With a name like Tedeshi Trucks Band, you expect hard-driving music and a rip-rolling good time.
But what you also get is chemistry, the kind that can only exist between experienced artists who just happen to be husband and wife. When Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks married in 2001, it was the meeting of musical minds. Tedeschi has earned five Grammy nominations as a solo blues and soul artist. Trucks already was a member of The Allman Brothers Band, recorded and toured with Eric Clapton and had his own Grammy-winning contemporary blues group The Derek Trucks Band.
But it wasn’t until three years ago that the married couple decided to bring their talents together to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
“We talked about it when we first met and started dating and then got married,” Trucks said in a phone interview from the road. “But we were so deeply invested in other projects, I didn’t want to mix the two. I wanted her career to be her thing and mine to be mine. Especially in the beginning, I wanted those to stand separately.”
During their first decade together he continued to tour and record with The Allman Brothers and Clapton, she continued to record and perform with her own band. Between the two of them they released about eight to 10 albums. But then Trucks said he knew it was now or never if they were going to work together.
“About four years ago hit me that if we were ever going to do it, now was the time,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it half way. We were still young enough to do it all the way. If we were going to do it, I wanted to cut the safety net. I didn’t want to keep our own bands together. It forced us to make it work and forced us to really wrap our heads around it. It’s been the most work we’ve put in but the most rewarding as well.”
The result of that hard work was their new band’s 2011 debut, “Revelator,” which took home the Best Blues Album Grammy for the fledgling ensemble. Since then the group has toured and recorded. It’s sophomore release, “Made Up Mind,” came out this August. The 11-piece group tours about 90 to 100 days a year.
Trucks spoke with The Bee about working with his wife and their mini “traveling circus” on the road.
Q: How do you think you’ve grown as a group since 2010?
A: We are a group where you rely a lot on improvisation and the show changes from night to night. The first few years the growth is pretty massive. It’s not a band where you just learn the material and repeat it from night to night. With the time spent on the road and gigging together we’ve grown. I think the growth of this band has even been quicker and more noticeable than any group I’ve been part of . Everyone has to learn their sonic space on stage. Where to push and pull and lay off and add. It’s been a pretty major transformation. We put together so much talent and musicality, I knew it would be good. But it’s been phenomenal.
Q: It’s a large band as well, 11-piece if I’m not mistaken. Why did you want such a large group and does that make being on the road and playing live more challenging, more fun or both?
A: Some of it was wanting to hear a wall of sound on stage, we’ve got two drummers, background singers and more. Some of it was going against the trend of downsizing. DJs just bring a laptop on the road. When you come to a radio station and pull in with 11 people and a crew, people know you mean business. There’s a traveling circus aspect of it.
Q: Do all the normal advantages/disadvantages of working with a spouse and balancing the personal and professional exist for performers or are there additional ones you didn’t foresee?
A: I think you just have to keep the communication wide open and if things come up you deal with them. If anything it has made our relationship better, forced everything out wide. We both went into it not being naive. We knew there could be challenges, but I think it has surprised us both how well it has worked. I think there’s something to having a big band on the road, too. You don’t have time to turn your frustrations on each other. When you’re busy and working and trying to make something happen, it’s exhausting and refreshing.
Q: I understand your shows are pretty expansive and can last up to three hours. Is that to give the audience their money’s worth or the sheer joy of playing?
A: I think it’s usually closer to two and a half on most shows. There’s a lot of talented people on stage and you want to spread it around and let everyone get to do what they do. You don’t have world class musicians on stage with you just to collect people. This band enjoys making music. The traveling and being away from home is the grind of being on the road, but the time on stage is what you look forward to.
Q: You started playing music at a very young age, and have played with so many greats, what did you learn from working with them?
A: Every situation has been different. There have been a lot of life lessons you learn. A lot of times you learn from people’s mistakes. Especially that first generation of rock stars, be it The Allman Brothers or Clapton. There was a lot of excess early on and a lot of broken families from that generation. When we had kids, me and Susan, it was not an option to not be there. We said we’re going to make it work. There's balances.
From Clapton, I saw how all the time he shed his skin and moved on to other projects. His willingness and fearlessness that if something is starting to feel stale, to shed his skin and do something else. Being around a band like The Allman Brothers you learn from them being on the road 45 years how to keep your head down and make it happen.
Be it B.B. King, Clapton, they can play one note and that’s all you need. When you are in those situations, just keep your eyes and ears open.