What a difference 365 days can make. Only one year ago Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-piece group led by the husband-wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, debuted with the album Revelator. TTB -- as their fans have come to know them -- and their set list were new, itching to be road-tested. Within a few months, the group had proven themselves one of the hottest, most uplifting acts on the road today - playing concerts that drew tens of thousands of fans and, through radio, TV, and internet-play, reached hundreds of thousands more. In just the past few months, they reached pinnacles of accomplishment that most bands spend a career trying to reach.
In February, Revelator won a Grammy for Best Blues Album of the Year, while Trucks himself, along with TTB bandmate Oteil Burbridge, were honored with lifetime Grammys for their membership in The Allman Brothers Band. In March, Tedeschi and Trucks were invited to perform at the White House with Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and yes, President Barack Obama himself (who sang a verse of “Sweet Home Chicago”). A week later, they appeared at the Apollo Theater, joining Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and a host of guitar heavyweights in an all-star tribute to bluesman Hubert Sumlin.
“It's been an amazing year. I really never imagined it would have turned out quite like this, especially the last few months. The momentum picked up and it just really started rolling - everything kind of happened at once,” says Trucks, who maintains that his focus, and that of TTB have remained steadfast on the music itself. “As over the top as a lot of that stuff is, the one thing I notice is, it doesn’t really feel any different than being on the road and having successful shows, like on our European tour and in Japan, and seeing the crowds grow. The way the band took shape musically around the time that we decided to record a live record was pretty exciting.”
Everybody’s Talkin’ is both, a catalog of a triumphant year of growth and a great listening experience. Tracks flow one into the next with the collective spirit and lift of a typical TTB concert - raising the roof with a Saturday night sense of abandon, and gently concluding with a Sunday morning spiritual. Featured are versions of tunes from Revelator that are already crowd favorites - “Bound For Glory,” “Love Has Something Else To Say” - some with added details, like the fresh horn part that pushes “Learn How To Love” a notch higher than the studio original, or the tasteful, quotes of “Swamp Raga” and “Little Martha” on slide-guitar that set the stage for “Midnight in Harlem.” Other songs portray the group’s abiding affection for a truly wide range of soulful and gritty forebears, including Stevie Wonder (“Uptight”), Elmore James (“Rollin’ And Tumblin’”), Bill Withers (“Kissing My Love”), John Sebastian (“Darling Be Home Soon”), Bobby Bland (“That Did It”), Harry Nilsson (“Everybody’s Talkin’”) and the Staple Singers (“Wade In The Water”).
Beyond the song list, the most attention-grabbing aspect of Everybody’s Talkin’ is the marked progress of the group itself, as this past year has seen TTB develop at a jaw-dropping rate into a fully mature ensemble. Trucks compares the rapid growth of TTB favorably with that of his first group, The Derek Trucks Band. “I remember the last five years with the DTB we started really feeling that the thousands of shows in front of 30 people in bars were finally starting to pay off, to the point that there was this wave of goodwill with people rooting for the band to make it. But I feel like this band went through that same thing in a much smaller time scale. The last five months especially it feels like a totally different band. It feels loads more comfortable.”
The trick, according to Trucks, was both allowing TTB to develop at its own pace, while knowing what they did not want it to be. “We didn’t want it to be what my last band was, what Susan’s band was, what the Allman Brothers are. We knew we were not going to come out of the gate trying to do that. We were just going to let it be what it is and get out and gig in front of people. We knew the first gigs were not going be as good as those six months later. It’s just not possible to go into that first gig to hear a band with 16 years of chemistry.”
But as it happened, even the first performance by TTB’s current lineup the magic was tellingly there. “It was a gig on New Year’s Eve 2010/11,” remembers Trucks. “That was the oh-shit -what-have-we-gotten-ourselves-into moment. Now we have to bring an 11-piece band on the road because they sounded that good.”
