I’m sure everyone has heard of Derek Trucks by now. If you haven’t, you need to. He is becoming one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He has already accomplished amazing things such as, joining Eric Clapton on tour and playing Duane Allman’s guitar parts, playing in the Allman Brothers Band, and a Grammy win.

There is no doubt in my mind that he will go down in history as a legend just like Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, and Duane did.

But what makes him stand out from all of the bazillion guitar players out there.

There are plenty of other slide guitarists and many guitarists with more technique (Vai, Malmsteen, John Mclaughlin). So why has Derek become so adored?


I think it is for many reasons, but this one in particular is why I think Derek has moved to the forefront of being the next guitar legend. So what is this reason? Well, this is only my opinion but I think it comes down to Derek’s ability to play guitar like a singer.

To play like Derek, you need to learn vocal licks and not guitar licks. In this day and age when anyone can play speed arpeggios with their guitar behind their back and then move into 8 finger tapping, Derek’s VERY melodic and intense emotional playing comes off as a breathe of fresh air. Although Derek does have lots of chops, he certainly knows how to use them to effectively create an emotional experience with his guitar.  This is what sets him apart from so many others.


Derek’s ability to imitate the human voice became quite evident to me when I first started listening to him about 10 years ago. I read in an interview that he often tried to mimic his wife’s (Susan Tedeschi) vocal runs on the guitar. After reading this, I went back to the early R&B recordings and noticed that a lot of what Derek was playing was coming from these singers and not the guitar players.

Ben E King, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, and Aretha Franklin. If you listen to Come Back Baby by Ray Charles you will hear a lot of Derek Trucks slide guitar licks.   If you can transcribe Ray’s vocals for slide guitar, you will learn a lot about phrasing and putting together a memorable solo. Notice how much space there is between his vocal licks?

When you play, are you always trying to fit as many notes as possible into the tune? Does your playing always sound like riffs?

I find these 2 things very common when people start playing slide guitar. At some point you have to forget the riffs and try to play a solo as one cohesive thought. Not a bunch of riffs put together. It is very hard and I struggle at this too.


For me, when it really comes down to it, you have to forget everything you have learned when you’re trying to play a solo. Thinking about intervals and scales on stage can lead to very bad results and can often produce a mechanical type sound.  This is where Derek excels.  Derek is so good at developing a solo. He gets you interested at the beginning, gains momentum, and then delivers the knockout punch at the end. You MUST think like this when you’re playing as well. Try to give someone an emotional experience and not just a barrage of notes to try and impress everyone.

In my opinion, some of the best slide guitar licks are the ones you learn by listening to vocals. Try to understand their phrasing. Listen to them constantly, and their licks will become ingrained in your head. You will then start to hear what you need to play if you are comfortable with intervals and the fretboard.

If you want to learn more about this, I have created a full course to learn slide guitar in open e tuning.  Check them out here.

Leave a comment below about why you think Derek Trucks is so great, or maybe you don’t think he’s that great at all.

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  1. Agree on what you say + he/his band is really good in songwriting. The best guitarsolo sounds crap in a boring song

  2. Thanks for the comment. I don’t like listening to songs just for the guitar solo. It’s gotta be a good tune.

  3. John,
    Excellent points. I am generally stuck in a 60s time warp & don’t listen to much else. Derek Trucks is one exception. I agree it’s the emotion and vocal mimickry that comes out of his musicianship that makes me want to play slide. That’s why I bought your DVDs on the open E style. He can do Duane Allman, but the use of the Harmonic Minor scale also gives Trucks a distinctive flavor. I’ve got one DVD of DT Band and it’s one of my favorites. I love to watch the guy play! Fires me up every time. Thanks for translating what Trucks & others are doing into the language of the earth people.

  4. I definitely agree that some of the best slide licks are the ones you learn by listening to vocals.
    D erek is one of the elite guitarists and should be recognized. In my opinion, of course.


  5. I like that Ray Charles mention. Derek sure does have that vocal sound. I just came across some Bobby Blue Bland, and there is a definitely similarity there, too. Maybe more so, ’cause Bobby has such a smooth voice like Derek.

    Bobby’s Stormy Monday

    Thanks for the awesome lessons and info, keep truckin’!

  6. Hey John,

    Right on about Derek’s vocal quality slide guitar. Some of our most intense experiences of beauty come through a human connection (i.e. excellent vocal solos like Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”).

    My favorite DT solo right now is “Sweet Inspiration” off of Already Free. Wow – such an excellent groove and tasty solo. So fun to listen to – I can only imagine what it feels like to perform it!

    PS – Looking forward to getting your Blues Course and Standard Tuning Slide Course. Arriving in my mailbox next week!


  7. I couldn’t agree more. His playing is truly inspirational. I’ve read in a few places that Derek’s lack of movement on stage is attributed to a somewhat “spiritual” focus on his performance. I take this to mean that most if not all of his emotion is being channeled through the guitar, rather than into movement (that does not produce musical sound). So rather than making a “guitar face,” that emotion is translated into the music. I love that. Also–Just like growing up speaking a language leads to fluency without formally studying the language, Derek grew up playing slide–so he “speaks” it very naturally. In the recent issue of Guitar Player Magazine with Derek and Susan on the cover, Susan says Derek doesn’t practice–he develops musical ideas. I don’t suppose Stephen King does exercises with grammar either! Those of us learning slide later in life will have to study it very much like a second language. No easy way to achieve fluency! So–YES. Derek Trucks is FAN-TASTIC. My favorite of all times.

  8. I couldn’t agree more. I am impressed with your take on Trucks and that’s why I love his guitar playing so much. Good job!

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