nly a select few groups in music history have ever been assembled like the Tedeschi-Trucks Band (TTB).Led by husband and wife team, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, TTB features the first ‘star’ power couple to play along side each other in the same band since Country Music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash or 70’s songsters, Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett. While those musical marriages were a bit weighted toward the men, TTB’s spotlight shines far more evenly. Thus, TTB follows no proven formula in their new take on the classic rock sound. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Susan Tedeschi, serves uniquely as a female front for TTB. Her amazingly soulful voice and bluesy guitar chops perfectly complement the incredibly inventive slide guitar sounds produced by her husband, the virtuoso lead guitarist, Derek Trucks. Together they are the center of an 11-piece power laden band comprised of dual drummers, back-up singers, rhythm and horn sections.
The variety of instruments and amount of talented musicians amassed in TTB allows the band to go from gospel to jazz to soul and even funk, all seamlessly in a classic blues-rock framework while staying true to their 70’s styled southern roots. Understandably it took a literal marriage of two rock stars in their own right to begat a group with such ability. If Bonnie Rait had ever fronted the Allman Brother’s Band in their prime, the comparison to TTB would only begin to describe their potential. TTB’s All-Star ensemble of musicians was formed from the couple’s former band-mates in the ashes of both Tedeschi and Trucks’ solo projects that they had each independently and successfully led for over a decade. Married since 2001, the couple commented about the change in a recent interview. Tedeschi said, “It wasn’t easy. There are people whose lives were affected with this change from band mates to tech crews etc. We wanted to try to do what’s right for us and still take care of all the good people that work with us too and some how make sure they are all ok. Making a move that’s best for our family is important but our band is an extension of that family.” Trucks continued, “Most people we work with accepted it well. They could tell the way our lives were changing as our children (2) were born and also the way our bands were evolving musically that something had to give soon.” Trucks said, “However, we both had established successful projects with loyal fans, so changing the script was not without taking a chance. We knew we would ruffle some feathers but we were taking a leap of faith that we were forming something greater and enough people would still appreciate it to give it life.” Trucks summarized. “But that’s what music’s about. I believe you aren’t really trying to grow unless you ruffle a few feathers and take some chances.”
The chance paid off immediately. Officially joining musical forces in 2011, the 1-2 combo punch of Tedeschi and Trucks has made TTB an instant success. In a whirlwind year plus since the band’s formation, accomplishments and accolades just continue to pile up. Their first tour saw sold out shows worldwide. Their debut album, Revelator, earned a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. And Tedeschi and Trucks were invited to perform at the White House with Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and even, President Barack Obama himself (singing a verse of “Sweet Home Chicago”). Trucks has said,
ooking back a little first, Tedeschi and Trucks met in 1999 when Tedeschi’s band was on tour opening for the Allman Brothers. They were married in 2001 and now have two children. Separate bands and tours made challenges for family time as their individual stars rose. Tedeschi’s band began headlining more tours annually and by 2008 Trucks was splitting time between fronting his own Derek Trucks Band and joining Eric Clapton’s touring band, while still maintaining a full-time membership in the Allman Brothers Band. Their schedule was getting crazy. Finding a way to work together simply seemed like a good way to keep the family together. Collaboration as a couple had worked sporadically over the years. Their solo bands toured on the same bill occasionally. They appeared on each other’s recordings, including her CD, Back to the River and his, Already Free, which actually competed for the Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy Award in 2010 (Already Free won). And they played some live shows together for the Soul Stew Revival. Forming a full-time combination of both bands would give the couple the opportunity to work together, record together, tour together and take time off together. The idea simply made sense. In the couple’s recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Trucks said, “The family that plays together will stay together. I’ve been on the road with this generation of rock bands from the late ’60s and early ’70s and it really hit me that there are a lot of broken families from that era. (I felt) that if I ever had kids, that wasn’t gonna be the way it was gonna go down.” Tedeschi added it’s not only family reasons for TTB’s formation, “We turn each other on musically as well. In the middle of playing together, we influence each other. He’ll play a lick or I’ll sing a lick, and we’ll copy each other.
