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Published: 2016/01/25
by Mike Greenhaus

Susan Tedeschi Brings It On Home

When Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks decided to set aside their successful solo projects in 2010 to create the 10-plus version Tedeschi Trucks Band, many corners of the music industry thought they were nuts. But during the past six years, the husband-and-wife duo have managed to turn their family band into more than the sum of its parts—a soul-influenced, improvisational roots-outfit that owes more to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen project and Delaney & Bonnie than the Allman Brothers Band. And, for those worried that a big blues band would never draw in an era of small indie combos, TTB now regularly headlines the types of theaters, festivals and amphitheaters Trucks and Tedeschi rarely played on their own.

This winter TTB will drop their third full-length release, Let Me Get By, and first since parting ways with their major label backers. Let Me Get By is ensemble’s first true “band” record, crafted live at the couple’s home studio with the help of their close friend Doyle Bramhall and their road crew. After a few personnel changes, TTB have also solidified into a tight orchestra, featuring Derek Trucks Band alums Kofi Burbridge (keyboards, flute) and Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Col. Bruce Hampton associate Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), longtime Tedeschi touring partner J. J. Johnson (drums, percussion), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals), Kebbi Williams (saxophone), jazz ace and recent David Bowie collaborator Tim Lefebvre (bass), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Elizabeth Lea (trombone) and Royal Family artist Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals).

In this fun and informative conversation from last summer, Tedeschi spoke with Jambands.com about the origins of the group’s tour with Sharon Jones, the late B.B. King and her time on the road with The Other Ones. (Be sure to check out the January_February issue of Relix to read about the latest developments with the group and TTB’s new record. An extended excerpt from that cover story now appears on Relix.com).

How did the Wheels of Soul summer tour with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings come about?

Derek and I had such a great time when we were on tour with The Black Crowes and we wanted to put a really great package together for this summer. We researched a bunch of bands, but there aren’t a huge number of bands we were dying to tour with. We wanted to get some groups that everybody would be on board with that we also thought the audience would like and that would be similar in style to our group. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings came up a bunch and it looked like a natural fit. When they said they could do it, it just seemed like it would be a pretty kick-ass tour. There are 11 people in each band, and then Doyle has a four-piece so that’s like 26 musicians every day. It’s kind of a lot but at the same time. There’s a lot of great chemistry amongst the bands.

Recently we met Sharon because I hadn’t really met her. I’ve known Doyle forever, so of course I was really excited about that one, and now with me and Sharon. She is a hot ticket, she is action-packed, she is beautiful, and she has a really beautiful spirit about her. She’s really positive, very soulful, fair, and just really cool.

When you first put that tour together with the Black Crowes, was the idea to have different collaborations every night, or did it just evolve that way because you got along so well?

It evolved that way. We were hoping to maybe get up and sit in but we ended up playing every day. I felt like I was learning new songs every single day that we were on tour—it was crazy. It forces you to push the envelope and to get out there and never get too comfortable, which keeps it really fresh and exciting. It pushes you and you learn and grow as a player and listener.

When you think about somebody like the Black Crowes—Chris Robinson is just such a great performer. He has such charisma, and Sharon has a lot of charisma. It’s always fun to be on the road with people who aren’t just great musically but also have a lot going on to watch, to see how they connect with the audience and how they move people.

As you play bigger venues with some of these bands, do you feel there are any elements that you want to bring to Tedeschi Trucks besides the musicality of it?

I think it just depends on the show. Our horn players, for example, are fascinating to watch—people love them because they are very entertaining. Our singers can be very entertaining to watch; our drummers have such chemistry so they’re fascinating to watch. The trio of Tim, Kofi and Derek are amazing to watch because they are so musically different every night, and then I try to mix it up. I can’t really walk around too much because I am playing guitar and singing into a mic—unless I use a Janet Jackson microphone. [Laughs.]

We are all pretty intense and we try to be exciting with our performance. We try not to just stand there. Derek kind of stands there, but he’s so intense that you know what’s coming out will be fascinating, so he doesn’t have to dance. It’s just a different style of performing; it is an amazing band with so much going on. I haven’t noticed if people get too bored because there are so many different groups to look at within our band. It’s fun. The pressure isn’t only on Derek or on me. There are a lot of different focal points, which is great.

The one time you played publically with Sharon before your summer tour, you guys covered an Etta James song. How did you land on that as the first song to cover? Was it a song you both knew? Did you rehearse it backstage?

What happened was that a month ahead of time we talked about Sharon and Doyle coming out to promote the show by sitting in on a couple of tunes. I had thrown out a couple of ideas, and “Bring It On Home” and the Etta tune “Tell Mama” were a couple of the ideas. She just called back and said, “Yeah, let’s do those two!”

When we got there the day of the Central Park show and practiced it at soundcheck, that was pretty much it. It just really connected with her. She had done her homework. She knew “Bring It On Home to Me” really well. I think it’s one of those songs that all singers know because it’s Sam Cooke. She sang a really nice harmony line to it that was just beautiful and pretty much magic.

I thought “Tell Mama” would be fun with all the horns. It has a great horn line and a good groove and she seems to be really into the groove and dancing and keeping it up, so I thought that’d be fun. It’s easy enough that you can learn it in a day. It was a blast getting to perform with her, she’s really quite a trip and she has great energy. She’s really, really sweet and I just think it’s going to be really interesting to see what we do this summer.

Can you talk a little bit about how you first crossed paths with Doyle and how your musical friendship has evolved?

