Posted January 2019
As I’ve said before, it’s always a compliment and an honor when an artist agrees to sit with me for an interview more than one time. Such is the case with legendary guitarist, Derek Trucks, of the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
For those who may not be familiar with Derek, the short version of his story is: Considered a prodigy at a very young age, he managed to play alongside the great Buddy Guy before he was thirteen. He formed his self-named band when he was fifteen and by the time he was twenty, he had played with such icons as Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan, and Joe Walsh. His late uncle was the legendary Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band which played a bit of a role in Derek becoming a permanent member of that band at the young age of twenty. At the age of 27, he worked with Eric Clapton and his LP, The Road To Escondido. He married the lovely and immensely talented Susan Tedeschi and formed the twelve-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band which will be playing at the Tennessee Theatre on January 22nd and at Chattanooga’s Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium on the 23rd.
It had been right at two years since I last spoke with Trucks so, when I called him at his Florida home, I asked what all has happened since we last spoke.
“Good to talk to you, again! It’s been a long, crazy two years, man! The live record was a great highwater mark for the band. I think it’s been a long two years for the planet but personally and as a band there’s been a lot of losses. It’s been a tough go on some levels. I feel that everything’s in a good place as a group, you know? We just finished a new record and just charging down the road, trying to keep the flame lit.”
I asked Derek how have the losses of Gregg and Butch affected his music, performing, and view of life.
“Those guys and Colonel Bruce Hampton – who was, basically, a family member and a mentor in a lot of ways – those things happened all bunched up together. Then, not long after that, we almost lost Kofi (Burbridge), our keyboard player, who I’ve been with for eighteen years. He’s still with us and crushing it but it was touch and go there for a minute.
“That stuff – it certainly changes your outlook on things and, in some ways, it makes you double-down on what you’re doing – especially with Colonel and Butch and Gregg – it makes you want to keep that music going and keep it alive. There’s no time to waste. It makes you think of those things a little differently. There’s a lot of reflection when that stuff happens. It’s been a few years of that in a lot of ways. I think the record we just made is very much in that headspace. But, you gotta carry on. You gotta keep rolling and that’s what we do.”
When we last spoke, one of Susan and Derek’s kids was a teenager. Now, both are so I asked how that is messing with his mind.
“Yeah, two kids in high school – that’s something! They’re really good kids! We’re really fortunate that way. They’ll test you. Ha! Ha! Those and having a twelve piece band – that’ll test ya, too!”
And which is worse?
“It depends on the week, I will say. This week, our kids are much easier! Ha! Ha!”
What has been the reception to the live album, Live From The Fox Oakland, released shortly after our last chat?
“You know, it was really good, man! Those are great shows that we had on that tour and, then, the night that we captured was really strong. But, you know, this day and age, record releases – it’s a little different than it was 15-20 years ago. It doesn’t have as big of a splash in a lot of ways. But we’re a touring band. That’s what we do. You release records that kind of mark where you are in time. I love going into the studio and spending that time and energy mixing a record or making a record. I think it’s a huge part of the growth of the band. Hearing the band back makes you appreciate certain things. It makes you want to re-imagine certain things. I love those moments when you’re kind of checkin’ in. And, a live record like that does turn people on to what the band sounds like now when we’re hittin’ the road. So, you do get to connect with people that you’ve had a chance to see the group.”
Then, concluding his thoughts about the live record, Derek said:
“But it was a really strong night that we captured so the reception – it was positive.”
Just before this new tour launches, the TTB has been asked to perform at a very special gig in Nashville. I asked Trucks to tell me about it.
“Speakin’ of the Willie (Nelson) show? Yeah! Yeah! Sue’s known Willie for quite a while now and I’ve gotten to know him over the last decade or so. We just did some dates on Willie’s ‘Outlaw’ tour. Got to hang with him a bunch and play with him. Willie’s the man! He’s just an awesome human being. His family is amazing. He sounds so good right now. His voice is unbelievable. His phrasing.
“He played this instrumental - this Django Reinhardt tune called ‘Nuages’. It was one of the best guitar sounds and performances I’d heard in just ages. It was so refreshing! But that’s all to say that when they reached out to us and asked us to be a part of a Willie birthday show, we just said, ‘Of course!’. Ha! Ha! Even though our schedule is crazy and there’s not a lot of free time and when there is down time you want to preserve it. But when Willie calls, you just go!”
What can fans expect from the Tedeschi Trucks Band shows on this tour?
“It’s hard to know between now and then. Next year we’ll have the new record coming out. We’ll probably be digging into some of that stuff. There’s a 100+ tunes that we kinda pull from. So, on any given night you just never really know. The band’s been feeling really good that last few years. It’s a powerful sound that comes off the stage. Susan – she’s singing and playing as good as I’ve ever heard her. I think if you start there, you’re in pretty good shape.”
Any changes to the band’s line-up?
“Over the year there’s been two or three changes in the line-up. But it’s been pretty consistent the last handful of years. For a twelve piece band I think it’s miraculous that it’s as consistent as it is. I love it. That’s the way we want to do it. The core of the band will be consistent. I feel like there’s been people who have been with us for fifteen, twenty years. That’s the thing.”
Since Derek touched on it a couple of times, I asked him about their soon-to-be-released album.
“You know, today I got a test pressing in the mail of the vinyl. We’re on the home-stretch. Making sure the vinyl sounds as good as master that we sent them. Hopefully, better. Sometimes that happens! I think it’s a really honest record. There’s some really gorgeous tunes on the album. I think there’s a few songs and a few moments that are gonna, I think, stand up with anything we’ve done to date. There’s a few ‘Sue vocals’ on the record that are just amazing. The band sounds great. We recorded this one all analog. Two-inch tape. We never done that before. That was a process. We did it at our own studio so when something breaks, you gotta figure out how to fix it! It was all hands on deck! Our engineer, Bobby Tis, and his dad are just bad-asses and they were instrumental in making it go. I’m really proud of it. It’s a really warm and really great sounding record.”
“It’s just a better sound. I mean, it really is. It’s a different process and if you only know how to make records by tapping on a laptop or chopping tunes up and taking a verse from here and whatever – you can’t necessarily do it the same way on analog. I mean, you can chop tape up and you can edit on tape but you better know what you’re doing! Ha! Ha! It’s a lost art, in some ways. I mean, there are still ‘keepers of the flame’ and I think it’s important. But if you’ve made records both ways, it just feels better on tape. I think going forward, every record we make with this band – that will be a heavy consideration. We always thought about it up ‘til now. We didn’t have a tape machine in the studio. We got an old Studer spent a few good months getting’ her up to speed and a lot of blindfold tests, making sure the sound was what we wanted; that we weren’t romanticizing it. But when you get the master back after it hasn’t touched anything digital, it sure is a sound.”
And what’s on the band’s radar for the next year or so?
“It’s a busy year for us. We’re releasing a record early next year. We’re hittin’ the road behind it. I think we’re in Europe for a month or so. Then Japan for a bit. We have a summer tour lined up. We’ll be chopping a lot of wood. Ha! Ha! We’ll be working!”
You can catch all the latest happenings about the Tedeschi Trucks Band at their website, TedeschiTrucksBand.com.