Q&A: Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band
Founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi after setting aside their successful solo careers and joining forces, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has quickly migrated to the top of the Jam Band genre while generating material that crosses over to blues and classic-rock fans.
From the moment Trucks and Tedeschi first met during a 1999 Allman Brothers tour (when Tedeschi opened and Trucks was in his first year as co-lead guitarist), the personal and musical chemistry between the two was clear. Heavily steeped in the blues tradition, both share influences ranging from rock and gospel to jazz and world music.
The couple married in 2001 and began a family in Trucks's hometown of Jacksonville, FL, while also continuing to develop their own musical styles and solo careers.
The two have guested on each other's albums, toured together intermittently, and even found themselves nominated in 1999 for Grammy awards in the same category with their individual bands.
But by early 2010, with two children in grade school and both of their careers in full swing, they decided to put their individual musical projects on hold and devote themselves to a new joint ensemble. Their 2011 debut, "Revelator," earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album and helped them dominate the Blues Music Awards with four trophies, including Band and Album of the Year honors.
Their second album, "Everybody's Talkin'" was released this past May. The double live disc recorded on the band's fall tour last year includes performances of songs on "Revelator," as well as covers of rock, R&B and gospel classics.
Tedeschi Trucks Band remains a true musical collective featuring Mike Mattison (lead singer with The Derek Trucks Band) and Mark Rivers; brothers Oteil Burbridge (longtime bassist with The Allman Brothers Band) and Kofi Burbridge (keyboardist/flutist with The Derek Trucks Band); drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell; and a horn section with trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams and trombonist Saunders Sermons.
In concert, the ensemble is a powerhouse. Manipulating subtle tones and dynamics, TTB can turn on a dime, ratcheting back to make room for a blistering lick from Trucks' Gibson SG, only to crescendo to a joyous noise that pitches audiences into fits of applause.
Tedeschi shares the spotlight without dominating it, trading tasty guitar licks on her Robin's Egg Blue Telecaster and covering the lion's share of vocal work with a bluesy style that is reminiscent of both Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt.
Tedeschi took a few minutes recently to chat with SoundSpike, touching on subjects including how she and her husband collaborate musically, and about developing their home-based recording studio in Florida.
SoundSpike: As a guitar player yourself, how do you approach expressing ideas you have about guitar parts in the songs you write to Derek? Do you guys actually teach each other material, or are you one of those couples who finishes each others' musical sentences?
Susan Tedeschi: [laughing] We do both of those things. But actually when it comes to the guitar parts for this band, I like to sit down with Derek and have him show me guitar parts that he likes and that compliment him. I mean, when it comes down to guitar, it should really be more about him. I want to improve all the time, and I feel like a student when I'm working with him. So I try and see what I can do, and how I can be part of the song musically. I don't want to be in the way, so I'm always trying to learn rhythm parts that make sense, or [taking] suggestions about what he wants me to play. I like it when he teaches me what he wants me to do. When we're writing a song, I might have a guitar riff or something, but more often he'll have a few guitar ideas he comes up with right away. Different songs call for different things -- sometimes we'll come up with different parts and then when we get together we talk about it. But usually we experiment a little bit, communicate our ideas and just support each other.
As solo artists you both play slide guitar, and obviously Derek takes that to another level. But has he influenced or taught you any tricks or tips to enhance your slide playing?
It's an interesting question. When Derek and I started dating I played a little slide, and I did growing up. But after we got married, I really stopped playing slide. I still play lead, but I play in standard tuning and Derek plays in open E tuning, so that would make it hard because the formation of the chords are so different. I use a pick and he uses his fingers, although I have started using my fingers more depending on the song for volume and dynamics, and for solos. I have incorporated more of playing with my hand since I started playing with him, and I'd love to learn more technique lessons from him on slide someday. But right now we're so busy that I'm concentrating on the vocals first, then the guitar parts are secondary, then whatever I can do to add to the material -- that is what comes next.
"Everybody's Talkin'" dips into the blues, rock, R&B, gospel and even world music, so are you both turning to other genres yet unexplored by TTB like folk, country or Latin influences?
For sure. We do cover a lot of genres of music -- we have some straight ahead jazz, we have some original music that might be more reminiscent of Derek's band, and music that I would do that might be more folk, country or gospel. We have a lot of common ground between us, and we like to explore it and try different things. Our band is so diverse that we can do that exploring all those different kinds of music. And sky's the limit when we are writing. I think we're going to go from rock to folky, and others that are funky -- kind of New Orleans style. We have a lot of different places we can go with this band, and we also go with the songs that are the strongest out of the writing. I don't think of us as genre specific, I say let's try it all and see what works.
Does the songwriting veer into certain genres or explore certain roots because it's where the creative process takes you, or do you consciously set out to try and fit a melody line or a snippet of verse to a gospel feel versus a blues feel?
We do that sometimes, sure. But if you write a great song, you can mix it up. You can make it anything -- reggae, gospel, funk. It all comes down to the song. This band is very organic, so things start very naturally and very simply and grow from there.
You've played with virtually all the greats in the business, from B.B. King to Eric Clapton to Buddy Guy, but if there were one or two unsung or too new to be known players of any genre out there you've personally worked with who deserve a listen, who would they be?
I'm a huge fan of the Wood Brothers, and other people have never heard of them. Chris is in Medeski, Martin & Wood, while Oliver the older brother -- Derek and I have both known for some time. He's such a talented singer/songwriter, his songs are so incredible, he just pours them out like they are nothing for him. I love everything he does and I wish he would get a lot of favor and fame; he is just one of my favorites. There are so many artists, though. We have a friend Kristina Train who is really talented, a great singer who plays violin. She recently moved to London so she's over there working now.
Almost everybody I interview who has a home-based recording studio has some little aspect of that studio that is special to them. Something that makes it more homey, or more cozy,. Are there any little aspects of your home studio, or any little accessories that really make it a special place to make music?
We just added a vocal booth for me, which makes my job and my life a lot more comfortable because I can create music along with everybody else and make eye contact. In a lot of studios, you have to go in and make what's called a scratch vocal, and then you go back in and redo it. It's great to be able to use the stuff I sing on the first take. A lot of times the drums follow what I'm doing vocally, so it's really important to have that option. And the studio is really homey with a bunch of tapestries, and I have an Art Deco stool --kind of like a bar stool with a back on it, but it's nice and high so I can see everybody while I play guitar and sing. It's really nice.
The current TTB US tour continues into January with a trio of shows recently announced in Florida. The band is heading Down-Under in early 2013 as well, playing Melbourne on March 26, and a March 29 set at the Byron Bay Blues Festival.
27-28 - Genside, PA - Keswick Theatre
29 - Boston, MA - House of Blues
30 - Harrisburg, PA - The Forum
2 - Albany, NY - Palace Theatre
18 - Fort Myers, FL - Centennial Park (Sunshine Blues Festival)
19 - Boca Raton, FL Mizner Park Amphitheater (Sunshine Blues Festival)
20 - St. Petersburg, FL - Vinoy Park (Sunshine Blues Festival)
26 - Melbourn, Australia - Hamer Hall
28-29 - Byron Bay, Australia - Byron Bay Bluesfest
31 - Sydney, Australia - Enmore Theatre