Susan Tedeschi And Derek Trucks, Partners In Music And In Life

Mar 1, 2019
Originally published on March 1, 2019 10:31 am

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks juggle the chaotic life of raising a family while also fronting the Grammy Award-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band's latest album, Signs, released on Feb. 15, explores that balancing act while also transforming grief and confusion into art.

The married band leaders are linked to some of the biggest names in blues rock. Their story started with The Allman Brothers Band, a legendary rock band that Trucks played with in the late 90's. At the time, Tedeschi was their opening act.

"Derek actually had started with The Allman Brothers in June of '99, right around his 20th birthday, and I was 28." Tedeschi says. "I told him he was too young for me, but everybody knows he's an older soul than I am."

For their first years together, Tedeschi and Trucks played in separate bands. They both, however, pursued a distinctive style of blues, a little more traditional, a little more pure than other artists. "We've been fortunate because we've been able to be incredibly stubborn, musically," Trucks says. "And it's still working."

The couple's decision to merge their professional lives came after 10 years of being married and having two children together. During that busy decade before The Tedeschi Trucks Band formed, the couple remembers doing a lot of "relay parenting" while Trucks was in three bands, playing with The Allman Brothers Band in 2006 and Eric Clapton in 2007.

"I mean, we both were a little nervous," Tedeschi recalls. "But if anything, we actually like each other better being around each other. We realized that because we've been on the road so much our lives, it was nice to not be on the phone so much and actually just be [together] in person."

Trucks is now 39 and Tedeschi is 47; both are at an age when their older mentors such as Gregg Allman have been dying around them. Kofi Burbridge, the longtime keyboardist and flutist for Tedeschi Trucks Band, also died recently at the age of 57, passing the same day that Signs was released.

Tedeschi and Trucks say these losses were on their minds as they wrote this latest album."This record especially, I think more than anything we've done, happened in a time where there's just a lot in the air — in the world, personally and for the band." Trucks says. "All the lyrics were pretty raw and to the bone."

Signs is out now via Fantasy Records.

: 3/01/19

An earlier Web version of this story mistakenly referred to Gregg Allman as Greg Orman.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are partners in work and in life. They're musicians who married, then married their music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIGNS, HIGH TIMES")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) Here I am. I did it to myself, but I still don't know what I'm here for.

INSKEEP: That's Susan Tedeschi fronting the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They're linked to some of the biggest names in blues rock and have a devoted following of their own. And they brought their instruments by our studios to show what they do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEET ME IN THE BOTTOM")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) Well, meet me at the bottom. Bring me my running shoes.

INSKEEP: She bends her voice into blue notes, tones between the regular notes on a scale. He bends the voice of his guitar, moving a slide, a glass tube up and down the strings.

DEREK TRUCKS: You know, you can really emulate the human voice with this lad.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)

INSKEEP: So how do you take the chaos that is the life of a travelling musician and make that your family life? The story starts with the Allman Brothers, a famous rock band. Derek played with them in the late '90s, and Susan was their opening act.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Derek actually had started with the Allman Brothers in June of '99, right around his 20th birthday. So you were - what? - like, a month into being 20 (laughter) when I met you, and I was 28.

INSKEEP: Oh.

TEDESCHI: So I'm a little older.

TRUCKS: Cradle robbing.

TEDESCHI: And I told him he was too young for me, but everybody knows he's an older soul than I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEET ME IN THE BOTTOM")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) When you see me streaking by, please don't be late.

INSKEEP: In their first years together, they played in separate bands. Their songs sounded a little more traditional than other artists'. Here is a sign of the choices they made. Susan Tedeschi was nominated for a Grammy as best new artist.

The other nominees, if I'm not mistaken, were Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray, Kid Rock, Britney Spears...

TEDESCHI: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...And you.

TEDESCHI: Who would've thought?

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: We're getting at your passion here, I think, because it's probably fair to say that these other four nominees made certain commercial choices, maybe agreed to do the things you didn't want to do.

TEDESCHI: Absolutely. And I was fine with them doing it. I didn't want to do it.

TRUCKS: Yeah.

TEDESCHI: I mean, I'm out there to please people, make people happy through music. And...

TRUCKS: Yeah.

TEDESCHI: ...The only way to do it is to be true to yourself. And Derek really helped support me through a lot of that, actually.

