Tedeschi Trucks Band becomes a backyard project for a couple of blues ringers

Tedeschi Trucks Band becomes a backyard project for a couple of blues ringers
July 21, 2011
By Scott Mervis
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Guitar ace Derek Trucks doesn't need to go looking for a singer any longer -- he's had one right in his bedroom.

And Susan Tedeschi doesn't need a guitar ringer ... actually, she never did, because she is one herself.

But put them together and you have the dynamic core of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which headlines the Pittsburgh Blues Festival on Saturday. Although they've been married for 10 years, the couple have been limited musically due to being on separate labels.

In the past, they've merged their bands under the banner of Soul Stew Revival, but it was never the ideal situation.

"This is more of band where it's not just Derek and I throwing together a couple people from each of our solo bands and doing some of our material from each of those bands and then a couple covers," she says. "That's what Soul Stew was -- a thrown-together fun project. This one, we've written everything, so we're really creating a sound. The other one was closer to like, I don't want to say a cover band, but we were covering our own stuff, and we just didn't really have to work that hard. This band is on such a higher level because this is like the All-Star/Olympic team."

The seed of this team goes back to 1999 when Ms. Tedeschi, a Boston native and a Berkelee School of Music grad who formed her own band in 1994, was touring as the opening act for the Allman Brothers Band. That was the year that Derek, teen guitar prodigy and nephew of longtime Allmans drummer Butch Trucks, became an official member.

"Derek had been with them for about a month, and I started touring with the Allman Brothers in mid-July of '99. That's when we really met and hung out, and I was with my band and he was with the Allman Brothers, so we weren't really playing together, but the Allman Brothers would have me sit in. I don't know if I remember our first solo gig sitting in, but it's always been amazing. He's one of those people who can just get up and sit in with anybody -- from B.B. King to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Any situation -- jazz, blues, gospel, rock, pop, anything."

The sparks between them went beyond musical, but, for the most part, they've kept their careers separate while raising two children, Charlie and Sophia, in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

Last year, they put their bands on hiatus and starting working on what would become the Tedeschi Trucks Band's debut, "Revelator." The home base was a studio right in their backyard where the Derek Trucks Band had recorded "Already Free." The couple kept inviting friends over, and the next thing they knew, it was an 11-piece band featuring Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers bassist) and his brother Kofi (Derek Trucks Band keyboardist), and drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell (Susan Tedeschi Band), plus a backup singer and a horn section.

They ended up writing between 30 and 40 songs, collaborating with such songwriters as Gary Louris (Jayhawks), Olivery Wood (the Wood Brothers), Eric Krasno (Soullive) and John Leventhal.

That's a lot of people in the backyard.

"I like it," Ms. Tedeschi says. "I'm from a big Italian family, so I cook for 20 people and take care of the kids and do dishes and laundry and go out and sing and play guitar and write."

Her husband was less likely to do all those things.

"Derek is a workaholic. He'll work around the clock. If we're working on a record, he'll be out there from 9 in the morning till 4 in the morning. But it's a nice balance being at home, 'cause then we can spend time with the kids. So we do have the family -- we can break away and go in the house and do domestic things."

Her soaring vocals and his swampy slide guitar are the centerpieces of "Revelator," which blends Delta blues and Memphis soul comfortably with rock and funk. She loved the way Derek and co-producer Jim Scott worked together.

"It's the first time I've ever had such a good experience in the studio. Usually it's difficult for me. Being a singer and guitar player, I can't usually do both things at the same time and do it with the band and have it actually count. A lot of times the singer will do a scratch vocal and then you go back and overdub later. The great thing about this record is Jim wanted us to record everything in a live setting. They ended up creating a large vocal booth where I could play and sing and still see the drummer and see Derek, so that was huge for me. I don't like feeling left out."

As tricky as it can be for two band leaders to suddenly share a band, imagine what it's like for parents of young kids to do it.

"It's something that we're learning, because we really haven't worked together a huge amount. We've sat in with each other on gigs and on each other's records, but we've never really had to focus and do a project together. This was really our first go at it, and it's going really well considering. We're both natural leaders, and Derek is really such a natural strong leader that it's easy for me to defer, because I just, if I have an idea I can bring it up and talk to him about it, but if not, if he has a vision of something. He's got very good taste and he's very smart and he's very focused and I trust him."

She admits that dissolving their other bands is "really weird" for some of the fans. "They're having a hard time, they're like 'What? I miss Derek's band,' 'I miss Susan's band.' The way Derek put it is, you think of people like Eric Clapton, who switched his career so many times, in the midst of greatness, too, like leaving a band like Cream, whenever he's a superstar and doesn't need to, but he keeps reinventing himself, because it's important [for people] to keep this music fresh and keep reinventing themselves."

She sees the 11-member Tedeschi Trucks Band as having lots of potential for reinvention.

"We can do a lot of things to break it down. We can play acoustic, we can play electric, we can play blues, we can play jazz, we can play world music. We really have a lot of variety in the setup, too. We don't have to have everyone on stage at one time -- we can break it down and do a trio. There's going to be so many possibilities in this band, we're sort of experimenting as we go. In the future, after we get this band established we can bring in the repertoire of both of our bands. Between the two of us, we would have such larger repertoire. Rather than doing the 40 songs we do, between the two of us, we have like 250 songs, so," she says with a laugh, "it could turn more into the Grateful Dead."

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