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Talkin' Blues

Susan Tedeschi: Dreams and Legends

By Published: June 7, 2010
A string of Grammy-nominated albums, along with a critically acclaimed and commercially successful DVD of her appearance on the American television program Austin City Limits, have helped to establish Susan Tedeschi as one of today's premiere blues artists. On top of that, she's performed in front of millions of music lovers by headlining numerous festivals and opening for music legends like B.B. King
B.B. King
B.B. King
b.1925
guitar, electric
, Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy
b.1936
guitar, electric
, Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
b.1941
composer/conductor
, The Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band

band/orchestra
, and the Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band
Allman Brothers Band

band/orchestra
.

Her appeal extends well beyond the blues. For example, she and her husband, Grammy-winning guitarist Derek Trucks Band
Derek Trucks Band
Derek Trucks Band
b.1979
guitar
, were asked to join Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
as Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
's special guests at his Seven Decades Birthday Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, scheduled for Sept. 1, 2010. Moreover, this spring she was the only female artist included in the Experience Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
1942 - 1970
guitar, electric
tour, and her electrifying performance of three songs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute to Janis Joplin earned her a standing ovation.

Indeed, her powerful voice—combined with her soulful and nuanced phrasing—invite comparisons to Joplin, Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt

guitar, slide
and Bonnie Bramlett, but as with any serious artist, she clearly has her own unique voice. Her guitar playing has proved to be an ideal adjunct to her ample vocal gifts. Her playing has an assertive attack quality that is reminiscent of a bygone blues era and is especially effective when doing Chicago-style blues.

For the past decade she and her husband have led separate bands, maintained separate musical identities, and kept up a grueling tour schedule. Collaborations were limited and complicated by contractual constraints, but the 2010 launch of the Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band brings together two of the hottest performers on the contemporary music scene.



Chapter Index
  1. Early days and upcoming events
  2. Mike Bloomfield, Ronnie Earl and Songwriting
  3. BB King and Les Paul
  4. The New Band
  5. Magic Moments


Early days and upcoming events

AAJ: You and Derek really have come a long way since 1999. In your wildest dreams, could you have imagined back then that you would be invited as Herbie Hancock's special guests at his 70th birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl this September?

ST: That's right, thinking back to 1999 I never would have dreamed that I would be hanging out with Herbie Hancock in 2010. I remember when Derek and I were at the Grammy Awards in 2000 for my first nomination and the first person I actually went up to was Herbie. I think I went up to him and Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

vocalist
and said, "Hi, I'm a fan!"

AAJ: You're also on Herbie Hancock's new CD and DVD; what was that experience like?

ST: It was incredible. He came here to our studio and brought a camera crew and (drummer) Vinnie Colaiuta
Vinnie Colaiuta
Vinnie Colaiuta
b.1956
drums
. It was just the two of them and they got together with Derek, Kofi Burbridge [on flute, keyboards], Oteil Burbridge
Oteil Burbridge
Oteil Burbridge
b.1967
bass
[bass guitar] and myself. So we recorded a track for his new record here at our studio.

He stayed for three or four days and he was fabulous. He's so great and we just had such a blast with him, he's an amazing human. He's a sweetheart, down-to-earth, and inspiring. You know, he's just incredible, he makes it look so effortless and easy.

AAJ: Your fans will be very interested in having a chance to see your studio and see you and Derek working with Herbie, so that's nice for Herbie, too.

ST: It's amazing with this new record of his. He's been going all around the world. He's been to all these amazing places, and it's so funny, it's like France, England, Africa and Mumbai, with Jacksonville, Fla., thrown in the mix.

AAJ: Let's go back a little bit. There's a story about drummer Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
that his parents said they knew something was up with him when he was a year old. He was sitting in his highchair and tapping with his spoon in perfect time to music in the background. What have your parents told you about when they first sensed you had a musical gift?

ST: My mom said I used to sing in the crib. She said I used to make up songs. She said I was the happiest baby, and every morning when she would come in I'd be singing away. So before I even spoke, I was singing.

When I was growing up, instead of putting us in daycare, my mom would get us in plays that she was in. We'd be in the chorus or whatever. So, there I was at six- years-old auditioning for the musical Oliver. She was in the show and my brother and I played workhouse boys. That was my first real show. I learned songs, lines and even a Cockney accent. I had a blast with it and it came to me very naturally. I could memorize lines pretty quickly.

When I was around five or six, I started acting and did that even through high school and college. Then I kind of got burnt out on it and wanted to just focus on music. There were a couple of things I didn't like about it. One, you're not really your own boss. You're at the mercy of the director's whim. Number two, if you're acting all the time, you really don't know who you are as a person. I'd been acting from age six to 18, so emotionally I was getting a bit confused.

