By Chris Larson
During a short break in their Wheels of Soul Tour with Los Lobos and the Gabe Dixon Band, I had a chance to speak with Susan Tedeschi, a vocalist, songwriter, and guitar player in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which also features her husband and guitar legend Derek Trucks. We spoke at length about the new album and what inspired the 24 track, 4 LP release that was accompanied by short films for each album, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band sound. First, however, we talked about baseball and one of the least expected musical sit-ins of the summer.
High Plains Reader: How did you end up at Wrigley field singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with Bob Odenkirk during a seventh inning stretch this summer?
Susan Tedeschi: We have some friends in Major League Baseball and so whenever we have an off day and we are near a baseball game, we usually go. My husband is a huge Braves fan; I grew up in Boston so I’m a big Red Sox fan – but I honestly love every team. Derek and I went to the game with some of the guys from Los Lobos and our band and we showed up in kind of a club area, and as soon as I got there Bob saw me and was like “Susan, come sit with me for the game!” We’ve been friends for about six years since we met through some mutual friends in Albuquerque, where he films Better Call Saul and filmed Breaking Bad, and every once in a while we try to reach out and say “Hey.” So yeah it was really just luck, he was like “Hey, come sing this with me!”
HPR: Can you talk a little bit more about the inspiration for the new 4-album release, that thousand year old poem that also sparked the song Layla? Was the album born out of the pandemic-related shutdown of live shows or was it something that you had been sitting on?
ST: It was born out of the pandemic. We’d been working nonstop and when everything got shut down in March and April of 2020, Mike Mattison had mentioned to us that he was looking over Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the live show we did with Trey (Anastasio of Phish), and he was listening to the record and he was checking out all the lyrics for the original record thinking it seemed kind of one-sided, and why don’t we dig into the original poem reference to Layla and Majnun and see if we can come up with something from her perspective or maybe from somebody else’s point of view of this relationship. He sent around the poem and we all read and took some inspiration from it. So it was just a way to keep us all in touch since we couldn’t be together: to keep our minds active while we couldn’t tour, let’s start writing and we have our own studio so it was a way to get the ball rolling, and then we all wrote. We got together a few months later in August, the core six of the twelve-piece, and we all had all these different ideas and then as we continued to write over the next few months, we realized we had a lot of stuff. So we worked it up that way as a six piece until we decided it was safe enough to all go to the farm and hunker down together and really write for this project. That’s when we noticed we had so much material that it wasn’t going to be a one record or even a two record thing and we were going to have to figure out how to present it. It started as one idea but we are such a big band and we had so many ideas coming from everywhere and it seemed like such a great time to write that it happened naturally that we ended up with four albums worth.
HPR: How much inspiration was taken from the string of losses that your musical family experienced in the couple of years right before the lockdown. “I Can Feel You Smiling”...it seems like there is a lot of the influence of loss in there.
ST: There is. That song is interesting because Derek had written that music for the song and didn’t have words so he called our friend Oliver Wood, who listened to it and said “Oh my gosh I totally can’t stop thinking about this song, do you mind if I take a shot at it?” and it ended up being almost a tribute to all of our friends that, like you said, we lost, and especially a mutual friend of Oliver’s and Derek and I, Colonel Bruce Hampton. Some of the lyrics were inspired by him – but it could be Kofi (Burbidge, keys/flute/vocals), it could be Rico (Yonrico Scott, drummer). We can feel them and their presence, and they are still here with us. That’s how that song came about.
HPR: There are several different influences evident throughout the 4 records, but what impressed me is how it all sounds like Tedeschi Trucks Band through and through. It seems like this sound has really started to take shape in the last few years. Does the band feel that too?
ST: Yeah! Absolutely! I’ve always felt the sound there but I feel like, as you said, in the last couple of years it’s been getting more and more developed. Having Gabe Dixon (keyboards, vocals) in this band, and Brandon (Boone, bass guitar), came in when we really needed them with the loss of Kofi. It was a big role to fill. And we didn’t know how that was going to happen. Gabe had been filling in for Kofi when he was sick and that’s how we lucked out and got him, because he has his own career and a lot of records out and had his own thing going on. He has really helped influence the sound, him and Mike Mattison, and Derek. And then Falcon (Tyler Geeenwell, drums) has come out with a lot of beautiful songs on this record and his songwriting was something that helped round out the sound, showing more aspects of the band. Falcon and I come from more of a Rock and Blues kind of world, so it’s nice to see those influences on the record. A lot of the guys in the band have multiple influences. There's jazz, blues, gospel and even folk, but rock and roll for sure – and this was one of those projects that helped showcase a bit of each person’s style of writing. But it really is more of our own sound than perhaps before, if that makes sense.
HPR: Yeah it does, and it brings me to another question: though the band was born from and named for the talents of the guitarists, it seems like in every show there is a moment for almost every player to shine. How important is it, as a band, especially a twelve-piece band, to let each member have a voice, even though it is the two of you who are out front and who the band is named after?
ST: It is important and one of the things that’s so cool is that there’s so much to show off and the people seem to enjoy all the different aspects of the band. Derek and I have had our own careers for years. There’s a lot of people that know us but they might not have seen all the aspects of how we get along with this group of musicians and the love we have for them. Even during the pandemic, Derek and I helped support our whole band and crew. Derek sold his car, and we sold our boat and you do things to protect your band and crew because that’s what you do. You do that for family, for people you love and care about. There’s too many bands out there that are focused on the wrong things sometimes, you know, they aren’t really focused on the whole, which is everybody coming together, it’s not just about two people. Our audiences have always been supportive of that and how we spread it around and give some to the horns and give a little to the singers. Derek and I can lead a band but that would be pretty boring all the time, plus it helps to take off some of the pressure. If you’re having a bad night someone else can pick up the slack. And I love the diversity of this band: female, male, color, race, religion, whatever, but it shows how well we get along and that we love each other which I think, at this point in time in the world, is important for people to see.
HPR: Finally, can you give me some insight into what ticket holders can expect on September 3 at the Bluestem? The shows you live-streamed from Red Rocks were full of collaboration across all three groups on both nights. Can we expect the same?
ST: It’s such a fun tour. I don’t know that we have anything specific planned for that last show but I can tell you that we do love to collaborate with Gabe’s band and Los Lobos, either we get up with them or they get up with us, or we do a little bit of both – so I have a feeling on that last night there’s gonna be a lot of both. It’s not just our band that gets along with each other so well, we LOVE Los Lobos and they are like extended family. We’ve done this tour in the past with them in 2016 and became really close and I had toured with Caesar and David on the Experience Hendrix tour back in 2009 and got to know them really well and Derek and David have been close for years. I think there’s gonna be a lot of collaboration. You will also maybe see a little bit from all four records, because the last one will be out by that show.
HPR: Very much looking forward to hearing some of the new stuff live and to the collaborations.
ST: This tour is just a really positive message and being out there with Los Lobos is very special, they’re an American legends rock band. We will have a good time and that’s all it’s about, making music and making people happy.
IF YOU GO Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos & Gabe DixonSeptember 3, gates: 5pm, show: 6pmLocation: Bluestem AmphitheaterCost: $39.50-$125, all ages
December 5th 2023
October 10th 2023
August 24th 2023
June 20th 2023
May 27th 2023
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