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Tedeschi Trucks Band: A Joyful Noise (Cover Story Excerpt)

Dean Budnick | January 26, 2016

Here's an excerpt from our January_February 2016 cover story. Click here to read the full piece, later posted to the site.

It's 30 minutes to showtime, and Derek Trucks is uncomfortable. 

This is not to say that he’s anxious about the events about to unfold onstage before a capacity house at the ornate Providence Performing Arts Center. He’s good-natured and imperturbable as the minutes count down until the 12-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band will embark on their third show of a brief early-December tour. 

Instead, Trucks is experiencing some physical discomfort, the result of a major surgery two weeks earlier. The series of horizontal scars across his torso attests to the gravity of his recent operation, in which surgeons at the Mayo Clinic removed a 4-inch benign tumor from the base of his spine. He entered the hospital in his native Jacksonville, Fla., on the day he returned from a November European tour in order to give himself the maximum recovery time (albeit a scant two weeks) before the December dates.

Still, Trucks acknowledges that he did not fully anticipate the physical toll on his body, wrought from live performance. “The last four or five days before I left home, I would get up, put a guitar on and walk around the house for 30-40 minutes just to feel it out. I wouldn’t think that just going under the knife would wipe out my stamina overnight, but the first show that we did [at Port Chester, N.Y.’s Capitol Theatre] was a two-set show, and toward the end of the second set, I started to get a little woozy and thought, ‘Well, that’s different.’ I also had a finger lock up on me, which I’ve never had happen. I guess since my body was going into healing mode, the other stuff  didn’t work quite right.” 

Yet even in the face of that locked finger, he maintained his equanimity. “It worked out,” he adds with a laugh, “because I figured, ‘I’ve got these nine other ones that work fine.’ But for a moment there, I was thinking, ‘What is happening? Oh, shit!’ The shows were fun, though. I was surprised by how good it felt to play, to the point where I would get lost in the moment, and I wouldn’t realize that I was leaning in and all the wounds are right where the guitar sits.”

His wife, TTB vocalist and fellow guitar player Susan Tedeschi reflects: “Derek is just a trooper. Most people would have cancelled. I know people who have cancelled for much less—for hair gel in their eye, or if their voice is weak or something silly. So, to have major surgery and be out touring, just shows you who he is, and how determined he is for this band and how much he loves this group. He’s not out there trying to make a buck; he’s trying to do something significant. He’s a great leader, and he shows us that it’s worth the hard work. He pulls us closer together.”

Both Trucks and Tedeschi have done just that during a banner year in which they recalibrated the roles and personnel in their big band, crossed the nation with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings on their Wheels of Soul summer tour, and embraced their spiritual origins by performing a special tribute to Mad Dogs & Englishmen at Lockn’, all the while tuning up their third studio album, Let Me Get By—set
for release in late January—which TTB’s members uniformly suggest reflects a new vitality and vision for the group.

Tedeschi Trucks Band's 2015 began much like the previous few Januarys, as the group assembled at Swamp Raga Studios, located behind Derek and Susan’s house in Jacksonville. Historically, these sessions have allowed the band to reconnect and prepare for their mid-month appearance at Florida’s Sunshine Music Festival, which the group has anchored since the event began in 2012.
For a few years, the band performed on New Year’s Eve, but they gave up the spectacle—and payday—back in 2011. “Halloween and New Year’s have become such a circus, especially in our scene,” Trucks explains. “We would put so much time and energy into working things up and then we’d look out front and everyone was hammered. Something was lost—it was not this symbiotic thing. I’d rather be home with my family enjoying the new year. We don’t take many breaks, and lately, mid-December to mid-January has been the no-go zone. It’s a nice time of year in North Florida—it’s cool but not too cold. Maybe, eventually, we’ll start doing a hometown New Year’s again, but I felt like it was getting a little silly. For some groups, it’s great, and they thrive off  of that energy. But I don’t like watching people vomit in the crowd during the show. I played frat parties when I was a kid. I’ve done that.”

Trucks, who turned 36 in June, has long moved past the era when he was hailed as a prodigy, typically lumped in with such blues-guitar tyros as Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang. (During this period, the media typically linked them in such a way that one can imagine Trucks recoiling from any number of proposed photo shoots, in which they were all to be dressed as Wild West gunslingers, gripping vintage guitars across their chaps.) He married Susan Tedeschi in 2001 and they welcomed their son, Charlie, the next year, followed by daughter Sophia in 2004. The two musicians then juggled solo careers, even as Trucks balanced careers within his solo career, finding time for the Derek Trucks Band, the Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton’s touring group. The Tedeschi Trucks Band came together in 2010 after they tested the waters with a blended Soul Stew Revival tour in the summer of 2008. The then-11-piece group, with all of its attendant expenses, defiantly elevated musical intentions above financial considerations.