Star guitarists Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks -- and their nine band members -- gain momentum with electrifying live shows
By Andrew Luthringer
On New Year's Eve of 2010, the husband-and-wife team of blues queen Susan Tedeschi and slide-guitar wizard (and longtime Allman Brothers member) Derek Trucks took to the stage as part of a brand-new 11-piece band to debut their then-new album "Revelator." The energy and vibe that the ensemble created that night was so strong that it was immediately obvious that something special was happening.
Fast-forward 16 months, past a Grammy Award for Best Blues album, playing at the White House for President Barack Obama, sharing stages with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and B.B. King, and playing triumphant concerts across the world for tens of thousands of new fans, and it's clear that the Tedeschi Trucks Band has achieved a trajectory that would normally take years to achieve.
So powerful have the live shows become that it was a foregone conclusion that the band's second album would have to be a live album. The new album, "Everybody's Talkin'," is a high-energy journey through the wide variety of originals and carefully cultivated covers that the band performs at their shows, with a revved-up intensity hard to elicit in a studio setting. In a sense, releasing a two-CD live album is almost an old-school gesture, and the band's road-tested development is an approach that harkens back to the classic rock eras. But the group's seamless and multi-limbed dexterity at blending genres -- not only blues and rock, but also gospel, soul, jazz and even Indian raga -- belies a post-millennial orientation where the borders between genres have entirely melted away. It is, to borrow a Duke Ellington phrase, just "good music."
MSN Music: Your band has had an amazing year. Did you picture that things would move as quickly as they have?
Derek Trucks: You know, I had a really good feeling about it. I felt like if we did this project with the band we had together and if we did it right, it would get a full head of steam and the momentum would carry it. But, I don't think you ever imagine the type of year we've had so far [laughs]. There's been a lot of surprises along the way. I really believe in the band, and all the work the band is doing, so it feels right, but it also is a little bit surreal.
What was the impetus to start this band? Obviously you were both really busy with your own solo careers and side projects. Was it a "family" decision, so to speak?
Susan Tedeschi: It was something Derek and I have always thought about, and always hoped that we could play together, and the timing just finally seemed to come up. ... Derek was finally in a position where he didn't have five different projects going at once. I said, "OK, time to drop everything and do it!" [laughs]
Derek Trucks: I think ... when you start something like this from scratch, when you put two bands that are doing well on hold, there's the challenge aspect of it that's appealing. There's always going to be some headwind and blowback from fans who have gotten used to something. But every once in a while you just need to shed your skin and shift gears. I had my band on the road for 16 years straight, and we toured pretty relentlessly, so you do need to shake things up sometimes.
I imagine it might be a good way for you two to spend time together. Perhaps a nice blend of work life and family life?
Derek Trucks: We have the recording studio behind our house, and the time we spent putting this band together and making the record, for me, was the most time I've spent at home ... ever! [laughs] And, the most time the four of us were all together, Sue and both of our kids. So on a lot of levels, this band made sense.
More on Bing: Tedeschi Trucks Band
So now I guess you have two families.
Derek Trucks: [laughs] That's funny, because that's what we say when someone asks how many kids we have: "It's somewhere around 11 or 12" [laughs]. But we really do love it, and with this band, it really does feel very much like a family.
Where does this leave your respective solo work? Are there things that you would be exploring separately that are harder to fit into the joint context, or does this band really meet all your musical needs?
Derek Trucks: When we first put this group together, we made a conscious decision to not play material from our previous bands. We spent a good year and a half playing all new original material, and covers we hadn't played before. A couple of months ago, we talked, and decided, we've established this as something different, and it's time to go back to incorporating everything. So if there's tunes from our past that make sense for this band, we're not going to intentionally shy away from them. That brings it full circle. And with 11 people, it's hard to make sure that everyone gets to say their piece, but ... I guess the show just has to be longer! [laughs]
Susan Tedeschi: It's everybody having a say in it, and all of us agreeing that Derek is a great bandleader, so we really kind of put our trust in him in a lot of ways to find the best mix for everybody. Like you said, it is a big family, a big extended family on a lot of levels, and musically we're going to learn what everybody's strengths are and try to do music that represents that.
