, to name just a few. He continues to play with both The Allman Brothers and as bandleader of the The Derek Trucks Band, which he founded at age 15.

But beyond his “greased-lightning” slide guitar playing, his cohesive songwriting, and his vast talent with blues, jazz, R&B and world music–we’re wowed by Derek’s passion for the environment, a passion that weaves seamlessly through his family life and music career. Derek talks with us about building an eco-friendly studio to record his newly released album, Already Free (Sony Music/Victor), his work with St. John’s Riverkeeper, and his efforts at being green in an industry that can occasionally veer off the eco-track.

You have a reputation for being environmentally aware–was this inspired by a single event, or has it been a longer journey?
My bothers and sisters and I were born into it. My mom had that mindset from the very beginning. Her dream was to be a part of Greenpeace. She’s always been a complete idealist and has held on to it. I remember as a kid going to the beach two or three times a week and she would spend the majority of her time picking up trash. Nothing would make her angrier than seeing people throw trash from their car window. We live in Jacksonville, and she still goes to help the sea turtles. You grow up in it and these things stick with you.

You built the studio where you recorded your latest album, Already Free. What green tactics did you employ there?
We built the studio at our house in Jacksonville. We did a lot of it ourselves. My brother and dad helped. It was nice doing it hands on and really knowing where every nail went. In Florida we get blasted with the sun, so it only makes sense to use it. After we built the studio, we loaded up the main house with as many solar panels on the roof as we could. The government incentives really helped. I was shocked by how much you get back. And if you’re not using all the energy you’re making, the local power company buys it back from you. Our bill sometimes comes in right around zero. It’s amazing because we have a huge amount of people always coming and going–family, band members. And having solar makes us feel less guilty about the extra space.

>It’s great you can put the Florida sun to use, but does all that great weather have its drawbacks?
Especially in Florida, cooling is a really big deal. We figure whatever we could do to keep energy usage down would really help. We went overboard on the insulation–didn’t cut any corners there. When you thoroughly insulate the building it serves as soundproofing too. It’s really nice when doing the right thing works out on all levels.

So along with the solar, the insulation really cuts down on your energy usage.
In the summer, so much energy is wasted. Everyone’s so used to shutting themselves in and cranking the AC here, it’s so much better when you can go the other route. We also just make it a point to leave everything off and open all the windows. Again, when you do the right thing everything turns out to be great all around. You forget how great it is to feel the breeze blowing through your house–to actually hear the birds and all the little things.

For many people once they start making green living changes, there’s a snowball effect. Has that happened to you?
We do whatever we can do to make it as green as possible. For instance have a massive compost pile for the studio. We have so many people coming and going when we’re recording, so there is often leftover food and produce. It’s a pretty simple thing to do to just build a few compost piles.

Do you have time to garden?
My wife [singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi] and I are on the road so much that whenever we try to start a garden we come back and it’s been taken over by the swamp! But the compost gets used, and we give a lot to our neighbors.

Are you able to bring some of your green efforts on the road while you’re touring?
I’m in multiple bands so a lot of times we’re at the mercy of who we’re with. But my wife and I have become really good friends with Willie Nelson and his family. He’s been great at showing us all the ways to be green. They go full biodiesel, and between Farm Aid and all the environmentalists that he’s in contact with, we’ve really been looking into what we can do on our tours. Willie’s always been on the front of that fight–its great to be around guys like that and to see what the possibilities are.

What have you been able to do differently on the road?
With our band were getting to the point where we can make things happen, where we can make that next step. A lot of major bands should take that step–it should be mandatory. Even just to do little things, little things that a lot of people wouldn’t think about. We have the shows catered every night, and there’s always a large amount of food left over. There’s a program that comes and boxes up the leftover food and takes it to homeless shelters that evening. Just cutting down waste wherever we can. My wife tours a lot, and a few years ago she decided “no more single use water bottles on the bus.” Now it’s SIGG bottles and write your name on it. Those are the little things that really add up, and they’re not that difficult to do.

I know that you live near the St. Johns river and support St. John’s Riverkeeper. What threats is the river facing?
Right now there’s something going on where they’re trying to divert millions of gallons of a day from central Florida, which will really affect the ecosystem where we are in northern Florida. It’s a big fight. Waterfront everywhere is in constant danger. They’re always trying to build on it or divert the water. We’ve also had these algae blooms from fertilizer run off–the algae blooms are nasty. We’ve become good friends with St. John’s Riverkeeper over the years. Susan has played benefits for them, and we’ve always made donations. They do such a great job of keeping on that stuff. They make it front page news. When someone’s acting up in the area, they make sure people hear about it.

You have two young children, how are you passing on your green values to them?
My mom helps takes care of them when Susan and I are on the road. I really appreciate that, she’s a terrific grandmother. She doesn’t cut them any more slack than she cut us, and I think that’s key. They’re getting the same lessons I had. When they’re at the beach with her, they’re picking up trash. Right out of the gate, green is how it is.

For more information on The Derek Trucks Band and their new album ALREADY FREE visit derektrucks.com.

WIN A COPY OF THE DEREK TRUCKS BAND’s new album, Already Free.
We have three copies of the new album, of which Rolling Stone says, “Derek Trucks could very well be the best guitarist of his generation.”  The Philadelphia News called the album, “Exquisite.”  Boston Globe said, “You probably won’t hear a better rock/R&B record this year.”  And Entertainment Weekly exclaimed, “Trucks’ bluesy playing is excellent throughout…” Leave a comment in the comment field and we will randomly select three winners, to be announced on April 10, 2009.

Read more: Do Good, Family, Home

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

62 comments

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12:45PM PDT on Apr 18, 2009

Wonderful bit about the studio, and leaving the windows open. During Hurricane Ike, when everyone had NO electricity, the whole neighborhood was outside in the cul de sac....we fired up a propane grill and had a Hurricane Party, cleaning out the freezers, eating all the food that would simply rot otherwise. And it was wonderful to feel the air blowing thru the windows, and be able to hear the children play, and get to KNOW our neighbors!! Electricity is vital for many things, but it has caused us to lose a lot in other ways. As soon as the AC worked, the cul de sac went silent......it was sad.

9:42PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

I work at an entertainment venue in Chicago and have met Derek twice before....nice guy, love his music. And now that I know we think alike about helping to save the planet, I like him even more! Hope he's very successful in both his music and his recycling! Maybe he can influence some other entertainers to follow his and Susan's lead! Best of luck!

7:10PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

I've been a fan of your huge talent for a while! Keep the music coming!

6:06PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

I really like your music!

5:45PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

There was a really awesome article about this kid in Rolling Stone Magazine, check it out!!

4:30PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

Great story! Thank you :)

2:42PM PDT on Apr 16, 2009

What an inspiration

2:49AM PDT on Apr 6, 2009

I must admit it's for the first time I hear about Derek Trucks but not only does his music sound appealing to me (rock, R&B...), but so does his life philosophy. We really should start small, with ourselves to make this world 'greener'.

9:08AM PDT on Apr 5, 2009

I knew DT & the B are fantastic when I saw them for the 1st time at BU a year ago backing Carlos, but now that I know he's sensitive to the planet, I'm thrilled about what a role model he is for my son, a budding 13 year guitarist. We saw DTB together at the House of Blues in Boston the other night. All I can say is that he melted both of our faces... I was equally blown away by his chops at the A Bros Rat Dog show last summer in Mansfield. We can't wait to see them again this summer on the Cape. And, let's be honest here, he's not one of the best guitarists alive today, he is the best period!

6:59PM PDT on Apr 4, 2009

I am inspired. There's so much more I can do to set a good example for my son.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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