United in marriage and music, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks lead the sprawling, improvising, steeped-in-roots music Tedeschi Trucks Band. The twelve-piece group includes a three-piece horn section and trio of backup vocalists. And reflecting the 15 years Trucks spent in the Allman Brothers Band alongside his late uncle, Butch Trucks, the Tedeschi-Trucks road show features two drummer-percussionists.
Despite the overhead that comes with such a large ensemble, the Tedeschi Trucks Band plays as many as 200 shows a year. In 2019, the group’s multi-night stands at classic theaters will include January 28 and 29 dates at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans.
The Saenger is a special place for Tedeschi and Trucks. They met there in 1999, when Tedeschi was touring as the Allman Brothers Band’s opening act. The couple married two years later.
The Boston-born Tedeschi is a blues, soul and gospel-inspired singer-guitarist and songwriter. Derek Trucks, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, is a brilliant slide guitarist in the tradition of his hero, Duane Allman. In 2010, they both relinquished their solo careers to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They’ve since toured the world, built their growing audience and won a Grammy for their 2011 album debut, Revelator. The band’s sixth album is scheduled for release in early 2019.
With nearly 200 songs in its repertoire, the group’s concerts feature full-dress interpretations of rock, blues, soul, country and jazz classics and original compositions inspired by all of the above.
Trucks spoke to OffBeat recently from the couple’s home in Jacksonville.
You met Susan at the Saenger Theatre in 1999?
She was on tour with the Allman Brothers, which I’d just joined. We were out on the road together for a few months. Almost 20 years later, here we are with a band and two kids.
You and Susan just hit it off?
We became friends first. After we were on the road together, we stayed in touch. Then we moved in together, we had kids together, we bought a house together. Sometimes when you meet somebody, you just know.
But you didn’t put the Tedeschi Trucks Band together until much later.
We probably had the notion early on, but we were both deep in our solo careers. And you want to make sure that you’re ready to be in a band together. You don’t want that to ruin what you have outside of music.
In 2019, you’re playing a four-night residency in Chicago, two nights in New Orleans, three nights in Nashville and four nights Washington, D.C. Does the band especially enjoy these multi-night stands?
We like setting up shop. But it’s work, digging deep and playing as many tunes as we can. The arc of the shows gets stronger as we go. Some of our best stuff on stage happens during these multi-night stands.
You’ll spend a few days in New Orleans when you play at the Saenger Theatre.
We have a lot of friends in New Orleans. It’s nice to reconnect with them and get a good meal. When you’re in New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, a few of them, you can plan your days off around a good meal. The whole band enjoys that.
Have you considered playing one night at arenas rather than multiple nights in theaters?
There’s been thought about moving up to bigger rooms. But a lot of times we see familiar faces night-to-night. 10,000 tickets don’t always mean 10,000 different people. And this band in a two-, three-thousand seat theater, there’s something magical about that.
Will the Tedeschi Trucks Band play 200 shows in 2019?
When you release a record, you have to tour behind it. And with a 12-piece band, you’ve got to work to keep the band going and healthy.
Will 2019 be an album year for you?
The album is finished. I’m excited to get this one out there. It’s been a long, crazy few years for the whole planet—definitely for our circle, too; a lot of ups and downs and loss. All that was in the air when we were writing and making the record.
This album feels different to me on a lot of levels. We did everything on two-inch tape. It’s a slower process when you’re doing all analog with a 12-piece band. You’ve got to mean it. You’ve got to commit. In the end, we captured something with the sound and the spirit of it.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band could play only your original music on stage, but you perform many classics that stretch over multiple genres. Why do you interpret so much music?
Part of the tradition of the music that we play is honoring where we got it from. The Allman Brothers were playing Blind Willie McTell, McKinley Morganfield [Muddy Waters] and Bobby “Blue” Bland tunes. We could take blues tunes and rewrite them and put our name on it, but it’s better to just play a Son House tune. And then when we write our own tunes, they usually occupy their own space. Musicians are always borrowing things and being influenced by things, but it’s important to nod to where they came from.
George Harrison’s Indian music–based “Within You Without You” is one of the non-original songs in the band’s repertoire. That’s not a widely performed song.
The more I listen to the Beatles’ catalog, the more I’m drawn to the Harrison tunes. They’re gorgeous melodies. His song ‘Something,’ the changes are simple but they’re so right. And that opens me up when I write. Sometimes learning a song written by a great songwriter unlocks a door for you.
You could work as a five-piece band or even a four-piece. Why do you tour with such a large group?
There’s just something to the feel and the sound of a big, powerful group like this. It is a hard thing to do, but people appreciate it. We decided to give it a go after seeing the Mad Dogs & Englishmen documentary. We were thinking about Delaney & Bonnie and the Allman Brothers ethos. Those were the seeds of it. There has been turnover over in our band through the years, but it’s been minimal. As long as the spirit’s intact and the core’s intact, it’s in a good place.
And now it’s been working for eight years.
It’s an amazing run. And it’s brought Susan and I closer in a thousand ways.
You took the plunge with the Tedeschi Trucks Band even though you couldn’t be sure it would work.
There was blowback in the beginning from her crowd and my crowd. A vocal minority didn’t think it was the right thing to do. Luckily, I’ve never gone down the rabbit hole of paying attention to that stuff. I still have yet to have any social media presence anywhere. I refuse to do it. It just seems dark and disgusting. I’ll stay away.
You mentioned the losses you’ve had recently. Your bandmates in the Allman Brothers Band—Gregg Allman and your uncle, Butch—both died in 2017.
And Col. Bruce Hampton, too—he was family. They were all larger than life figures who shaped my music and life. The Allman Brothers Band was the reason I started playing music. And when I was 11 or 12 years old, being on the road with Col. Bruce Hampton changed my life. So those are the kind of losses that never go away. But you realize you’ve got to take the positiveness they left you with, be a keeper of those flames and roll on.
Isn’t the Allman Brothers’ 1971 album At Fillmore East a touchstone for you?
I cut my teeth on that record. And everything about it still holds up. The band was on fire. And Tom Dowd was behind the wheel recording it. [A producer and engineer, Dowd’s credits include John Coltrane, the Drifters, the Coasters, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Cream, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Susan Tedeschi.] That’s hard to beat. When I joined the Allmans, Tom was still around. He was probably the only guy they still listened to. Tom was a presence and one of a kind. And he was everywhere. When things went down, Tom Dowd was there.
You joined the Allman Brothers Band at 19. You were already extremely experienced then, but did you learn a lot working with the group?
On stage with that band, if you’re paying attention at all, you’re learning. My uncle, Butch, that dude came to play every time. He could have been limping offstage, but when he hit the stage, he was 35 again. He never gave it anything less than more than what he had. You don’t run across that a lot anymore.
Vibe just dripped off Gregg. Some people just have the thing. He had it. Those guys were cut from a different cloth. They informed their time and led the charge. An interracial band in the Deep South in the late ’60s was not a common thing. Especially playing the type of music they were playing.
Unlike your uncle, Butch, your parents weren’t musicians. How did you get into music?
I saw a guitar at a garage sale for five bucks. I had five bucks. One thing led to another. It wasn’t like I was really trying to play at that point but, once I started, music spoke to me. I had a picture of Duane Allman hanging in my room.
How old were you when you brought that guitar at a garage sale?
Nine. I started sitting in with people about four, five months later. It came quick. I was lucky that way.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band plays the Saenger Theatre January 28 and 29.