The leading lady of one of music’s hottest bands is one proud mama.
By Steve Houk
As if the music they make isn’t good enough, there also exists a tight, cohesive and some might say unique family vibe within the Tedeschi Trucks Band, a vibe that some other bands might even envy.
Of course there’s a literal family thing afoot, what with the extraordinary husband and wife duo of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi leading the way. But Tedeschi, a proud mother of two herself, is the de facto Mama of her twelve member musical family, and she is as proud as a real mama could be of how her current clan all gets along.
“Ya know, being a Mom, everybody likes being mothered a little bit,” the affable and engaging Tedeschi told me with a likely wry smile as the band prepared for the next leg of their seemingly endless tour schedule. “Honestly, if they were actually my kids, they’d all be amazing kids. Everyone gets along great, of course it’s never perfect, but that’s the great thing about it too, like, we all communicate. Everybody gets attention, everybody’s loved, everybody’s got that line of communication open, so it’s great that way.”
With all the potential dysfunction that can happen to a touring rock and roll band, TTB seems almost scarily in sync. On the heels of their new record Let Me Get By and currently holding court as one of music’s busiest and most talented live acts, TTB appears to have it all going on. Since they meshed resources in 2005, blending the slide-fueled bluster of Papa Derek Trucks’ band with Mama Tedeschi’s more blues-geared sounds, they’ve become one of the most sought after bands out there, consistently selling out halls and theaters, garnering a devoted fan base and playing a slew of big festivals year round, all across the land. TTB plays DC’s Warner Theatre February 25th and 26th.
And for the first time, Papa Trucks produced this latest TTB record, sitting at the controls of Let Me Get By with help from longtime band brother Bobby Tis. And having Trucks at the helm fostered a more relaxed environment during a recording session than ever before.
“This was the first time that Derek produced, it was the first time it was just all band and no outsiders,” Tedeschi said. “It was really great because it wasn’t like, OK, the producer’s here and now it’s time to work. Instead it was like oh, let’s go mess around in the studio and chill and everybody’s just hangin’ out, and like, let’s write some stuff, so it was real casual, like it didn’t seem pressured. And each year it gets better and better. We’ve had great producers, but Derek just did a fabulous job and he knows the band so well, that he knows how to get the most out of everybody, which I think is a big part of it. And also, he loves doing it.”
Getting the most out of everybody also means including everybody in the process, as the band stretched their legs and kept what felt right. “We wanted to be able to show the band off more, in its natural setting,” Tedeschi explained, “which is being able to stretch more, more variety in the styles of music, and also incorporate everyone in the writing process, or at least most of ’em. It is hard to incorporate everybody ‘cuz there are 12 of us now. But actually it was great, like the drummers were really involved, like JJ (Johnson) came up with a melody and had it in his head for a while, and then sat down with Kofi (Burbridge), wrote some chords, and then Mike (Mattison) and I put some lyrics to it, and then before you know it, the whole band’s singing on it. So it feels really cool, songs like that really came very naturally and easily and so much fun to play, and you can really tell when the band is involved in the writing process, ‘cuz when we play the songs live, they get behind them more and they’re more excited.”
For Tedeschi, not being the only one out in front anymore, like she was in her own band before TTB, has it’s advantages, and perhaps also, she candidly admits, some disadvantages that she’s working on.
“If we’re gonna get honest about it, there are certain things that I’m better at now, and then there are certain things that I feel I have been slacking on more, because I’m not forced to write as much, and I’m not forced to be the leader as much. So I feel like I tend to put some extra energy into being a parent and maybe not putting so much into being the musician that I should be. But Derek puts so much time in that it’s like, it balances out. I do feel like I don’t push myself as much in the songwriting department, I could be writing more. And I do write, but I don’t always bring it to the table ‘cuz I don’t know if they’d be into it or not. And that’s something I’ve got to get over and I’ve got to work on.”
And for anyone standing beside one of rock’s most innovative and talented guitarists, husband or not, it can be both educational, and a bit daunting, even when you have chops like Tedeschi.
“As a guitarist, I feel like I’m learning more. Derek’s always giving me ideas on what to play behind him. I’m a little more insecure at times because, you know, having to play with him, is a little intimidating. But that’s a great thing about being in this band too, he’s always pushing all of us, not just me. He pushes himself, he’s making us constantly learn new things or write new things to keep it fresh for the audience as well as for the players. He’s very easy, but at the same time, like you said, very strong and firm, you know what you’re gettin’.”
And as their band family has come together, so has their fan base, yet another extension of that family vibe that Tedeschi finds so rewarding, and her band seems to thrive on.
“We’ve been so lucky, we really have, the fans are amazing,” Tedeshi says humbly. “They’ve been there through all the personnel changes, and all the musical changes too. One cool thing I think over the past few years of us having a band together is its brought our fans together too, like his fans and my fans, alot of ’em have even hooked up and gotten married! We have people who say like, ‘I was your fan, and my husband was Derek’s fan, and we met at your shows.’ So in a way, it’s really cool, like we can bring people together.”
Yep, all in the family.
Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guest Jorma Kaukonen perform on Thursday Feb 25th and Saturday Feb 27th (opener TBD) at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, click here. Their show on Feb 26th is sold out.