Derk Trucks

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi

After more than 10 years of marriage and over 15 years each fronting their own solo projects, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have officially joined forces as the Tedeschi Trucks Band. And they’re off to a great start – their first album, Revelator, recently took home the Grammy for Best Blues Album. We caught up with Derek and Susan at their home studio in Jacksonville, Florida, where they showed us true Southern hospitality and talked about juggling music and family, how their stellar new band came together and much more.

Derek Trucks

A Family Affair

By Ara Ajizian, Musician's Friend Managing Editor

MF: The two of you met when Susan opened for the Allman Brothers Band back in 1999. Were you familiar with each other’s work prior to that?

Susan Tedeschi: A little bit. We definitely had heard of each other, and had seen each other’s names at different clubs and stuff. We were playing the same kind of scene for a few years here and there.

Derek Trucks:The touring world is a pretty small circle, so you know of most of the people in the realm, but it was the first time I really heard Susan play.

MF: What was the initial connection like between the two of you?

DT: It was the first real year I toured with the Allman Brothers. It was fun being on the road with Oteil Burbridge; we were longtime friends. And when I first met Sue she came right into the fold. It was a great musical hang, and then you know, 12 years and multiple bands and children later (laughs), we’re still rolling along.

MF: How have you both managed to balance music with family, especially with the rigorous touring schedules you’ve had over the years?

DT: It’s been tough, but we’re fortunate in a few ways. Our families are really supportive. Coming out of that extended Allman Brothers family, music and touring was always there; it wasn’t something that was completely shunned. Susan’s family is similar. Her mom was into community theater, and her dad is a huge Bob Dylan and folk music fan who also played. So it was already something that was nurtured. We’re also fortunate that my family lives right up the road. My mom is always here. So it’s a big extended family. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have that support system around us. The whole situation is really fortunate.

We were also conscious from the very beginning that if we were going to have kids, we’d have to really think about it and plan way out, and figure out how we’re gonna make it work. Building a studio, putting a band together, and all the things we’ve tried over the years have all been moving in the direction of having a situation that works on all levels. You can tour and make great music and put your full heart into it while having a family. It’s a lot of juggling, it’s a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of people to make it work, but in the end it can be done.

MF: You’ve both been playing music since you were kids. Is music something you encourage your kids to pursue, or do you sit back and see if it’s something they’re interested in first?

ST: We take more of the latter approach. At the same time, we definitely play music in the house, and they have their opinions on what they like. And actually they have really good taste in music. They’ve come to like Sly & The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. Sophia likes Bobby Womack. It’s interesting, they have such eclectic tastes at such a young age. But then again, Sophia still likes people like Taylor Swift, and stuff her little girlfriends like, that we don’t really hear too much in the house.

DT: I think the difference between us and the neighbors is our kids have a lot harder time playing that kind of music in the house. (laughs) We tell them, “Don’t just listen to something because you’re ‘supposed’ to.” Music and culture are important things, and we do instill in them that it matters. Some of it’s entertainment; they are kids. It can seem like musical snobbery, but just like it’s important what food you put in your children, it’s also important the information you put in them. I’m glad I grew up with great music spinning in my house. Most of the great musicians I know grew up surrounded by important, lasting music with some depth. It can be any genre. But there is a difference between art that has mental nutrition and just over-sugared bulls**t. It’s an amazing thing when you walk into your kid’s room and he’s listening to Stevie Wonder Innervisions by his own free will. It makes you feel like you’re on the right path.

MF: Do you bring the kids out on tour?

ST: They come out during the summer when they’re not in school, but we don’t home school, so we have them do regular kid activities like playing sports and things that kids should be doing.

DT: They do travel quite a bit with us though. Spring break, winter break and weekends here and there. They’re well traveled.

MF: Derek, you toured with the Allman Brothers Band when you were fairly young. Did that make you cautious about bringing your own kids out with you?

