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As husband-wife couples go in the world of music, it is a challenge to find a duo as well-fitted and naturally prolific as that of singer/guitarist SUSAN TEDESCHI and guitarist DEREK TRUCKS. They are both heavily steeped in the blues tradition, yet open to far-ranging influences including rock, gospel, jazz and World music. Each has produced recordings that share a sensibility best described as a swampy mix of rootsy, rockin’ American music. The two have guested on each other’s albums, toured together intermittently, and last year they each received individual Grammy nominations in the category of “Best Contemporary Blues Album” for their 2009 albums, Tedeschi for Back To The River and Trucks for Already Free (which he won). As well, they often perform together with the Allman Brothers Band—with whom Trucks continues to play as co-lead guitarist.
In fact, it was during an Allman Brothers tour in 1999 that the two first met. They fell in love, married in 2001, and began a family in Trucks’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. By early 2010, with two children in grade school and both of their careers in full-swing, they made a vow to put their individual musical projects on hold and devote themselves to a new joint ensemble they would co-lead, what Trucks then described as a “collective that will allow everyone in the band a chance to shine. We’re not sure yet what it will sound like exactly – we’re just going to let it come together and not force a vision on it.”
A year-and-a-half process followed, during which Trucks and Tedeschi minimized their live commitments to such high profile events as Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Fuji Rock Festival, and a noteworthy collaboration with legendary jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock. The couple’s primary focus through most of 2010 held fast to the goals of assembling a new band, writing new material, and recording an album of performances true to their new musical approach.
Trucks recalls stepping into the process but with no set deadline in mind. “We spent a whole year putting a band together with different lineups, different approaches, different mindsets, and during the same time began songwriting. After about six months we had over 30 songs to choose from.”
On June 7, Tedeschi Trucks Band will release its debut recording Revelator, the result of eighteen months of dedicated musical focus. True to Trucks’s promise, the album is a confident yet unforced triumph offering a cohesive vision: an idyllic, musical world in which the echoes of so many great traditions— Delta blues and Memphis soul, Sixties rock and Seventies funk—flow together naturally, blending with an entirely original, modern sensibility.
And true to a title that suggests both the gospel-flavored intensity and stunning, soulful impact of its twelve original tracks, Revelator includes smoky, blues-dipped rockers and heart-stilling ballads that show off, respectively, the gutsier and softer side of Tedeschi’s vocal ability, plus a series of emotive, story-telling solos shaped by Trucks’s uncanny agility on slide-guitar. With its focus on tighter song structures and lyrics rather than extended improvisations, the album serves as dramatic leap forward for Tedeschi and Trucks—one which makes sense in looking back.
“This album is an evolution of what we’ve all been doing before,” says Trucks. “Before with what Susan and I were doing, those were live bands that charged down the road, playing constantly and occasionally finding time to record. Now with this album, everything’s been thought out a little deeper, figuring out the music and what the tunes mean—more time given to the whole process. I think my album Already Free in 2009 was the first step in the direction of working with professional songwriters who take their craft as seriously as instrumentalists do.
“Revelator is the first true realization of that process, in which the sum of the parts—the songs, the band, Susan and myself—were greater than just the parts themselves.”
More than any other recording project, Revelator found Trucks taking on the role of bandleader, lead guitarist, songwriter, and producer—spending equal time on either side of the glass in Swamp Raga, the recording studio he built behind their house in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s relaxing being at home but it can’t just be sitting there. You have to live up to what the studio is, and with this level of musicianship, and with this gear, it forces you to be on your toes.”
Trucks also recruited Grammy-winning engineer Jim Scott, whose genre-bending credits include popular albums by the Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Trucks co-produced the album with Scott, about whom Trucks says: “It really mean a lot when Jim would listen to something and say ‘Now THAT sounds like a record to me.’ He has a great way of sensing and knowing when a song had arrived and that nothing else was needed.”
Most notably, Revelator features the newly formed Tedeschi Trucks Band, an eleven-member ensemble overflowing with talent and musical familiarity. Harmony singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers have joined forces with brothers Oteil Burbridge (noted for his years as bassist with the Allman Brothers Band) and Kofi Burbridge (longtime keyboardist/flutist with The Derek Trucks Band), a pair of drummers J. J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell, plus trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, and trombonist Saunders Sermons. (Additionally, Ryan Shaw and David Ryan Harris supply harmony vocals to various tracks on the album, and Alam Khan adds his masterful sarod playing to ‘These Walls.’) The fact that this aggregation includes so many musicians related by experience—and blood—clearly adds to the notion of Revelator as a true group album, the product of a musical family.
The fact that the DNA of the Tedeschi Trucks Band includes so many musical couplings has a lot to do with it. “It has such strengths, everyone’s a great songwriter in this band and everyone’s so good at listening to each other,” Tedeschi says. “There are also lots of pairs in the band—like the drummers. They’re fabulous together, creating space for each other. Then you have Oteil and Kofi who have known each other since they were born—when those two brothers are locking in together, it’s amazing, like ESP taking over. And Derek and myself know each other so well and inspire each other.”
Trucks recalls that during the group’s tour in the fall of 2010, “It felt like everyone was trying to find their place. I found our New Years show in Jacksonville was the first time it all came together, it became very adventurous. We started playing with the realization that even with a big band, it can still turn on a dime.”
Tedeschi and Trucks plan to tour the U.S. and Europe on the heels of the release of Revelator, performing the music from the album as well as old favorites. Trucks echoes Tedeschi’s sense of anticipation and pride in their new collective. “I’m really looking forward to hitting the road and letting things grow until each show feels like an event. It’s nice having all these new songs but also having that looseness and spontaneity that comes with a great group of musicians. There are few bands that do that—hold on to that element of surprise. One moment could be a train wreck but the next, it’s church.”
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 bachelor 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.
DEREK TRUCKS has been touted as the most awe-inspiring slide guitar 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 32.
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.
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 Derek Trucks Band. 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, 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.