Once I quit acting I became more focused and knew what I wanted to do.

AAJ: In terms of music, many people feel the human voice holds a special place. You know, there are billions of voices, and like snowflakes, no two are alike. Somehow, after just three notes, you know if it's Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
, Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
, Johnny Cash or Aretha Franklin. And, of course, the human voice, unlike an instrument, has the added dimension of combining the beauty of tone with the power of language. It isn't an easy question, but what do you think makes for an iconic singer?

ST: I really think it has a lot to do with the actual tone of the voice, and like you said, if you can recognize somebody after a few notes it really has something to do with their own special character and blend of all their influences. For example, there was a period when you could listen to Ray Charles and he sounded like Charles Brown
Charles Brown
Charles Brown
1922 - 1999
vocalist
. He was singing and copying other people. Later on he developed his own style that was influenced by all these people, but he became the artist we know as Ray Charles.

I think that's very true for me and most singers, you have so many influences. For example, I became friends with Norah Jones
Norah Jones
Norah Jones
b.1979
piano
back in 2000 when we were doing a show—this was before she had become famous. She was talking about all her influences, people like Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
and Nina Simone
Nina Simone
Nina Simone
1933 - 2003
piano
and others, and you could kind of hear a bit of that in her style, but at the same time, even back then she had a very distinct sound. I thought, wow, she really has a sound, you can hear it. She doesn't sound like all the other singers.

That's the thing: you have your influences but you need to have your own style. So many people have influenced me, people like Aretha (Franklin), Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
vocalist
, Irma Thomas
Irma Thomas
Irma Thomas
b.1941
vocalist
, Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway
Donny Hathaway
Donny Hathaway
1945 - 1979
vocalist
. I'm sure they influenced my phrasing, how I might go about creating a certain tone, holding a note, and how to let it out. It's a whole bunch of different variables.

It's interesting when you think about the sound. With Derek, even though he's a guitarist, I think of him as a singer. It's the same, he has a voice and if you hear a couple of notes, you know it's him.

AAJ: Yeah, it's remarkable; without any effects, just a guitar and amp.

ST: Exactly. And he's a melodic and very vocal player; he sounds like a singer. Do you know what I mean?

AAJ: Yes, especially when he plays slide because he doesn't use frets and it isn't a series of distinct notes. His playing has a fluid singing quality.

Also that's true what you said about Ray Charles—he also went through a period when he was enamored with Nat "King" Cole
Nat
Nat "King" Cole
1919 - 1965
piano
's singing and piano playing and copied him. But man, once he became the Ray Charles we all love, he could take the most overplayed standard, make it his own, and give you the feeling that you were hearing it for the first time as it should be heard. It's hard to believe that he could give a person goose bumps with a song like "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," but he did.

ST: I totally agree, he killed it. I was blown away too when I heard that song—I was like, "That's from Oklahoma?" [Laughing] "Is that the same song!"

AAJ: You know, it's interesting, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
once said that his approach to phrasing came from listening to Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
vocalist
.

ST: Really? That's interesting, and when I think about it, yeah, I can hear that.

AAJ: You have a degree in composition and performance from the Berklee College of Music, but when I listen to you sing I have the impression that perhaps Gospel music has had the strongest influence on your singing. Where did that come from?

ST: That came from Berklee. I was in the Gospel choir there—that was my most influential class at Berklee. We would meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours at a time, and our director was a young guy by the name of Dennis Montgomery III from Shreveport, La. He was directing the choir in Shreveport when he was eight years-old; he has perfect pitch and plays piano and organ and pretty much conducts the choir with his head! Or he'll occasionally lift one hand from the piano.

That was a huge growth time for me, I think that changed my whole sound. Before that, I probably sounded more like Linda Ronstadt until I started Gospel choir. People would come up to me and say, "Wow, you sound like Bonnie Raitt," and I'd say, "Who's that?" Then I realized that Linda and Bonnie had been covering a lot of the same songs in the early '70s. And because I had been doing Linda's songs and trying to make them my own by giving them a bluesy touch, it came off sounding like Bonnie. That was kind of cool, because I didn't even know who she was then.

I thought she was great, and she had a lot of blues influences. She was a big influence in my early 20s when I started playing guitar because there weren't many female guitar players to look up to.

I was so sheltered when I was growing up in Norwell (Massachusetts). It wasn't until I went to college in Boston—which was only 30 minutes away—that I was exposed to diverse cultures. There were people from Japan, Australia, and a lot of Southern kids, so for the Gospel choir that was a big influence. We had all these different cultures coming together and it helped to shape me and make me more aware.