DT: Yeah. When I was first on the road at nine or 10 years old, I think my dad had the same sentiment, where he was really cautious about what I was around and what I was aware of. Not shielding you too much but you know, making sure things are appropriate. (laughs) We have that mindset, and even more so. When we’re on the road there’s the kid bus and the band bus. There’s always a sanctuary. It’s an amazing group and we certainly take the party with us, but you know, it’s a different day. (laughs)

MF: Tell me how the Tedeschi Trucks Band came together after 10 years of playing with your respective bands.

ST: It was one of those things where the timing just seemed to be good, finally. We’d always discussed trying to play together, but it was difficult. Derek had three projects going at all times, so it wasn’t the time to even attempt doing something together. Logistics, too. We both had bands on payroll and, for example, Derek’s band had been with him for 15 years. So it’s not like something where one day you say, “Yeah we’re just gonna put a band together.” There were a lot of lives involved and a lot of stuff had to happen in order to get to the point where we could do it.

DT: We had been experimenting over the years. We did the Soul Stew Revivals for a few summers. That was an excuse to be on the road with the whole family and both bands…a great hang. When we started doing that we started hearing the possibilities. We always thought about it. And I always thought about putting a band together with the Burbridge brothers. That factored in pretty large.

ST: When Derek, Oteil and I hung out that first summer back in ‘99, we thought that maybe someday the three of us would put a band together. And the two of them (the Burbridge brothers)…there’s something incredibly special there. Talk about family—we have two family members and a married couple. And the relationship that Derek has had with both of them for many years is very close and very tight. And with the rest of the band, really everyone feels like family.

DT: Exactly. Tyler (Greenwell) and J.J. (Johnson), for example, had never met each other before this project. We had two drum sets set up and were already rehearsing when my brother picked up J.J. from the airport. Tyler’s at a kit, and there’s an empty kit next to him. J.J. just walks in, sits down, and right out of the gate you knew it was right. There was no jockeying for position; it was just playing music. There was no ego, no bulls**t. When the chemistry is right, that’s the one thing you can’t substitute for and you can’t fake. It’s either there or it’s not.

MF: And the practicalities of raising a family together factored into the decision as well?

ST: Exactly. Especially when the kids were little, I couldn’t have toured as much as Derek did. There was absolutely no way. I actually took Charlie out on the road with me when he was just a few months old. That’s why he’s so well traveled, he literally has been on tour buses since he was six months old.

DT: Yeah, he was up at the Beacon Theater shows for the Allman Brothers shows at 10 days old!

ST: And he’s very mature for his age because he’s been in a lot of different situations with a lot of adults. He does great with adults, Sophia too. They’re both kids but they have wonderful social skills from the touring and from being around adults all the time.

MF: How did you settle on this lineup, especially given all the talented players you’ve worked with over the years?

DT: It was a good year of experimenting with different lineups and trying to find the right pieces. When J.J. and Tyler met we knew the drum section was nailed down. We always wanted to have (backup vocalist) Mike (Mattison) involved. He’s an amazing singer and songwriter, and is a huge part of this project. When (backup vocalist) Ryan Shaw recommended Mark Rivers (for harmonies), he was another one that from the moment he walked in, the consensus was, “We like this guy.”

With the horn section, Kebbi Williams was another guy we’ve always wanted to play with. When we did that first show with the horn section—it was a New Year’s show in Jacksonville—it was immediate. We knew that was the band as we were getting offstage. So, much to the chagrin of all the businesspeople involved, it’s now an 11-piece band.

MF: Prior to this band, what was the level of collaboration like between the two of you?

DT: We would write together occasionally. But at that time, we were so busy out on the road with our bands. Susan’s last record, Back to the River, we did the bulk of the pre-production and a lot of the work here at the studio. That was the first time that we fully collaborated. It was never off limits or about keeping the bands separated. It was more about when you get home from touring you leave the road on the road, and once you hit the driveway, it was kid time.

MF: Revelator was recorded at your home studio in Jacksonville. Tell me about the facility and what it’s stocked with.