I actually knew Doyle through Jimmie Vaughan & Double Trouble. When I first started doing big tours, it was with B.B. King, Doctor John and Buddy Guy, and Jimmie Vaughan was one of the legs. I got to be good friends with Jimmie and he introduced me to Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, who used to play with Stevie. They weren’t doing it all the time so I asked if they would be interested in coming on the road with me for a year to tour, and they said yes. They toured with me for awhile and they were doing a record and invited me to play a of couple tracks on it, and that was when I met Doyle. We did a show for Austin City Limits too, which was when I first really connected with Doyle. I became friends with him and instantly loved him and the way he played and his whole vibe—the music that he’s inspired by and just the way he plays and sings. He’s just so talented—the way he writes, everything. I love everything about him and really had instant chemistry with him. He’s just so easy to be around, he’s a sweetheart.

We stayed friends and years later I was making a record on Universal with Joe Henry as the producer. We did the Hope and Desire record right after I had had my daughter Sophia so I didn’t have a lot of time to write a record. They told me to just do a really cool cover record of tunes that people might not know so much, but they would all be great songs with Joe as the producer and the band that he works with. I said, “Okay, so you’re not going to use my band. That’s interesting.” I asked Joe who his players were and he said, “Doyle Bramhall.” I said, “Awesome, I’m in already!”

He had drummer Jay Bellerose , who I played with in a band when I was 18. He’s amazing. Nowadays he plays with Ray LaMontagne, but he used to play with everybody. He even played on a Robert Plant and Alison Krauss record. He played with Paula Cole, he used to play with lots of people. We went to college together and I was in a band with him and the bass player, Paul Bryant. He plays with Aimee Mann and he’s also a producer and great singer.

So the band was Paul Bryant, Dave Ellis, and Doyle Bramhall—so I was in. We made the record in six days, it was the easiest record I ever made. It’s one of my favorite records that I ever made because it sounded really great and it was just really relaxed and fun.
There is definitely something to be said for chemistry. It’s one thing to be a great player; it’s another to have great chemistry with people, and certain people you just have that with.

I made that Hope and Desire record with Doyle and he even came out on the road to tour with me for a little while—here and there he would come and do shows with my band. He’s been busy with his band, Arc Angels, and his different projects. And of course there’s Eric Clapton. He used to play with Roger Waters for like eight years and he played with Clapton for about five years, then he played with Sheryl Crow. He’s just now starting to get back to doing his own thing, which I think is really the way to go because he is so creative. That man can write like five songs a day. He is musically inspired. He doesn’t do drugs or drink or anything because when he was really young he got mixed up in the wrong crowd and was doing a lot of that stuff and had to clean up. He’s been clean for a good ten years now, maybe even longer. All of his energy goes into music now. He’s just so inspired. A lot of people do drugs and they kind of get lazy and off task, but he is just so focused and it’s very inspiring to be around him.

Now he’s actually using my old bass player. It’s just a big family. Our drummer Falcon [Tyler Greenwell] who used to play in my band also used to play with Ted. Those two played together for years and they used to play with Bruce Hampton together. There are so many connections, it’s incredible. J.J. has always been really close with Doyle, they’ve been friends for a long time. Derek is close with Doyle, J.J. is close with Doyle, I’m close with Doyle and then we are all close with Ted and Tyler. That extends out to the Colonel Bruce Hampton camp, and of course Widespread and all of those camps, they all kind of blend together.

It’s just such a small world, especially in the music world, so it’s going to be a really exciting tour this summer—getting to hang out with all of those guys and writing and figuring out fun songs to cover and sit in on. We didn’t even know what we were going to do with Doyle, but he just got up and learned a couple of tunes at sound check. He’s such a quick learner, he can do anything. It’s going to be really fun.

Doyle also helped out on your new album, Let Me Get By. Can you talk about his participation?

Three of the songs were inspired by Doyle. We finished them together, wrote lyrics and put it all together. I see what Derek is saying—it has more of a live feel than a singer-songwriter sort of thing. They’re not just songs where we do the basic and then add to them. Some of them were really done right off the floor—the basics like Doyle and Derek feeding off of each other and playing in the moment with the two drummers, Tim on bass, and of course Kofi. There was that whole core of being live and in the moment and very natural. Everybody has great chemistry and listens very well to each other.

Doyle and Derek are both such unique and amazing guitar players—but more so than guitar players, they are both just so musical. They don’t always think like guitar players, you know? I don’t know how to really describe that but when they play rhythm together, it just has a sound. It kind of takes you back to Derek and the Dominoes or when Eric played with J.J. Cale. It’s very rootsy and bluesy and soulful and melodic and they have lines that kind of pull and wind around each other.

When we write songs with Doyle, he’ll have a vision and start by playing drums or bass, or Derek will play drums and I’ll play bass and they’ll lay it down. You know then they will put guitars down, or maybe they’ll start with acoustics. It just depends on the tune and it goes very organically from there. They’ll put the parts down and to the point where we’ll have a nice, rough mix of where the song is at. We might not have one lyric, but you’ll have Doyle singing all of the harmonies and all the melodies. He’ll just sing. There might not necessarily be a storyline or words yet, but the song is there.

To me it reminds me of Michelangelo or a sculpture. There is this beautiful piece of marble and a lot of those sculptors believe the statue is in the marble. It’s already there they are just chipping away stuff to get it to come out, and that’s kind of what it’s like with Derek and Doyle. There’s this beautiful song there and we’re just chipping away until we get it to where it comes out. They have a vision. They’re not just making it up as they go, they do things a certain way and they try to create that. There is a real art to that. There aren’t a lot of musicians that work that way.

They are just really deep musicians and they have a lot of great knowledge of different styles of music. Doyle is so natural in the band that he’s like the twelfth member. We’ve brought him with us to Japan and India and he’ll do little mini sets within our TTB set and he adds the rock star power to it. He’s just so natural and a lot of fun to be around. He’s a great inspiration.

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