Meet The Parents: Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks (Relix Revisited: 2003)
On the heels of the new Tedeschi Trucks Band release, we look back to the February-March 2003 issue of Relix for this feature on Susan and Derek.
The two tour buses occupy every inch of space between the traffic cones. Parked in front of a music venue on a Hartford, Connecticut thoroughfare, the coaches make the slightest of contact, their bumpers grazing, or perhaps more aptly, kissing. It’s family day at the Webster Theater.
Dual career households are a fixture of modern American society. Work-related responsibilities compound the challenges of child rearing. The degrees of complexity only increase when mom has been tapped to sweeten the vocals on the Other Ones tour while dad is off headlining his own series of theater dates.Yet despite the resulting additions to already-saturated travel itineraries, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and their infant son Charlie remain euphonious and upbeat.
Filial considerations aside (as if that were possible), this is a significant moment for the musicians. Two days prior to the family reunion at Derek’s Webster gig, Tone Cool/Artemis Records issued Susan’s Wait for Me. As with the Derek Trucks Band’s Joyful Noise, which came out in September, it is a highly anticipated third album, the first studio release in more than four years. The increased notoriety that accrued over that time span has carried additional commercial pressures, with industry execs attempting to guide the performers, somewhat ironically, in opposite musical directions—pushing Derek towards the blues while directing Susan away from the genre. The two artists are coming to terms with these concerns while celebrating their finest recorded efforts yet and reveling in young Charles Kahlil Trucks. On many levels the couple embraces a joyful noise.
Nowhere else will you see such a blend of awkward stage presence and musical profundity. The band’s namesake fixes his eyes on his hands or the floor even as he summons the most sublime expressions from his guitar. The lead vocalist possesses range and power yet at times he seems uncertain as to how he should comport himself during the group’s extended improvisations. The drummer is an active force who can also convey restraint even as he embodies his rhythms and pops his tongue out of his mouth. The bassist and keyboard player/ flautist enrich the sound and complete the picture with a ubiquitous smile and a nimbus of hair. Yet any visual impression is swiftly subsumed by the larger performance which articulates its players’ near-messianic zeal to serve the music and the moment. The results are nonpareil.
There is no archetype for the current Derek Trucks Band, which draws from R&B, Latin, Indian, jazz and blues. One is tempted to compare the group to a traditional jazz collective yet Trucks demurs and observes, “we don’t play enough standards.” Instead, when pressed, he’ll characterize the DTB’s slide-infused amalgam as world soul.
“At this moment I really don’t see a model of what we’re trying to do,” Trucks observes. “Hopefully we’re trying to create a model. I don’t think there’s any band that we’re trying to emulate in terms of their sound or their career. Early on there were huge inspirations: you look at the Miles [Davis] quintet and bands that were going for it that way. You want to go for it with that kind of intensity, like Coltrane’s quartet with Elvin [Jones] and McCoy [Tyner] where everyone’s bashing and playing and getting it out.”
While the guitarist is not content to travel familiar paths, his attitude towards innovation is personal and self-driven rather than disjunctive. “I don’t think pushing the envelope is going completely left or completely right. I think it’s a fire and intensity more than people willing to go out or play atonal or free. I think that complete musical integrity coupled with complete fire and belief in what you’re doing can be pushing an envelope more than completely destroying a music.”
Such beliefs led Trucks away from the blues that had garnered him early acclaim as a guitar prodigy (one who first took the stage with the Allman Brothers Band at age eleven on July 11, 1990 at the Florida Theater for “One Way Out”). Bassist Todd Smallie, who has performed an estimated 1600 shows with the guitarist since 1994, notes, “He’s come a long way but at the same time he hasn’t.He’s always floored me but he’s broadened his horizons every day. I think between Coltrane, Ali Akbar Kahn and Nusrat [Fateh Ali Kahn], that’s what really excited him, when he knew he was going to go for a different sound with the slide.” While this evolution has proven discomfiting to some listeners, it has invigorated the band as a whole. Keyboardist Kofi Burbridge comments, “It’s not the type of music where you have to nail that note, it’s the type of music where everyone’s ready for the new thing, ready for that spin or that twist. That whole mystery about it is a big turn-on to me.” Drummer Yonrico Scott shares this sentiment, as he emphasizes the band’s sense of dynamics—“You don’t have to always slam them with the blues,we like to dip it. Sometimes we dip it so hard it’s under the p.a.”
Integrity and freedom remain the traits that merit the highest commendation from the guitarist. “If it’s a choice between playing something people want to hear that we don’t feel, and sacrificing, then the band will sacrifice,” Trucks affirms. “I don’t worry for a second about this band or what I’m going to do. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be playing whether it’s to 5000 people or 50 people.”
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