Two guitar aces making beautiful music together—onstage and off
“Music is supposed to be medicinal,” says Derek Trucks. “It should be uplifting and it should be a tool for relief. That’s the point of a band like this.” The group he’s talking about is the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-member ensemble (including two drummers, background vocalists and a horn section) he leads with his wife and fellow master guitarist Susan Tedeschi. The idea, according to Trucks, is to have “a big, crazy army that writes together and bleeds together and allows everyone to shine.”
Trucks and Tedeschi have long envisioned forming such an act together. Married since 1999, the two often shared the same stage, played on each other’s albums and even vied for Grammy honors in the same category. But other commitments—Trucks had his own Derek Trucks Band and a steady gig with the Allman Brothers Band; Tedeschi had her solo career—kept them from uniting for a record. “We were both charging ahead with our individual careers,” Trucks says. “Now, we’re ready.”
The band’s debut album, Revelator, offers up a simmering mix of fiery blues rockers, gospel-tinged ballads and soulful R&B. Trucks’ stinging slide work and Tedeschi’s smoldering rhythm chops are duly showcased, but the emphasis is less on solos than on songcraft and Tedeschi’s bluesy vocals. Trucks and Tedeschi talked to us about their goals for the band from their home in Jacksonville, Fla., where the couple recorded Revelator in their own studio.
Why do this now?
TRUCKS: It was a multitude of things. Our kids are a bit older, the Allman Brothers are doing fewer dates, and it was time to take a break after 16 years being on the road with my band. Plus our relationship is at a more mature point. We’ve been through the fire, musically and personally, and we’re more adult now. It was now or never.
TEDESCHI: We’ve always had an understanding that someday we would put our other projects aside and make an album together. It’s something I’ve been anticipating the whole 12 years we’ve been together.
Why emphasize the vocals?
TEDESCHI: Having our own studio allowed me the time to try various microphones. In the past I haven’t had that luxury. We found a mic that I really felt comfortable with. Jim Scott [who co-produced with Trucks] and [engineer] Bobby Tis have a beautiful gift. They hear things in a pure way, and they know how to capture that on tape. This is a revolutionary album for me. We did some daring things, like recording my vocals very dry without much reverb. A lot of producers would never do that.
TRUCKS: I’ve heard Susan sing in many different situations, and I know how powerful, beautiful and nuanced her voice can be. That had never been represented properly.
What microphone did you use?
TEDESCHI: A Neumann U 47. It was bought specifically for me, but this album is the first instance I’ve gotten to use it. I tried other microphones as well and a lot of them have great qualities, but they missed various parts of my range. The U 47 captures all parts of my vocal range.
How did you find your songwriting collaborators for the album?
TEDESCHI: I felt certain that Gary Louris from the Jayhawks was someone Derek would click with—and sure enough they hit it off right away. The three of us wrote a song in 10 minutes. And then there was John Leventhal, who I had written with, and David Ryan Harris, who Derek brought in. I didn’t know David, but I fell in love with a lot of the melodies he came up with. His approach is like Stevie Wonder’s in a way—very soulful.
Why double drummers?
TRUCKS: Part of that idea came from listening to some of the great James Brown recordings. There’s that low sizzle you get with two drummers, a simmering sort of thing that feels like an army approaching. Plus I knew from playing with the Allman Brothers all these years that when that train gets going there’s nothing like it. Any time I’ve been in a situation with two drummers it’s always felt epic. Our drummers, Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, have such a special connection that sometimes you can’t even tell both are playing. They complement one other in a way that sounds like super-stereo.
How did you approach the guitar?
TRUCKS: I was more conscious of making every sound that came out of the guitar serve the song, especially when it came to solos. There are one or two songs where I just air it out, but for the most part it was about playing in the spirit of the song. I wanted the guitar solo to complement the mood, if not an outright extension. The beauty of the album is that from song to song it feels like a scene shift, like theatrical changes. The moods are strong and different from song to song, and I didn’t want to disrupt that illusion.
TEDESCHI: Playing guitar is as important to me as ever. Part of the reason is that there aren’t a lot of women who do it. I can’t tell you how many little girls—actually women of all ages—have said to me how I’ve inspired them to pick up the guitar. That’s important, because it still is such a male-dominated industry. It’s important that women know they can play electric guitar, too. Most women play acoustics and play chords, but they’re not really improvising or creating melodies based in the moment. Bonnie Raitt is a rare exception, but she’s really a slide player. You don’t hear her ripping leads very often. Derek understands all this, and he’s been very supportive in that way. He’s a big fan of my guitar playing. That means a lot to me, because I think he’s the best living guitar player in the world.
Why the title Revelator?
TRUCKS: It refers to the revealing of simple truths. Music is supposed to help you navigate through life. It’s supposed to make you feel better and express things you can’t in any other way. That’s our goal. You show up in a town and try to make things better for a few hours. When I set aside time to listen to an album, that’s what music does for me. And it asks something of you, too. You have to participate in order to get the most out of it. This band has a unique opportunity to touch on many different things. The musicianship is strong enough that it can go in any direction. I don’t see a ceiling for what this band can do. This album is the tip of the iceberg.