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Published: 2015/07/14
by Mike Greenhaus

Derek Trucks: Soul Wheels and Modern Problems

When musical couple Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi decided to put their highly successful solo outfits on hold in 2010 to form Tedeschi Trucks Band, many fans thought of their family band as a stopgap fusion of their previous projects. But during the past five years, the husband-and-wife team have grown Tedeschi Trucks Band into its own, carefully defined entity—a group that owes more to the soulful, revue-like spirit of Delaney & Bonnie and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour than Tedeschi’s bluesy solo work or Derek Trucks Band’s blend of jazz, blues and even Middle Eastern sounds. Tedeschi Trucks Band’s two studio releases proved that the group also has the potential to cross over to a new, radio-friendly audience outside the jamband scene while their summer runs with bands like The Black Crowes showed that their improvisational chops remain intact.

Tedeschi Trucks Band have embarked on the Wheels of Soul Tour with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Doyle Bramhall II. The collaborative outing will take the band to sheds and other outdoor spaces across the country, before TTB pays tribute to Mad Dogs & Englishmen at Arrington, Va.’s Lockn’ festival this September. The members of Tedeschi Trucks Band also recently spent time in the studio with new bassist Tim Lefebvre working on their third record, which Trucks believes is the ensemble’s most adventurous and live sounding to date.

Let’s start by talking about your Wheels of Soul Tour with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Doyle Bramhall II. Can you walk us through how the tour and concept package came together?

I think the idea was spawned when we did The Black Crowes and London Souls tour a few years back [in 2013]. That was the first time we had really done a package tour on that level, and done that many cities with the same band every night or the same bands every night because London Souls were on the bill, too. There was something about it—it was just more fun than the average tour. We got to really know each other, we got to know their crews and everybody involved in putting on their shows. It seemed to just get better and better as the tour went on: The sit-ins got better, the collaborations got better. There were a few nights during that tour where I think we had every member from every band on stage. It was just this kind of beautiful.

So that spawned the idea of “We want to do something like that again.” I was thinking of bands that we would want to tour with. We had been floating around the idea of touring with Sharon Jones and her and her camp for a while. Doyle, in a lot of ways, is just another band member of our band. He’s been here since we put this group together, and he’s been in the studio writing with us a lot. Everyone knows him really well, so when we were putting the tour together, it seemed like a natural fit. It’s really just people we want to hang out with for a few months, and hit the road with. [Laughter.] That’s kind of what spawned it.

Is it true that the first time you actually played on stage with Sharon was when she sat in with Tedeschi Trucks Band at New York’ Central Park SummerStage in May, well after the tour was announced?

Yeah. In fact, Susan and Sharon met for the first time just an hour or so before we took the stage. It was pretty great watching them connect, and how immediate the musical connection was. As soon as I saw that, I was thinking that this could be this could be a really good tour [Laughter]. This could be a lot of fun.

Had you met Sharon before that show?

Well, I had seen her and her band, but I had never really met her. We didn’t have any real connection before that.

In terms of Tedeschi Trucks Band’s upcoming plans, you recently spent time in the studio working on your third album. How have those sessions progressed?

It’s been pretty amazing. We started this album not really thinking that we were doing a record yet, and we were just down into the studio to write. But one of the beauties of having a studio here [at home in Florida] is that a writing session or a chance to put down demos can turn into an album depending on the performance. So before we knew it we had a record on our hands. It has been probably the most work and the most fun I’ve had making a record. This one’s very much a band record where everybody inside the group was involved in the writing, and it’s really just a spontaneous thing that happened. I think it’s more representative of what the band does live, and I think it’s a little more experimental than some of the previous records.

I’m excited to see how it shakes out. We’ve had [TTB vocalists] Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and [guest singer] Alecia Shakour lay down some vocal parts this week and then, Kofi Burbridge is going to come in for a few overdubs. The horn section is also going to come back for one more day, and I after that I think we’ll probably be done with the tracking. But we probably won’t get around to mixing it until that break we have from touring in August.

Are you planning to intersperse some of these songs into the summer set lists? Or is the plan to hold them back until the album is released?