But (it never grew because) I was off doing my own thing, and he was doing his own thing.” Tedeschi had told the NY Times, “Once we started having kids, the biggest problem that I had, career-wise, was finding time to play music and write music when I’m not onstage because I’m a Mom from 6 or 7 in the morning up until a few minutes before I go on sometimes. So there’s really no break.” Tedeschi said, “Now I feel like we are finally free to be together (as a family and musically).” To further that endeavor the couple built a backyard studio in their Jacksonville, Florida home to be able to record their first album as a couple. Trucks said, “Building the studio is something I wanted to do for a long time. And we felt we wanted to dive into this project full tilt with no looking back or safety net.” A Grammy for the first album out of the family studio was in Trucks words, “A pretty good start and actually extra special because we were up against Gregg (Allman) and Warren (Haynes) from the Allmans who had both put out wonderful solo records the same year.”
was a child prodigy on the slide-guitar. His Uncle, Butch Trucks, is a drummer and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. As a youth, it didn’t take long for anyone to notice his burgeoning talent. By age 10, Derek first played with the Allmans, sharing the stage with his Uncle Butch and trading slide licks with Dickey Betts. During his teens he was invited repeatedly to share the stage with more legends like: Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker. His talent was undeniable and as his musicality grew, he would go on to front his own successful solo project, the Derek Trucks band, earning a reputation for extensive electric jams. He then toured with Eric Clapton who used his services as a recording session guitarist as well. So would other star artists like Carlos Santana and Stephen Stills and even jazz greats like McCoy Tyner and both Wynton and Bradford Marsalis.
In 1999 at age 20, he was invited to join as a full-fledged member of the Allman Brothers Band. It seemed like destiny as Derek not only musically but also physically evokes the spirit of Duane Allman, whose parts he would play in ABB.Derek was even named for Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes – Layla album that had put Duane Allman on the map. After 10 years of service in ABB he recently earned a lifetime Grammy with the group. Trucks said, “I was truly honored and overjoyed they decided to give an award to the new guys too!
Trucks style while rooted in blues-rock, expands to acid jazz improvisations laced with Indian influence and sonic speed solos while still making every note count. He is the leader of a recent slide guitar emergence of top musical talents like Sonny Landreth and Luther Dickinson who are committed to the style more heavily than ever since maybe the days of Muddy Waters and Elmore James.
Trucks is also the youngest guitarist ever listed on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top-100 All-Time Greatest Guitarists and currently sits at number 16. The child prodigy has surely fulfilled his destiny, becoming as described by the Wall Street Journal, “The most awe-inspiring slide guitarist playing today.” However, it maybe only be now in TTB that the 33 year old is truly hitting his prime as a player.
Trucks explained in recent interview with the Columbus Dispatch, that he missed the element of music that let him be most creative. “My solo group, I started it at 14 years old, and it just was this runaway train and you’re just kind of in it,” Trucks said. “I don’t remember a starting point. “The Allman Brothers — obviously the musicianship there is a high level, but there’s a certain playbook. It’s a band that’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a band that’s put out some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll records. It’s like that sound is set. I’ve always wanted to try to put a band together — a bigger band, and from scratch.” Trucks said he now felt free to attempt “Not playing the tunes that you had played for years, and not relying on things you know were going to work and really try to create something fresh and new.”
Tedeschi Loves the TTB creativity aspect as well. “There are times when I’ll leave the stage, or the horns might leave the stage and it will just be a trio or a quartet out there, with Derek, Oteil and maybe J.J. doing their thing. Then slowly the others will start coming up and adding on to the music. Every show is exciting but it’s not always 11 pieces blaring at you. There’s always a different mix of stuff and there’s so much going on.” Tedeschi says on their website that one measure of the unusual level of musical camaraderie is the band’s shared comfort.
“A lot of us are used to being bandleaders and having a lot of pressure on us. Derek, Mike, Kebbi, J.J. and I have all done that. With TTB, nobody feels they’re the one that has to make it all happen, and can actually relax a little and have more confidence in what they’re doing — everyone has everyone else’s back.” Tedeschi continues, “See, to me the great thing about this band is that there are really four singers in this band. I sing, Mark Rivers is a fabulous singer and then Saunders Sermons, our trombone player, is amazing too.” Trucks adds “And Mike Mattison! Two hours into the show he’ll finally sing a song full on, and the crowd is like, “Wooah! – Where did he come from?” It’s that build up (that makes it great), you know?”
was a 4-time Grammy nominee before her first Grammy win in 2012 as co-leader of TTB.. She had earned Grammy nomination nods for her own 1998 debut album, “Just Won’t Burn” and follow up, “Wait for Me” as well nominations on her first major label deal with Verve/Forecast, “Hope and Desire” in 2005 and “Back to the River” in 2008.