Let's talk about the new album, "Everybody's Talkin'." Did you know that you wanted to do a live album for your second recording?
Derek Trucks: Sue and I talked about it from the beginning, that the first record ["Revelator"] would be a "song-forward" record. I think everybody was expecting that for an 11-piece band, everything would be stretched out in a million directions, but we really wanted to present this band differently, thinking about people like Levon Helm and the Band -- let's present songs first, but knowing that the second record was going to be the yang to the yin. We thought it would probably be a live record, or maybe a really adventurous studio record. But once we hit the road, things just really started locking, and it became something where I really needed to document it.
It's a given that the state of the music business has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, with digital music and the collapse of CD sales. How do you see those changes affecting your future, and how you want to run your career?
Derek Trucks: I think we're really fortunate in a sense: We do have to survive in the "music business," but we have a fan base, and we've done it the old-fashioned way of hitting the road. You build an audience and it's legit, not here today and gone tomorrow. We don't live or die by record sales. Susan had a few records early on ("Just Won't Burn," "Wait for Me") that were extremely successful, kind of the tail end of when you could sell a lot of CDs, but we've always survived by touring, and touring hard, so when the model changes, it doesn't affect us all that much. I feel like this last record we did, "Revelator," if it had been 10 years ago, it probably would have been a gold record, but it just doesn't happen that way anymore. You have to be good at what you do to survive, and with a band like this band I'm not too worried about that. What happens on the stage is pretty undeniable.
I think you zeroed in on it. That's probably the element of the business that has changed the least: the live- performance piece.
Susan Tedeschi: This band just makes playing live so much fun for us. I think people just enjoy seeing a band that is having a good time. We don't really have a gimmick [laughs], and at the end of the day, we're not trying to make millions of dollars; we're trying to make music and make people happy and make ourselves happy. In the long run, you can have a successful career doing that if you're not trying to be famous and make a lot of money, which has never been our goal. That's why we'll survive at this, even with an 11-piece band, which is totally ridiculous in this economy [laughs].
Derek Trucks: In some sense, I think the 11-piece band ... that is our luxury! [laughs] We've been fortunate in our careers to build it up to this point, and instead of spending it on cars, women and drugs, we're spending it on 11-piece bands. [laughs]
When you're not traveling, you live in Jacksonville. Do you feel that the South is a particularly fertile place for the types of musical blends you favor, or that in some other way it affects your music?
Derek Trucks: I think it absolutely does seep into the music and the records we make. ... We're in the swamp, in the Deep South, and the pace is very different, and even the sounds in the backyard ... it does affect you.
But I think the point you hit on ... we were just in Memphis, which I think is the South kind of personified, in a pressure-cooker way. It's one of the first big Southern cities, and it has all the real-world problems and everything's right at the surface. There's everything you love about it [the South], all the music -- there's Phineas Newborn and B.B. King and Elvis and Al Green, all this great stuff. Then there's the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King was shot. All the good, all the bad ... I feel like being in the South, you're very much in it.
Susan Tedeschi: You get a dose of reality.
Derek Trucks: You realize what the real fights are. When I'm home for a while, I feel like the good vs. evil stuff is real obvious to me. It's really stark.
Susan Tedeschi: Especially politics and school systems ...
Derek Trucks: It keeps the flame lit for me. I feel like you're in a way fighting the good fight. To me, that's one of the things the Allman Brothers were able to accomplish. Coming out of a time of crazy social and racial unrest, and just blowing down those walls, having one of the first interracial rock bands coming out of the South ... It's an extension of that. I feel like it's better to stay put, to be here and try to balance the scales a little bit.
Andrew Luthringer has worked in the digital division of Warner Music Group, and during the ringtone craze as a music editor at T-Mobile . He has been an editorial presence at MSN Music off and on since 2001. He has written and produced numerous reviews and interviews with such artists as Alicia Keys, Mick Jagger, Michael Brecker, Stevie Nicks, Hilary Hahn and many others.