Things went from good to better to much better, fast. The group toured the U.S., Europe and Japan, accruing fans and experience. Various nights still stand out. A night in Paris that found the band eating and jamming informally in a restaurant until dawn, then continuing the music and party during a train ride the next morning. A show in Washington DC -- hometown of the Burbridge brothers -- that inspired a truly special concert (including the version of “Bound for Glory” included on Everybody’s Talkin’.) All the while the band grew tighter, and so did the music.
Tedeschi credits much of the group’s accelerated progress to the way that her husband leads the band -- more like a jazz ensemble, allowing the group the freedom to explore and nurture its own strengths. “Derek is a great leader in the way that he knows the potential of everyone in the band and has a really nice way of trying to show off all the talent in the band. Because it’s such a big band, we only have so much time to play all the songs and make sure they’re done right, but then you want to showcase people. I think he has a really good handle on how to make that work.”
As evidence of this more democratic approach, Tedeschi points to the notion of TTB as a group that encompasses many possible lineups, depending on who’s taking the spotlight or even onstage at any given moment. “There are times when I’ll leave the stage, or the horns might leave the stage and it will just be a trio or a quartet out there, with Derek, Oteil and maybe J.J. doing their thing. Then slowly the others will start coming up and adding on to the music. Every show is exciting but it’s not always 11 pieces blaring at you. There's always a different mix of stuff and there’s so much going on.”
As Everybody’s Talkin’ makes clear, Tedeschi’s vocals and Truck’s guitar-work are front-and-center as in the beginning, yet have become more intuitively inter-twined. Tedeschi’s own guitar-playing is more strident and assured. TTB’s ace rhythm section works together with a deeper sense of funk, and a more liberated jazz feel, often extending the close of a well-chosen R&B number into a thrilling, open-ended jam. Onstage, they exhibit an interplay on the level of a group with years of experience together, building a song from a tender whisper to a soul-rending scream, improvising with almost telepathic communication between all members.
One measure of the unusual level of musical camaraderie is the band's shared comfort, Tedeschi says. “A lot of us are used to being bandleaders and having a lot of pressure on us. Derek, Mike, Kebbi, J.J. and I have all done that. With TTB, nobody feels they’re the one that has to make it all happen, and can actually relax a little and have more confidence in what they’re doing -- everyone has everyone else’s back.
“See, to me the great thing about this band is that there are really four singers in this band. I sing, Mark Rivers is a fabulous singer and then Saunders Sermons, our trombone player, is amazing too.” Trucks adds: “…and Mike Mattison! Two hours into the show he’ll finally sing a song full on, and the crowd is like, “Waaahhhhhh!! – Where did he come from?” It's that build up, you know?”
“It’s the contrast and it’s the build up,” says Tedeschi, finishing the thought.
Everybody’s Talkin’ also benefits from a diversity of experience (“there’s a 20-year range in the ages of the group” Tedeschi notes) and overlap of interests. “Everybody loves Sly, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles,” Tedeschi states. “Everybody loves Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. And Nina Simone, Bill Withers, and B.B. King. But one day somebody’s listening to Radiohead, while someone else is checking out Ledisi, and someone is creating a hip-hop or rap track on the side. It’s the people that we all draw from that help us create new music from those influences.”
Both Trucks and Tedeschi happily admit that the TTB sound and setlists owe much to the heyday of classic rock, when distinctions of genre were lowered and a blend of rock, soul, blues, and gospel were at a high point. “I feel like the music that this band draws from is from that sweet spot in American music, and when you think about the late '60s and '70s, they were drawing from music that was 20-30 years before their time…”
“It's soulful, it touches people, and they relate to it,” Tedeschi adds. “It’s honest music, even now…”
“And it doesn't change and it doesn't go away,” Trucks concludes. “Real remains real. They were reigniting a flame and then starting another one. I feel like that's what this band is all about. TTB is straddling the past and future. We don’t get to choose when we’re put here but we do get to choose what we do when we are here.”
