By Brian Wise.
TWO FOR THE BLUES!
The Tedeschi Trucks Band return to Australia with a new album – and they are hotter than ever!
When they were last here for the 2013 Bluesfest, the Tedeschi Trucks Band just about blew the roof off the Crossroads stage with a couple of brilliant performances. In one hell of a powerful band you had two great guitarists together (at last) and a bunch of great singers. It’s a formidable combination.
Derek Trucks was voted 16th Best Guitarist of All Time in one poll and spent years honing his craft in the Allman Brothers Band. Susan Tedeschi is a five-time Grammy nominee in her own right and a winner in 2012 with this band. Add to that duo a stunning backing band including a couple of great backing singers, one of whom – Mike Mattison – also takes lead vocals occasionally and writes songs as well!
If you thought those Bluesfest shows back in 2013 were great prepared to be stunned again. I was lucky enough to see them at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last year and they are playing even better than ever.
“That one felt good,” recalls Derek when I remind of the Jazz Fest show. “Sometimes when you hit the main stage of those festivals with no sound check it can be a little trying. Something about that show felt really good out of the gate. It was really relaxed and really musical and that one felt good. I was proud of the band.”
It’s easy to compare the TTB to an outfit like Delaney and Bonnie & Friends in the ‘70s touring with Eric Clapton – they are that good. At Jazz Fest they also played a mighty version of ‘Keep On Growing,’ co-written by Clapton for Derek & The Dominos, the band he formed with three other Delaney & Bonnie alumni! The connections just keep getting stronger. Not only that, last September the Tedeschi Trucks Band paid tribute to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour of 1970, with some of the original band members, including Leon Russell.
“Man, it’s been growing,” says Derek when I suggest that the band just keeps getting better. “It really has. I’ve got to say, since that Jazz Fest show in New Orleans it’s taken a few more pretty big steps forward. It’s in a really healthy spot right now. I feel lucky to be a part of it. I feel like we’re just starting to figure out what really makes it go and everybody is on the same page. It really has been a lot of fun”
While Trucks has a formidable reputation as a guitarist, his partner Susan – who sings as powerfully as a young Bonnie Raitt – is surely not too far behind. At the Jazz Fest show she played her fair share of killer solos.
“There’s a few tunes and a few songs when Susan is on you just have to get out of the way and let her go!” agrees Trucks. She’s fearless, man. That is no joke. There’s certainly times when she’ll play a guitar solo and I’ll think, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to play after that……think it’s time for another verse.”
“I think her being in front of a band this big and this powerful and leading the charge has slowly and subtly given her a different confidence,” adds Trucks when I mention Susan’s transformation from the somewhat reserved or shy musician I first saw more than a decade ago in the USA.
“I think I definitely notice it,” he says. “I notice it when we’re in the studio too because when I first met her she never felt comfortable or right in the studio. Lately, when we’re in there and especially when it’s time to do vocals, she gets right on it. It’s been fun to watch. She obviously has the gift but watching that continue to grow is sure fun to watch.”
The new Tedeschi Trucks Band album is Let Me Get By, a collection of ten original songs written by band members and co-producer Doyle Bramhall II. It’s a real team effort.
“The record that we just made, I think captures that really well,” says Truck. “The record feels really nice too. I think we finally captured the spirit of what the band looks and feels like when it’s travelling down the road. I think the personalities of everybody are really represented well on the new record.
“I’m excited about it,” says Trucks when I mention that we are looking forward to seeing them back in Australia. “I’m getting more excited. It’s going to be fun. I know the rehearsals are going to be a hell of a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure it’ll translate to the stage!”
“It’s very much a band record. All the stuff was written in the studio and this will be the first one
where everything was written in that room and recorded and mixed. It’s going to to have the swamp stamp on it.”
I suggest that the playing a fair selection of songs to play from the new album when they are playing in Australia – and particularly at Bluesfest.
“We started breaking out a lot of the tunes on this last tour,” says Trucks. “Everyone was chomping at the bit to play the new tunes so we started breaking them out. They’re a lot of fun, man. There’s still five or six that we haven’t attempted yet but I’m sure by the time we get there they’ll all be in and out of the rotation.
“The beauty of this band is, it’s a bit of a double edge sword but there’s so many hyper-creative people on stage so you have to keep the material flowing. It can’t be the same set every night. Anytime you can throw new material at the band it just seems to elevate the other stuff. Like any fresh tunes and whether it’s an original tune or a cover, whatever it really does heighten everybody in the group. It’s fun when you have a new record to dig into.”
One thing that really impressed me when I have seen the band was the fact that Derek and Susan kept Mike Mattison and some of the other guys in their respective bands.
“It’s family in a lot of ways,” responds Derek. “Also, you meet certain people along the way that they help keep things grounded and they keep the inspiration flowing. Mike has such great ideas and he’s such a great songwriter and just I always trust his ear. When we’re writing tunes, we’re working on things, he’s just one of the guys that I’m constantly – whether it’s a mix or whatever – bouncing ideas off of.”
“There’s a lot of guys in the band that I trust that way,” he continues. “With Kofi – he’s one of the handful of musical geniuses I’ve ever been around. Having him in the band it’s endless musical inspiration. I’ve never heard him play anything the same way twice. It’s an amazing thing. He’ll be in the studio and sometimes we’ll be over dubbing a B 3 part or a clavinet or whatever and he’ll take one pass at it and it’s usually so good that you find yourself laughing out loud. The take is already done but selfishly I’ll get on the talk back and be like, hey Kofi you mind doing that again just that we have some other options. It’s fun to hear him. He’ll take another take and it’s coming from a totally different place but it’s just as appropriate. He’s a unique musician man, there’s not many like him.
“When we were lucky enough to have Herbie Hancock down a hand full of years ago. We actually recorded ‘Space Captain – the Mad Dogs tune with him. Seeing Kofi and Herbie in the room together it hit me that I think they’re from the same planet. I don’t know which one it is. They both have that approach where it’s endless the amount of amazing shit they play. It keeps you on your toes. You aspire to be able to do that yourself.”
The major event in the latter part of 2015 for TTB was the tribute to the Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, which featured a fantastic group of musicians and singers, including Claudia Lennear, said to be the inspiration for the song ‘Brown Sugar’ and also one of the singers in the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom.
“She is a sweetheart,” says Trucks of Lennear. “Talking to her really made me feel good about the whole thing. She mentioned watching some clips of the band of our band and just mentioning, I really think the spirit’s going to be right. I think it’s a similar vibe. She is coming into it with all heart so I’m excited. I k.”
“When we originally talked about it two years ago we were going to try and have Joe Cocker sit in with us, with our band and play some of his music. Some of the Mad Dog stuff. Then he got sick and that obviously didn’t come together so we started thinking that maybe we’d just do a tribute and then it morphed into this Mad Dogs thing. Once Leon signed on for it, once that happened I knew that it would roll. When Chris Stainton who was on the original tour, he played piano and Leon was playing guitar and he played B 3 when Leon was playing piano. Chris was also on the Clapton tour that I did and still plays with Eric. It’s been great talking to everybody that was involved in the original tour.”
Let Me Get By is available now through Universal Music.