DT: It’s a beautiful place. Bobby Tis is our engineer and guitar tech on the road; he and his father designed the studio and built it along with my brother David. There’s a beautiful, old 32-channel Neve console in there and a bunch of old vintage gear that we’ve collected over the years. Every time we do a project in there, instead of charging studio hours to the label we try to get gear from them. When all those old studios in New York City were closing down—RCA, Columbia, and Sony—we kinda rolled over making records and had the studio feed itself with old vintage gear. We have a beautiful old plate reverb out of Columbia Studios. Beautiful old microphones. You know, just things that sound good. Things that we love the feel and sound of. We’re not gearheads in the sense that we collect stuff just to collect it. If it serves a purpose and it’s a sound that you want to hear more of, we keep stuff like that around. The studio and the sounds there, that’s the heart and soul of the project.

MF: Derek you started using PRS Amps a few years back. Why was that?

DT: I’ve always used an old Fender Super Reverb and been completely content. Every night is different, and every time you change the tubes it’s different, but for the most part I feel really comfortable there. When I joined the Allman Brothers, it just wasn’t enough. I tried two and still couldn’t hear it. It’s a big band; there’s a lot going on! There have always been 4x12 cabinets and Marshalls and it’s always been more than a Super Reverb for that group. When Warren (Haynes) plays rhythm, the sound doesn’t get smaller, it stays big, and so you have to find something that can cut through all of that without hurting yourself. (laughs)

You can always get louder, and you can always get a tone that cuts. But getting a tone that’s loud and cuts, but is still pleasing, that’s always the challenge.

We’ve known Paul for a while, and were always talking to him about the kind of sound we were trying to get. He got into making amps, and made it one of his many missions to find that sound. Pretty early in the process, one of his amps showed up and just completely filled that void. I can control it like the Super but it still has the headroom. It’s the closest I’ve ever come in that band to where I wasn’t dreading getting a sound every night. I can just plug in and the baseline will always be good, and on a great night it’s gonna be that much better. It’s been freeing for the last few years playing through those amps with that band.

MF: Do you use the PRS amps with Tedeschi Trucks Band?

DT: No, I’m just using one Super Reverb with this group, and Susan’s doing the same.

MF: Do you and Susan share knowledge with each other when it comes to gear or technique?

DT: Oh yeah. I think one of the things with this circle is that while it’s mildly competitive in the sense that you’re always pushing each other to make it better, it’s wide open. If there’s a sound you can help somebody out with, it’s never proprietary information.

ST: One thing about Derek and I is that we both have pretty simple rigs. A lot of times we plug directly into the amps, so we don’t use a lot of pedals. But I do use wahs, and I do use a Moollon pedal that Derek and Doyle (Bramhall II) gave me from one of their trips, and I love it. It’s an overdrive, a really beautiful pedal. I use it how people use a Tube Screamer, like if you’re trying to take a solo and push your level a little bit above the band. It works really well for that. But soundwise, with Derek, it’s in his hands. I’ve learned (from Derek) that I don’t have to use a pick all the time. I try to use my hand more just to get different sounds. We both use 11s…same size strings. I think the thicker strings sound better. I got everybody Snark Tuners for Christmas, I like those a lot.

MF: In 2010, your individual albums were both nominated for the same Grammy. In a situation like that, is there a level of friendly competition between the two of you?

DT: Really you’re just hoping you keep it in the house, you know? You’re hoping that one of the two bands gets it. For me it was the first time I had been nominated with a solo project. Being on other people’s records, we had been nominated a few times, and Sue had been up a few times, but we’d never won one. So I think you just assume that someone else is gonna get it. We weren’t expecting either one of us to win it. So when it did happen it was pretty exciting. And you know Sue sang on that record…

ST: …and Derek played on mine!

DT: Yeah, and I played on hers. So it really felt like if one of the two of us won it, it was a win. And it’s funny now being up this year against Warren (Haynes) and Gregg (Allman)—we have three of the five nominations covered. When I get asked if it’s weird being up against band members I just say, “Well last year I was up against my wife, so this one’s easier.” (laughs)

MF: Does this nomination feel extra special given that it’s something you worked together on entirely?

