Tedeschi Trucks is a band from Florida, an outfit big on quality with a huge global fan-base and a tortuous and tiring touring schedule that keeps them on the road for much of the year. Led by husband and wife team, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, they have picked up numerous accolades and international awards while always rooted in the blues tradition. Now, with a new album on the horizon, ‘Signs,’ due to drop in February, they will be hitting Europe in April.
Words: Iain Patience
Susan Tedeschi is that rare thing, a female blues-cum-rock’nroll artist with a life-long history of music performance and involvement. Speaking to her on the eve of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest release, ‘Signs’, she is open, laid-back but positively focused on the coming year ahead, with gigs already booked for around nine-months ahead, and a twin-night London Palladium set already sold-out, a gig she is particularly looking forward to: ‘I’m just so excited to be playing the Palladium in London. And both nights are already sold-out, I believe. It’s great to have multiple nights in London. The band loves a theatre setting, one that’s big enough to hold us but small enough to have a real connection with the audience,’ she confirms.
Of course, Tedeschi is part of a greater whole, with her husband Derek Trucks and a full throat, twelve-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band roaring and rolling alongside. When asked about the challenges touring with such an expansive outfit must inevitably bring, she is quick to confirm that it can be: ‘…..tricky at times. But we all get on so well, we’re good friends. It’s essential to be like that. We’re on the road together for most of the year, so there will always be moments but overall it works real well. It’s important to let everybody have their own time and moments with the band. In effect, we are a three-section band with a three-piece vocal section, the guitars, drums and bass, and a three-piece horn section. It all comes together and everybody does their part and must have the space too.’
Often likened to either Janis Joplin or Bonnie Raitt, Tedeschi herself agrees that both are huge influences in her own musical evolution while husband, Derek, brings his own stamp and input to everything they do together. So, I suggest gently, does the husband and wife thing create tensions or friction when on the road so much?
‘Yea, of course. It’s naturally difficult at times but I really believe it works best for us both. It means we’re together more than many others and we always manage to work out any differences! We have our good days and our bad days but generally it feels better, much better when we’re together more. When you’re a band and apart, well sometimes that makes things just that much more difficult, it can put a strain on some relationships. We are happy together. Derek’s mother comes in and helps with the kids when we’re out on the road, and his brother lives just down the road, so he also helps out. Though we will be taking them both out with us later this year, during school vacation, one’s a freshman and the other is now in high-school, on tour in Japan and the USA.’
Back in 2010 Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi merged their respective bands and Tedeschi reckons that could have been a tricky transition and time but as they had both been working together in the soul-end of the business, with the Soul-Stew Revival, it was surprisingly and refreshingly easy as a process: ‘In reality, it was simple. I had been working with a five-piece band and Derek with either a three or four-piece. When we merged, apart from us both, we only had to bring in three players from other bands. Then in around 2008 we added the horns. I love the horn section. Now, we are a twelve-piece and have that full sound that means we can cross genres easily. I’m not just a blues player, we can pull in jazz, soul, rock, country, whatever we like. We all work together, writing, bringing bits of the puzzle together. I just think I’m blessed to be able to do this, to be making music and playing with these great people, this great band.’
Tedeschi adds that the writing process is a prime example of this approach, where each band-member can bring something to the table: ‘We get together and everybody will be writing something, so we jam around and pick up the pieces, see where it all leads us. On the new album, Signs, we came together and Tim had a bass-line that we worked on. We had no words but Derek put more on it and sent it to our old friend, Warren Haynes, who put the lyric together. At other times, I might have a song or Derek might have one we can use. This is our first release in three years and Derek did the production work on it. He loves to be involved in everything. He writes, he plays and he produces. It’s all great and he enjoys it all.’
One other major benefit, which she confirms features as a result of this process is that with such a large band, the creativity is remarkable: ‘We have such a lot to draw on and from. We have the creativity of twelve musicians and we have the diversity, that all comes into the recording. With some bands there can be a sort of ‘samey’ feel. I think we avoid that because we have so much there, we all come together but from different angles. The horn section does its own arrangements, for example, and Cofey, our keyboard genius, does the guitar arrangements for us. It just all works so well.’
By diversity, Tedeschi goes on to explain how important this is personally to her: ‘We have true diversity, I don’t just mean that we have men and women – we have different races, religions, a whole range of differences that just come together and give us quite an edge.’
Turning again to the new album, Tedeschi is clearly particularly pleased to have a father and daughter pairing playing on the recording: ‘We have four string players from the local Jacksonville Orchestra on it. They were great. They just turned up, could sight read it all; and we even had this father/daughter pair which gives it a nice family element.’
In the past, she says, the band has been tempted to maybe deliver a Live album when they’re sort-of between projects, possibly while they’re all still working on a batch of new songs, planning ahead for another release. Now, however, she feels that approach and attack may have had its day, believing that the way everybody pulls together, bringing their own takes, touches, inspiration and creativity and writing to the table, means this is no longer needed or necessary. She prefers to work on the basis of less is more and quality over quantity.
Looking back over her long career, Tedeschi, who started out as a six-year-old, has worked countless musical genres but always comes back to soul and blues. Blues music is always at the heart of everything she does, as she says: ‘Blues music is always there, it just is. It is always soulful, that gospel-blues music is the corner-stone of it all, all the genres.’
Over the years, Tedeschi has been either nominated or won numerous international music awards, including a Grammy back in 2012 for the Tedeschi Trucks album, ‘Revelator’. In addition the Americana music awards and Blues awards have also given recognition to a genuinely inspiring career and her dedication to the music she so clearly loves. With the latest offering, ‘Signs’, being a genuine tour-de-force in many ways, it would come as no surprise to find it as either a contender or winner in this year’s awards circus. Tedeschi, laughs at the suggestion but is also evidently pleased with the possibility: ‘Who knows, who can tell. We’ll just wait and see what happens. I’m just so glad I get to play music like we do. To travel the world, doing what I love most. I don’t get caught up in the awards thing, worrying about it. At the end of the day it’s always good to have the acknowledgment of our peers but at the end it’s just us doing our job, working, producing great music (I hope) and it’s all been great. It’s a real blessing to do it.’
Website Tedeschi Trucks Band