ABOUT EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’
The fact that TTB was hitting on all cylinders even in their first series of performances spurred the decision to look into how best to record the group live. Trucks recalls: “We started thinking about how we make the records in the studio and can we transfer that to the road? And so Bobby Tis, our engineer, went into full geek mode and was calling around and there were a few new things, hardware and software, that were coming out that allow you to do exactly what we wanted to do. From that moment I knew it was going be a different album from other live recordings I’ve done just because the source sounds were so much better than anything we had been able to do before.”
Further distinguishing Everybody’s Talkin’ from previous live efforts was the idea that rather than relying on one evening’s performance, Trucks could select the best from an entire week. “I was able to pick twelve separate shows instead of what he had done in the past with the ‘tonight we're recording a live record so we better get it right’ approach. On this one I could focus on great moments, like that version of ‘Bound for Glory’ that was one of the best crowd responses of the whole tour. Or the bass and drum solo on "Uptight" which at first I wasn't really planning on using but it’s such a fun tune to play live and the drummers got into such a deep groove.
“Bobby and I spent hours and hours digging through all the recordings, listening and picking the best performances. First and foremost it had to be a great band performance, and obviously the vocal trumps damn near everything. That had to be great. Then we began fixing up anything we could but without going into the studio to overdub anything. So when Jim Scott finally came down to mix, we had the album together in the sequence we wanted.
“Then we spent twelve days mixing Everybody’s Talkin’ like we would a studio record, and I got to hear the band like I've never really heard us, really hearing the band for what it is. That was the best part of the process because when you're on stage you're not hearing what's out front. You’re in your own bubble. It just gave me a whole new appreciation for what this band is.”
With a marked sense of pride, Trucks admits that at this point, “the only goals are to continue refining whatever it is that we have, to keep the flame lit and keep rolling. We set out with this group and had pretty lofty goals musically but I really never imagined it would have turned out quite like this.”
Tedeschi agrees. “The great thing about this band is that we realize we don’t have to please anybody other than ourselves. And honestly if you can make this eclectic group happy, that's an accomplishment! It’s really moving fast in a great direction.”
ABOUT SUSAN TEDESCHI
Susan Tedeschi's knack for combining her passion for American roots music, especially electric blues, Southern soul and black gospel, with an awe-inspiring vocal prowess has resulted in a successful career, a series of award-winning recordings, and a devoted following. Blessed with an ability to dig deep and deliver powerful R&B belters or wrap her voice around a gentle ballad, she is a talented guitarist as well, steeped in the electric blues tradition.
Tedeschi was born in 1970 and grew up in the Boston suburb of Norwell, Massachusetts in a family that was not particularly musical -- though later discovered an aunt whose vocal talent had earned her an offer to join La Scala’s famed opera company. Tedeschi’s first inspirations were the old blues albums in her father’s record collection. Her musical inclinations were apparent by age 6, when she made her debut public performance as an understudy in a Broadway musical. She began singing with local bands at the age of 13, took up the guitar and by 18 had formed her first group focusing on original music, The Smokin’ Section.
Though raised Catholic, Tedeschi was drawn more to the emotive singing and upbeat rhythms typical of African-American gospel churches. She joined a gospel choir while studying at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. Graduating at the age of 20 with a bachelors in music composition, she continued to sing gospel while immersing herself in Boston’s fertile blues scene and had soon established herself as one of New England's top-drawing live acts.
In 1994, she formed the Susan Tedeschi Band and, inspired by electric blues legends like Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, began to focus more on her guitar playing. Her growing reputation as both a powerful and gritty singer, and talented guitarist led to her debut album Better Days a year later. In 1998, she recorded the critically acclaimed, national breakthrough Just Won't Burn, impressively garnering Gold sales status and earning Tedeschi a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist (along with such unlikely company as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray and Kid Rock.) In 2002, her follow up release Wait for Me was produced by the legendary Tom Dowd and was nominated for a Grammy.