DT: Well I had my band together for 16 years, and Susan had her solo project for about the same amount of time. We put a lot of energy into those things, and there is still a hardcore fan base for both of those bands as separate entities. When we were putting this together, there was a little bit of backlash. So there’s a sense of validation with this, just knowing that the intention is right, that the music is right, and that the whole process has just been amazing. Not that we wait for awards to tell us if we’re on the right track or not.

(Ed. note: This interview was conducted prior to the 2012 Grammy Awards. Revelator did go on to win the award—congratulations to Derek, Susan and the band!)

MF: How do you approach one album to the next, or one band to the next, without feeling like you’re repeating yourself?

DT: I think every artist goes through (this) when you make a record and people like it, they somehow want the next one to be what the last one was. You can repeat the same tried-and-true mechanism, songs and song forms and just beat it to death, and there would be a group of people who would love that you’re doing that. But it doesn’t keep you inspired as a musician and it definitely doesn’t make you grow at all.

MF: I understand you’re mixing a Tedeschi Trucks Band live record. How do you approach that process?

DT: It’s a lot more work putting together a live record than you might imagine. We had 12 to 14 shows at about two hours apiece to dig through to try and find the best performances. But everything was recorded so well, and the performances were so strong right out of the gate. It’s pretty exciting.

MF: So you’re going the route of having different performances from different shows rather than one show in its entirety?

DT: The bulk of it is from one show, but it’s nice to have the option of digging into different shows. And the more I researched my favorite live records over the years, most of them were taken from more than one show. Even The Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore East is different performances, sometimes within a song. Same with Donny Hathaway Live, another of my favorites. So I figure the end result is what matters when making a great recording. Everything on there was performed live. There was no studio trickery or overdubbing and re-recording things. It’s just about taking time and listening and making sure the sequence and the flow of things is right.

MF: More and more bands are releasing all their live shows. Is that something you’d consider doing?

DT: At this stage I really do prefer making a great live record, because once you start releasing every show, not that you dilute it, but you might not take the time to go make a great live record the way we are doing it, just because it doesn’t mean as much at that point. I’ve always been of the mindset—and maybe it’s just because some of my favorite records of all time are definitive live records—I think those documents are so important that I want to stay in that tradition for a while.

That said, we do record every show, so at some point down the road I’m sure we’ll just start releasing them as-is. If you’re going to spend a month or two really focusing on making a great live record, you have to reserve the releases for special occasions.

MF: Do you have a name for the live album yet?

DT: Everybody’s Talkin’ is what we’re going with. The Henry Nilsson/Bill Withers version of that tune “Everybody’s Talkin’,” we kinda did our take on that. I like the sentiment, especially with an 11-piece band and everybody getting their piece musically. I think it has a few meanings.

Derek, what led you to the SG as your main guitar?

DT: When I was playing at 9, 10, 11 years old, I think the Les Paul was the guitar that I always had in mind, but it was just too damn heavy! Then I saw a picture of Duane (Allman) with an SG, and I remember thinking, “What the hell is that?” So I tried one out and it felt perfect. Not only was the weight right for me at the time, but the feel of the guitar and the access for slide. You can get a lot higher, whereas with a Les Paul you don’t have as much access on the neck. Over the years I’ve found a lot of other things that just make it feel right. Once you’ve found an instrument that becomes second nature to you, it’s hard to change. I’ve played some amazing instruments, and tried to make a change, but I always gravitate back. I like not thinking about the instrument you’re holding. My mindset is, you find a guitar you feel comfortable with, you plug it into an amp, and you go. It puts more on the musician than on the gear. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. So I feel like less is more. A lot of the jazz records I listen to, and some of the early blues where it’s all-acoustic, it really breaks it down. It’s just a person with an acoustic instrument, just making emotion and music. With my setup, I’m trying to get it as close to that as I can, with a plug in a wall. There’s electricity involved, but outside of that I try to really simplify that.

Do you use any pedals at all?

DT: No. I have a tuner in-line, but that’s just for convenience. Outside of that, I just plug in and go.

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In our exclusive interview, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi discuss their careers, family on the road, gear and much more!