That’s always the thing you’re trying to figure out: How much to unleash and how much to hold back? The band is ready to go and ready to play some of the tunes. You write the tunes and they feel so good and sound so good on the record and you want to get out and play it. But you do have to hold some of it back so that the album feels fresh, too. We’ll probably take three or four of them and leave the rest ‘till the record comes out. I feel like you have to pull back on the reigns because everybody just wants to play and be included but once you’ve played them all out there and the record comes out and nothing’s really new. It’s a modern problem. [Laughter.] That can actually be a band name. [Laughter.]

What was Doyle’s involvement in the sessions?

Me and Doyle wrote three tunes that are gonna end up on the record together, and he was down here for a while. It is pretty great stuff—I love working with him, he’s such a creative guy. The ideas just kind of pour out. It’s almost just trying to figure out a way to rein it in, but I love writing with him and hanging with him, so that was a great, great shot in the arm for this record. The band was in a great place, and then when he came in it was like the icing on it. I felt like we were there when we finished those tunes.

Doyle’s been part of your musical orbit for years. Did you become friends when you both toured as part of Eric Clapton’s band in 2006 and 2007?

Yeah. I met him a little before that—he was recording on Susan’s record, Hope and Desire, so I met him while she was making that record. I overdubbed a bit on that record—playing on one or two tunes and Doyle was there for those sessions. And I don’t think it was more than four or six months later that Eric was looking for a third guitar player, and Doyle threw my name in the hat. He’s a lot of what got me that gig.

You and Doyle recently sat in with Eric Clapton during his 70th birthday shows at Madison Square Garden this past May. How far in advance did that collaboration come about?

A little bit before the gigs, Clapton reached out to me and Doyle and asked us if we were gonna be there and asked if we wanted to play together. It was one of those no brainers, “We’ll be there!” [Laughter.] I said, “Give us the tunes,” and he picked the tunes that he wanted us to play. We only ended up doing two or three tunes because he had four guests for his birthday shows everybody got a few tunes in. It was a good hang, it was a good day.

It was good to see him again, and there’s a pretty amazing chemistry with the three of us, just ‘cause I’m playing in open tuning. Doyle sat down onstage and he played left handed and Eric is Eric, so there’s three separate worlds up there. They don’t get in the way of each other. I was surprised at how seamless it was because we hadn’t played together since I was out with them, and it was immediate. When we did the rehearsals, it was a “play through it one time” situation and that was that. It was smiles all around, and it was great to see him. I mean, to still be doing it at that level at 70 years old is impressive. Also, I had never played “Let it Rain” with him, so that was fun. It’s another one we can throw in the mix now. [Laughter.]

In terms of TTB setlists, at this point you draw from several albums of original material, a stable of covers, material from your individual catalogs and tunes associated with The Allman Brothers Band. How do you pick the setlist for any given right and are there certain songs from various periods of your career that you feel are off listens for certain reasons?

It’s a balance of all of those things. I don’t feel like we ever have to play a tune—nothing has to be in the set every night. So anytime something’s feeling uninspired, we’ll put it aside for a while. So if you have a handful of tunes every night that you haven’t played in quite some time, or that haven’t been in the rotation before for the tour, every day we will bring tunes back and relearn a few things. Our bassist Tim
has only been with us a year and a half, and some tunes he hasn’t played with us before, so you’re constantly keeping the coals on the fire.

In a band like this, where there’s so many creative people on stage, if you’re not changing it up, it definitely loses the inspiration. And then some of it is just deconstructing and reconstructing tunes that maybe aren’t in every rotation. We never play a tune the same way twice, and that’s a big part of it too—just realizing that it could stop and turn on a dime so long as everyone’s in it and on the same page. And that’s the beauty of it, that’s what keeps us interested and inspired, and then night to night you really do have to be in the moment, you have to be thinking about it. There’s no chance to coast or phone it in, but it’s nice that, as time goes on, there’s more and more songs to choose from.

I think when we started this band, I was really trying to avoid taking songs from my solo band and Susan’s solo band, just so everybody would realize that this is a different thing—that this is not a combination of our personal projects, but as time as time has gone on we feel more and more comfortable throwing in any tunes—tunes from my group, her group, even the Allman Brothers occasionally. We don’t do Allman Brothers tunes that often, it is mostly for special occasions or an instrumental, but any tune is fair game at this point.

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