In Norwell, I thought the only African-American guitar players were Bobby King, John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
1917 - 2001
guitar
, Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
b.1926
guitar, electric
and Jimi Hendrix. Then in college and in the record shops, I found Otis Rush
Otis Rush
Otis Rush
b.1934
guitar, electric
, Freddie King
Freddie King
Freddie King
1934 - 1976
guitar, electric
and Magic Sam
Magic Sam
Magic Sam
1937 - 1969
guitar, electric
, and I thought, "Man, who's been hiding these people from me?" They became my favorites and it blew my mind that culturally we can be so segregated and miss out on all these treasures.

AAJ: Your recording, Hope and Desire (Verve, 2005), was quite a change for you. You didn't play guitar or write any of the songs, and in some ways, it must have taken you out of your comfort zone—but it really did highlight your versatility and depth as a vocalist. Was that your label's idea?

ST: That was Joe Henry's idea. I choose him to produce that record. That was my first record on Verve and I'd just had my baby girl, Sophia, and I just didn't have the time to write because I was nursing. As a new mom you don't get much sleep or time to yourself, so Joe's idea was to get some great soul tunes that perhaps people aren't too familiar with. He suggested we do a cover record and use his guys. And come to find out it was Doyle [Bramhall II], who I knew, so I was excited about that. And when I was living in Boston and at Berklee I used to play with the other guys on the record, so I was blown away by that.

When I was a teenager I was in a band called the One Eyed Jacks and the drummer was Jay Bellerose, and he turned out to be one of Joe's studio guys living in L.A. He'd been busy, when we were in college he had been dating Paula Cole
Paula Cole

vocalist
and she became famous and he was on the road with her. Then he was on the road with Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
b.1944
guitar
and all kinds of people. He'd been the first drummer I'd ever had, and he would help me out with projects, but when he starting dating Paula, I had to find another drummer.

I graduated Berklee at 20, so here I am at 18 and looking for a drummer. I found this other kid, he was really sweet and I thought he was a really good drummer, and he ended up doing all my projects work for the next two years. That was Abe Laboriel Jr., who's become the number one drummer in the world now—he plays for Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney
b.1942
composer/conductor
and everybody. I couldn't believe how small the world is, that these two guys that I'd worked with in college would end up being the top call guys in L.A.

AAJ: Doyle did a great job for you on that album, and it seems like he's been a real good luck charm for you and Derek.

ST: He did a great job for me, and yes, he's really been great for me and Derek. We both adore him. It's funny, before Derek really got to know Doyle, I kept telling him what a great guy he was and that he was going to love him. Derek was a little skeptical, like, "Yeah, why do you think that?" But I knew they would hit it off. Once they did the Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
b.1945
guitar
tour, they became like instant brothers. They still talk everyday and are pretty inseparable.

Mike Bloomfield, Ronnie Earl and Songwriting

AAJ: In a recent interview, Dylan spoke about the guitarist Michael Bloomfield
Michael Bloomfield
1943 - 1981
guitar, electric
and said he was perhaps the finest overall guitarist he had ever worked with. Were you ever a Bloomfield fan growing up?

ST: Yeah, for sure. Actually, Al Kooper turned me on to Mike Bloomfield. I met Al early on in my career, we were down in Memphis taking part in a competition doing this concert for the King Biscuit Festival over in Helena, Ark. Adrienne [Hayes], my guitarist at the time, and I got to hang out with Al Kooper all day, and he turned me on to a bunch of Mike Bloomfield's stuff.



AAJ: Your fellow New Englander, Ronnie Earl, has a similar skill set. Did your paths cross back in the day?

ST: Oh, Ronnie's great. Sure, I know Ronnie. Actually, he and Adrienne used to date. We were very close with Ronnie, he's fabulous. He's one of those people who is a little eccentric and has his ups and downs, but as a guitarist, he's great, especially for blues. He's the master of the Strat, he can really get a lot of tones out of it; he can play Magic Sam, you name it.

AAJ: What's impressive is that he can play an entire concert of instrumental blues, but he has that rare ability to play soulful blues with the finesse of a jazz guitarist and the energy of a rock guitarist.

ST: Exactly—that's a good way to say it. He's like a jazz player with rock energy, and he can play blues all night and keep you interested.

I just saw him last year and I hadn't seen him in a while. It was really good to see him and he's doing really well. And my old guitar guy that I used to use in Boston is playing in his band now, I just saw him the other day and he told me that he's fabulous and really sounding great these days. It's good to hear that Ronnie is still playing because he's so talented.