TRUCKS: And we've been fortunate 'cause we've been able to be incredibly stubborn, musically. And it's still working, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEET ME IN THE BOTTOM")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) He's got a mean old woman, and I'm too young to die.

INSKEEP: Their stubbornness makes them distinctive. He's 39 now. She's 48. They're of an age when older mentors, like Greg Allman, have been dying around them. One mentor died with them on stage. He was 70 at the time. And even as they started their latest tour, one of their bandmates died. They say their losses were on their minds as they wrote a new album called "Signs."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK THROUGH THIS LIFE")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) Looking around, I see so many lives falling apart.

INSKEEP: Having merged your personal lives years ago, how did you come about deciding to merge your professional lives?

TEDESCHI: Well, that took a while. It was a good 10 years of being married and having two children. And we could not have done it sooner because Derek was in three bands. I mean, he had his own band, which was touring the world. And then he also was in the Allman Brothers. And for the 2006 and '07, he was playing with Clapton.

TRUCKS: It was a busy decade.

TEDESCHI: So we were very busy, and then it got to a point where, you know, things just started to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK THROUGH THIS LIFE")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) But you and me - oh, we ain't giving up now. Oh, we're going to rise above.

INSKEEP: Was there a moment of hesitation when you thought, I hope I don't see too much of this person - I hope I don't drive them crazy?

TEDESCHI: I mean, we both were a little nervous. If anything, we actually like each other better being around each other. We realized because we've been on the road so much our lives, it was nice to not be on the phone so much and to actually just be in person.

TRUCKS: Before, it was a lot of, I'm out. Susan's home.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

TRUCKS: Susan's out. I'm home.

INSKEEP: Relay parenting.

TRUCKS: Yeah. And it - that was a big factor in doing this, too - was just a quality of parenting (laughter) and child rearing.

INSKEEP: We have this song on the album called "When Will I Begin," which seems to express that kind of - I don't know - daily frustration of trying to get your life going in the way you want.

TEDESCHI: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WILL I BEGIN")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) There are papers surrounding me, keeping me buried beneath the sea.

TEDESCHI: Some people ask, you know, why is the lyric, you know, there are papers surrounding me? Well, you know, how many people are just inundated with bills or mail or, you know, paperwork? And you don't get to go enjoy life 'cause you're so inundated with just normal, everyday stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WILL I BEGIN")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) When will I begin? When will I begin? When will I begin to be free? When will I begin?

INSKEEP: That's beautiful, guys. Thank you.

TEDESCHI: Thanks.

INSKEEP: You feel it.

TRUCKS: This record, especially, I think, more than anything we've done, happened in a time where there was just a lot in the air - in the world, personally, for the band. And all the lyrics were pretty raw and to the bone.

INSKEEP: It's not too explicit, but they say there is no doubt their song "Shame" is a comment on the news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAME")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) Shame - oh, there's poison in the well. Shame, shame...

TRUCKS: You want to say things. You don't want to shy away. You can't bury your head in the sand. You don't want to pander, but you also don't want to make the chasm any wider than it already is.

INSKEEP: Well, have you noticed that the crowds you play to - are they in some way divided or politicized?

TEDESCHI: So this is interesting.

TRUCKS: Without a doubt - you can feel it in the air. We really felt it right after the last election. We did a tour through the Midwest, and you could just...

TEDESCHI: Stick.

TRUCKS: Every lyric you sang had a different meaning. And you could feel it just through the crowd. We opened the first show with a George Harrison tune - "Isn't It A Pity." Just - it just felt right. And you could just feel the portion of the audience that's like, yes. Isn't it a pity? And then you could feel a portion that's like, how dare you play that song first?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

TRUCKS: And you know - and we - our mentor - one of our mentors, Colonel Bruce Hampton, before he passed away - right around that time period, we saw him. And he said, well, music's important again (laughter). I was like, you know what? He's absolutely right.

TEDESCHI: Music is.

INSKEEP: Because people need it.

TRUCKS: And it matters, and...

TEDESCHI: And music can be revolutionary, too. I mean, it can really, you know, get people inspired and bring people together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAME")

TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: (Singing) Makes me wonder, oh, why we're broken. Lord, you got to wonder...

INSKEEP: A grown-up perspective from two musicians who have been growing older together. The latest from the Tedeschi Trucks Band is called "Signs," and you can hear the songs they performed for us at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.