Tedeschi was on her way. Through the 2000s she opened for such headlining acts as John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones; as well as personal heroes like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal. After releasing Live from Austin, TX in 2004, she signed her first major label deal with Verve/Forecast, recording Hope and Desire in 2005, and Back to the River in 2008. Both revealed Tedeschi ably handling an expanded canvas of rich R&B flavors and soul material, and both earned her Grammy nominations; her Grammy win in 2012 for Revelator as co-leader of the Tedeschi Trucks Band came at the close of an incredible year that included a world tour, an all-star blues tribute at the Apollo Theater, and an invitation to perform with her husband at the White House.
ABOUT DEREK TRUCKS
Derek Trucks has been touted as the most awe-inspiring slide guitarist playing today, and guitar heroes as legendary as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana have called on his services. One listen explains why: his genius for nuanced, bluesy lyricism and an ability to summon a variety of stylistic flavors, from the breathy detail of a saxophone to the growl of a well-tempered chainsaw, mark him a master of his instrument at the age of 33.
For Trucks, youth was never a hindrance. Born in 1979 in Jacksonville, Florida, and named after a much-loved Eric Clapton album, he was on stage at 9 years of age and touring as a headliner by 11. When his fingers were too small to hold down the strings of his guitar, he took up the slide, which soon became a primary element in his approach. At 15, he had formed the core of his longtime road band. Before reaching 20, he had already jammed with many of his heroes, including Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy. He is the youngest musician named in Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, being recently selected by a wide range of musicians and journalists to #16 in that hallowed hierarchy.
Trucks spent his teen years touring, growing physically and musically, and developing his group, The Derek Trucks Band. He averaged over 200 shows a year even as he completed most of his high school studies with on the road schooling. By his late teens, he broke away from the child prodigy novelty aspect of his appearances and diligently built a reputation for walk-in, crawl-out shows that featured extended solos and summoned an intoxicating collision of musical influences, from electric blues and Jamaican reggae, to modern jazz and Indian ragas.
Trucks reached adulthood, and one-night encounters turned into ongoing relationships. In 1999, while still leading the DTB, Trucks was asked to join The Allman Brothers Band as a permanent member, an offer he accepted on the condition that he’d be able to concurrently pursue his work as a leader of his own band. In 2006, he was offered the chance to perform on Eric Clapton’s world tour as a featured soloist. It was an honor he could not refuse, even as it led to a year-long juggle of commitments to the DTB, the Allmans, and Clapton, with barely a day at home.
Trucks has never been one to limit his musical focus – he’s an avid jazz fan and lover of classical Indian music – and he’s always been one to follow his muse. He made pilgrimages to the school of sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and recorded with jazz legend McCoy Tyner. In 2001, his musical passion having converged with the personal, he married the blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi, whom he met when she opened for the Allman Brothers in 1999.
Until recently, Trucks’s recordings have measured his progress with the DTB. Their recorded debut, The Derek Trucks Band was released in 1997. Out of Madness followed a year later, and in 2002, Joyful Noise marked their major label jump to Columbia Records and significant stylistic expansion in the band’s repertoire. Soul Serenade (2003) followed suit, and Live at Georgia Theatre (2004) caught the band’s growing reputation for high-energy shows. Songlines (2006) found the DTB settling into a stylistic identity with Mattison handling lead vocals, and the live Roadsongs (2009) caught the DTB in top form with a horn section, just before the group went on indefinite hiatus.
In early 2008, Trucks took advantage of a few months off the road to finish building his home studio, which he dubbed Swamp Raga. A year later he recorded Already Free, an album heavy on original songs that proved a significant turning point in his career. It won a Grammy in 2010, establishing a new, song-oriented direction for Trucks, and set the stage for a musical partnership with his wife that eventually culminated in 2011 with the formation of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and the release of Revelator. His two most recent Grammys, for Revelator and a Lifetime Achievement award for his membership in the Allman Brothers Band (Trucks is one of the youngest living musicians to receive the accolade), prove him to be on a path that has yet to realize its full potential or accomplishment.