There have been a fair number of musical husband-and-wife rockers out there over the years, but how many can you name who already had successful solo careers before they started storming stages and studios in tandem? With the June 7 release of Revelator, the Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s name can be added to that exceedingly small list.
As you probably already know, Susan Tedeschi started out in the ’90s as one of the most promising young blues artists around, a singer/guitarist who had soaked up her share of the canon but was proudly pointed in new directions too. By the ’00s, she had expanded her sound outwards while still staying in touch with her blues roots. Guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, became an ABB axeman when he was just 20 years old, and has been leader of the Derek Trucks Band since his teens. Tedeschi and Trucks met (where else?) on the road, starting a romance that eventually blossomed into wedded bliss and proud parenthood, but it’s only recently that they began seriously considering a full-fledged musical marriage via the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
“We had done tours with both of our solo bands together, and then a lot of tours with Susan opening for the Allman Brothers,” recalls Trucks, but their individual careers initially proved too demanding to take it much further than that. Tedeschi says a joint project was “always something we were leaning towards, but it was difficult.” In 2010, the tide finally began to turn in their favor, though. “I finally had an opportunity to get out of my deal,” says Tedeschi, “and Derek was done with some of the major projects that he’s been very occupied with.” Soon, the pair was signing a new contract with Sony Masterworks to record together under the TTB moniker, and work began in earnest.
“We spent a huge amount of time in our studio writing and rehearsing,” says Trucks, “and playing with different musicians, just feeling it out. We wanted it to be a big band. Knowing it was gonna be a lot of human beings on the road, we wanted to make sure the chemistry was right—making sure all the personalities worked, musically and otherwise.” In the end, the Tedeschi Trucks Band wound up as an eleven-strong ensemble, complete with horn section and harmony singers, including former Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbidge, Burbidge’s keyboard-playing brother Kofi and a couple of members of both Derek and Susan’s previous bands, as well as several new faces.
Of course, taking an eleven-piece outfit on the road isn’t easy. “Logistically and financially it’s a beast,” says Trucks. “It’s a burden to really make it work. Most people that have eleven-piece bands on the road are well along the way. We do well, we’ve made it work over the years, but making it work with a four- or five-piece band is quite a bit different than having twenty people on the road, crew and otherwise.” But they had some excellent models for making it work, looking to large, freewheeling, roots-oriented outfits of an earlier era for inspiration. “When we first had the idea, we were thinking Delaney & Bonnie, and [Joe Cocker and Leon Russell's] Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Sly & The Family Stone, and Derek & The Dominos, we were really thinking about that family vibe.”
Capturing the outsized band’s eclectic, syncretic vision of American roots music wasn’t easy, but Trucks in particular was fully up to that task. “Derek has worked very hard on this record,” says Tedeschi, “not just playing guitar and writing songs, but as a producer and as a visionary, working with [co-producer] Jim Scott…trying to get the best out of everybody. I feel more proud of this record than I’ve felt of any of my records in the past. This is a really timeless record.” For his part, Trucks is enthusiastic about Revelator‘s rich expanse of styles, observing “It felt really visual to me, it felt like every song was a scene change. From one song to the next it feels like theater or a movie.”
For Tedeschi, the project offers a chance to spread her wings further than ever without abandoning the blues. “Even though I get categorized as a blues artist,” she says, “think about the Stones, think about somebody like Little Feat or the Allman Brothers, they all have blues roots…they just make it their own. I think that’s sort of what we’re doing at this point.” Her husband takes the idea of expanding the musical palette even further, saying “You get pretty discouraged when you listen to mainstream music—I always have this sense that it’s detrimental to humanity when you’re lowering the bar and just dumbing it down. For a long time my reaction to that was ‘Fuck it, we’ll just play for ourselves.’”
Of course, Revelator represents an attempt to transcend those circumstances. “I think you get to a point where you’re like ‘Why don’t you try to do something about it?’ Trucks explains, “‘Why don’t you try to make music that anyone can listen to, but the medicine is still in there?’ You think about the way they feed dolphins at Sea World, they put the medicine inside the sardine, sometimes I feel like we’re trying to do that musically. You can have it both ways. I think about some of my favorite artists—Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles…there’s no compromise there musically, but somehow it gets through to people, and I think this group has the ability to do that.”