Rock 'n' roll love story: Trucks and Tedeschi

Rock 'n' roll love story: Trucks and Tedeschi
May 9, 2011
Wilton Villager

When guitar hero Derek Trucks and blues belter Susan Tedeschi, who married in 2001, decided to turn their personal partnership into a professional one, they had to get over a lot of hurdles. But the Tedeschi Trucks Band's debut album, "Revelator" (out June 7 on Sony Masterworks), is the realization of a longtime dream for both the artists and their label.

Trucks and Tedeschi have been busy making their separate names as rootsy road warriors since the '90s, he as the boy genius ax-slinger with the Allman Brothers Band and leader of the Derek Trucks Band, and she as a solo artist blending blues with soul, rock and folk flavors like a next generation Bonnie Raitt. "We met on the road the first year I was in the Allman Brothers, which was 1999," Trucks recalls.

Since then, they've built their careers separately -- Trucks on Sony Legacy and Tedeschi on Verve, garnering multiple Grammy Award nominations between them. (One can only wonder what the ride home from the 2010 Grammys was like after Trucks beat out his wife for best contemporary blues album.)

It took more than a decade for the couple to take the next musical step together. "We'd been thinking about a band together for a long time," Trucks says. "But she had her career in full swing and I was so busy between my solo group and the Allmans . . . it never seemed like the right time."

They first tested the waters a couple of years ago, performing together with an informal aggregation called Soul Stew Revival, which Trucks characterizes as the couple's "summer vacation band." But Tedeschi says there were business complications in the way of a full-time project as well: "We were both signed on different major labels, and that whole dynamic is difficult. Even though we're married and could have kids together, we couldn't make records together."

Fortunately, the couple's cause had a passionate champion in Sony Masterworks senior VP Alex Miller. "This project, I have to say unabashedly, is the fulfillment of a personal dream (of) seeing the two of them work together," he says.

Given the chance to bring his dream to life, Miller wasted little time. "The Derek Trucks Band started their career with Columbia Legacy," he says, "When it came time to renew his contract with (Sony), I signed him to Masterworks. Susan's deal had expired at Universal. I was able to work with them in putting this new record together and creating a new band."

A shift in management completed the perfect-storm scenario for the project. Blake Budney of Milestone Music Management, who started out as Trucks' tour manager in 1996 and has been overseeing his career since 1998, says, "In the past I worked in conjunction with (Tedeschi's) management company, which at the time was Macklam Feldman Management. She parted ways with them last year, so I took over. Now I manage them both individually, and I also manage this project. It makes things easier."

Tedeschi adds that the couple's children -- Charlie, 9, and Sophia, 6 -- figured heavily into the logistics. "We've been so busy raising kids, and now that they're 9 and almost 7, this is a better opportunity to go out (on tour) together, whereas we used to have to take turns." And when the kids aren't in school, their parents bring them along on the road, with Trucks' mother helping out as backstage nanny.

After giving their respective road bands the news that they were closing up shop to start something new, Tedeschi and Trucks began carefully crafting a fresh approach. But they still enlisted a few old friends when assembling their new ensemble, including keyboardist Kofi Burbridge and vocalist Mike Mattison, both from the Derek Trucks Band; Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge (Kofi's brother); and Tedeschi's drummer Tyler Greenwell. With a lineup that includes three horn players, two drummers and two background singers, the Tedeschi Trucks Band ultimately turned into an 11-piece outfit, freely mixing rock, funk, blues, world music and more.

In addition to its eclectic musical color scheme, "Revelator" boasts a greater focus on concise, song-based tracks. Plenty of sparks still fly from Trucks' guitar, but this is a far cry from the freewheeling, guitar-centric outings of his old band. Miller recalls this development as an organic process.

"The challenge was 'What is the Tedeschi Trucks Band? Is it a jam-blues band?' We pushed (the band) a little bit, they pushed us a little bit," he says. "What I did not expect was to hear demos that, when my wife walked into my home six months ago, I turned around and I was crying (while listening). She said, 'What's wrong?' I said, 'It doesn't happen often that one's dreams are realized.' "

Miller's not merely speaking as a hopeful admirer -- he has stats to back up his belief in the band's potential to reach bigger audiences. One anecdote in particular speaks volumes.

"We created a new website on March 17," he recalls. "To spur more fan activity, we offered a free download as a sneak peek to the album: 'Bound for Glory.' " On March 20, Miller received a phone call that radio stations, largely in the triple A format, had signed up to the website to get the download and were beginning to broadcast the MP3. "Here was an indicator that part of the Susan and Derek fan base are folks in media," he says. "Without making a single phone call or having any radio promoters encouraging the airplay of 'Bound for Glory,' the following two weeks it became one of the top-added songs at triple A radio."

The audiences that Tedeschi and Trucks have each built on their own make a powerful foundation for the kind of expansion both Miller and the band have in mind. "Derek's been out on the road for the last 16 years," Miller says, and Tedeschi has a similar history. "When you put their fan bases together . . . it's not a surprise that the kind of venues they'll be playing move from 700- to 1,000-seaters to 2,000, and I think the biggest show coming up is somewhere near a 7,000-seater."

The uniqueness of the couple's story isn't lost on those entrusted with spreading the gospel of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. "I think there's some human interest: Married couple on the road with kids, juggling their own careers, deciding to combine together," manager Budney says. And it's a story he fully intends to push to the forefront. "Outlets like 'CBS Sunday Morning' that lean human interest when they're doing a music story, I think (Tedeschi and Trucks) fit that profile," he says.

"It cuts both ways," Trucks says of the couple's musical/personal dynamic. "I think the musical relationship enhances our personal relationship too. Once we had kids, there's just a completely different level of the connection you have, and it's kind of that way with a band. I think it brings you even closer."

Miller adds, "Traveling out on the road, and trying to keep family and life together -- this merge is the greatest love story in rock'n'roll."
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