A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Tedeschi toured through the 2000’s fronting her own Susan Tedeschi band and shared stages or opened for Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy and John Mellencamp. In addition to Tedeschi’s astounding vocal talents, her own inspiring guitar chops earned her a spot on the Experience Hendrix tour of all-star guitarists. She has since been invited to collaborate with Willie Nelson, the Dead and B.B. King. It’s no wonder Tedeschi caught Mr. Trucks eye and ear. He has been quoted many times saying, “I knew I’d never fall for a woman unless she shared the same musical tastes as me. When I met Susan, I finally found someone who could relate to my record collection. Ranging from John Coltrane to Muddy Waters to Mahalia Jackson and Howlin’ Wolf and more, I used to joke it was a long and impossible list. When Susan came along….. I knew I was ensnared would end up getting married.”
The couple’s shared love of 70’s styled classic rock bands like Derek and the Dominoes or Bonnie and Delaney can’t be missed as an influence in TTB. It can seem TTB missed it’s time of the 70’s while yet they are also more progressive today than most any other band of the genre. Trucks commented on holding the torch of seventies classic rock influence and being called the Delaney and Bonnie of the new millennium. “It is not an unfair comparison exactly, or Mad Dogs and Englishmen, you know, one of those over the top touring groups having multiple great singers and a horn section etc. I don’t think those things have really been done in a while and I think it’s time for it.” Trucks also said, “TTB is straddling the past and future. We don’t get to choose when we’re put here but we do get to choose what we do when we are here.”
One can get a feel for it on the band’s live CD Everybody’s Talkin’ which features versions of tunes from Revelator that are already crowd favorites like: “Bound For Glory,” “Love Has Something Else To Say,” and “Learn How To Love” with a notch higher intensity than the studio original. There are also the Indian /Reggae influenced “Swamp Raga” and Allman homage “Little Martha” on slide-guitar that set the stage for “Midnight in Harlem.” As the TTB website mentions, “Other songs portray the group’s abiding affection for a truly wide range of soulful and gritty forebears, including Stevie Wonder (“Uptight”), Elmore James (“Rollin’ And Tumblin’”), Bill Withers (“Kissing My Love”), John Sebastian (“Darling Be Home Soon”), Bobby Bland (“That Did It”), Harry Nilsson (“Everybody’s Talkin’”) and the Staple Singers (“Wade In The Water”).
On the studio versus live, the couple told Guitar Player magazine, “We have great players in this band, and everyone gets a chance to shine on this recording without straying from the focus of the album. It’s all about serving the song, supporting what Susan’s doing and building the whole sound up into something bigger than our own individual input.” Trucks said. “I actually focused on my solos more on this record than previous albums because the solos had to live up to the tune and really count. When we play live, we definitely cut loose and expand further. And that’s what is great about having a lineup this strong. You’re able start letting the songs develop on the road and take on a life of their own.”
Tedeschi added, “We feed off each other on-stage and I think people respond to that, so they’re not so worried about who is taking solos and when they are taking them. We’re a family unit – the whole band is, really – so it’s all about supporting one another and making sure your contributions are helping the whole group sound better.” Trucks said that camaraderie goes for off stage too, “We had two buses, the kids’ bus and the debauchery bus, ha-ha. They had the crayons out and the coloring books on one bus. And the music and Champagne on the other one.” Tedeschi summarized, “Who knows what the future holds, but for now we are definitely happy with our situation. We do have more control over things since our careers are now linked. Our downtime is spent together too, which was one of the driving forces behind the new group. We have a rule about how much we will work, so that we’re not away from our kids for too long. Playing shows is great, but so is being at home for your son’s little league games. It’s all about finding that balance, and right now we’ve found it and are enjoying it.”
TTB upcoming 2nd album being mixed for release on August 20, is tentatively called Made Up Mind, it seems Tedeschi and Trucks have made up their mind on how to run a successful rock and roll marriage. Photos and Story by: Michael Vechesky
The following links were used to research and compile interviews for this story: