In an interview Tuesday, guitarist Derek Trucks said the Allman Brothers Band as we know it was "certainly winding down."
"For me, I've been in the band, what, 15 years now? I never thought it would make it that long," Trucks, 34, said by phone from his home in Jacksonville. "I never thought I'd be a part of it that long. So it all feels like bonus time to me."
Turns out that bonus clock was ticking faster than anyone realized. One day after our interview, Trucks and guitarist Warren Haynes announced they would be leaving the iconic Southern rock band at the end of 2014 to focus on their own projects, including Trucks and wife Susan Tedeschi's Tedeschi Trucks Band, which will headline St. Petersburg's Sunshine Music & Blues Festival on Jan. 19.
"I feel that my solo project and the Tedeschi Trucks Band is where my future and creative energy lies," Trucks said in a statement. "The Tedeschi Trucks Band tour schedule keeps growing, and I feel the time has finally come to focus on a single project, which will allow me to spend that rare time off the road with my family and children. It's a difficult decision to make, and I don't make it lightly."
How could he? Trucks was raised around the Allmans — Uncle Butch is their founding drummer — and the late slide-guitar icon Duane Allman was among his heroes. They were already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they invited Trucks to join in 1999.
But at this stage in his career, no one begrudges Trucks for wanting to spend more time with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Not even Gregg Allman himself.
"He's got the baddest band in the land, he absolutely does," the singer said in December. "It's my favorite, it really is. Of all the music I've heard lately, they do it for me. That blows my dress way up."
Though he was born a guitar prodigy into a rock 'n' roll dynasty — as a teen he jammed with the likes of Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy — Trucks has never been content to lean strictly on his DNA and connections. He spent his teens and 20s voraciously studying and honing his craft, discovering new ways to infuse the blues with jazz, classical and even Indian-influenced guitar. In 2007 he was christened a "guitar god" on the cover of Rolling Stone; four years later the magazine named him the 16th greatest guitarist of all time, not far behind Duane Allman.
Trucks got the call to join the Allman Brothers Band at age 19, shortly after releasing his first album with his solo band.
"I remember thinking, You can't really turn this offer down, but I can't not do my own group," he said. "They've been great about making it work, where you can do both. Granted, you have to work 300 days a year to do it, but over the years, it's just kind of grown. This is the longest incarnation of the band that's ever existed. The original group was just a few years, and the group in the '70s had a lot of changes, so this group with Warren and Oteil (Burbridge) and Marc (Quiñones) and me, it's going on a little over a decade now, which seems nearly impossible, with the amount of s--- that goes on with that group, but it's been amazing. Every time I think it's done, and you want to count it out, it kind of comes roaring back."
Trucks has spent much of his career working closely with artists decades his elder — legends like Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock and B.B. King. He lamented watching more than a few veteran artists struggle to "keep the flame lit."
"I've seen musicians that are totally stuck in a rut, but because they can get out and play the same tunes the same way, people are going to show up at a casino or wherever," he said. "They can make a good living, but they're just shells of who they were musically."
Trucks and Tedeschi, 43, married in 2001, but it wasn't until 2010 that they formed Tedeschi Trucks Band, an 11-piece army of blues, rock and powerhouse soul. The group's swift rise — their first album, 2011's Revelator, won the Grammy for Best Blues Album — allowed Trucks and Tedeschi to take a break from their prosperous solo projects and tour in tandem.
As his heroes like Clapton, Hancock and, yes, the Allman Brothers Band begin to fade from the spotlight, Trucks said he and Tedeschi feel the weight of keeping their musical spirit alive.
"Once those guys go, unfortunately, there's not a massive amount of people out there doing it the right way, the old way, where you actually learn your craft and get out on the road," he said. "I feel like me and Susan and this band ... feel that you are carrying on this American music tradition, and it's important. ... You don't want to let the bar ever dip below a certain level. You feel like the quality, intensity and amount of energy you put into every project needs to meet a certain criteria, or you don't put it out."