AAJ: Doyle's been quoted as saying that although he loves the blues, as a song writer his attempts at writing blues tend to come off corny so he goes more in a rock direction. On your last CD, Back to the River (Verve, 2008), your blues composition, "Can't Sleep at Night," sounds like it could have come from Little Walter
Little Walter
Little Walter
1930 - 1968
harmonica
or Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
1915 - 1992
bass, acoustic
, that's an excellent blues song. You're really at home in the blues, aren't you?

ST: I am. It just comes naturally and I don't know why, I'm from a small town in Massachusetts. It's weird, but Gospel and blues is my home base. And there's also a style of guitar that comes easily to me that I don't play out—that's jump swing blues. That's actually my favorite guitar style and I'm most comfortable with that, but I've never really recorded anything with it. But I hope to someday.

AAJ: I think that's one really nice thing you guys have going for you with your new band—your fan base accepts jazz, blues, vintage soul, Gospel or rock. That makes it nice, as artists you have a large palette and aren't forced into one niche.

ST: Exactly, that is great. And it makes it nice because everybody writes in this band, from the drummers on up. Everybody brings something to the table, so that means it's always going to sound a bit different and there's going to be a lot of variety.

Not just stylistically, but as writers, people just tend to write a certain way. Our friend Col. Bruce Hampton likes to say, everybody has seven songs, even if you write 2,000 there are really only seven songs. Like there's something about an Alan Toussaint song, or a Willie Nelson song, you know what I mean?

AAJ: Exactly. I guess the classic example would be John Lennon
John Lennon
John Lennon
1940 - 1980
composer/conductor
and McCartney, each had his own feel and approach to songwriting.

Speaking of songwriting, you got to work with Tony Joe White—he's so Southern, it's seems he's got Spanish moss hanging from his vocal chords. His songs are often like little short stories, like "Willie And Laura Mae Jones", you know the one with the chorus "That was another place and another time." He's remarkable.

ST: He is a remarkable guy and a wonderful songwriter. It was an honor to be able to write with him. He's just a grown-up little kid like me. We were just pluggin' in amps and jammin' and he showed me all his guitars and stuff like wah-wah pedals. And stylistically, he's such a funky musician.

Like you said, he's a natural storyteller like Bob Dylan or John Prine, you know it just pours out of him. When we wrote "Back to the River," first we came up with the riff and the groove. Then he asked what I wanted to write about and I didn't know, so he asked me to tell him about my family. So I told him about my kids, and painted a picture of my life in Jacksonville and talked about being on the road. He knew how to craft the song, it was about being on the road and longing to get back to the river where I live. It's amazing, you tell him something and he turns it into this bad ass song.

I'd love to get Derek, Doyle and I together with Tony Joe. I think that would be incredible.

AAJ: Where did the song "Midnight in Harlem" come from?

ST: Mike Mattison wrote that. He'd had it for a while and Derek knew about it, but they just hadn't found the right arrangement. When we were rehearsing this band we changed it up and it just really clicked. I instantly thought it was such a gorgeous song and I said, "Mike, are you sure you don't mind me singing your song?" [Laughing] He said something like, "Shut up! Just sing the song." He's a sweetheart.

AAJ: "Back Where I Started," from Already Free (Sony, 2009), is a personal favorite. That's such a beautiful song, and everything about it just came together, like a magical summer night. When you first heard it, was it a finished product, or did you put your mark on it?

ST: Derek wrote that song with the kids climbing on him. He just didn't have any words, and instrumentally it was so beautiful I just didn't have the heart to try and write something over it. And then Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes

guitar
came over to the house and we were trying to write some stuff. He heard it and went back to his hotel room, and the next morning he came back and said he had been dreaming about it and he came up with all these verses. He wrote all the lyrics in one night. I heard the lyrics when Warren sang it for us and it was great. Derek liked it, but he thought it needed a female voice. So I sang it and there it was.

BB King and Les Paul

AAJ: BB King is another legend with whom you got to work, and actually got to open for him. Do you have a favorite memory or impression of him?



ST: I have so many, I really do, I'm blessed. I not only got to open for him, but I've been touring on and off with him since 1998. Last summer, I toured Europe with him. He's a very dear friend now, he's like my other grandpa.

For me, I know he's a legend, and trust me, I don't take that for granted but at the same time he's so down to earth, and so sweet. I have so many fond memories of him just saying, "Hey, Susan, come on in, sit down and talk with me." When he was a little younger [laughing], I would sit on his lap but now I sit on a chair. You know, I don't want to hurt him but he's a sweetheart. Some of my favorite memories are just of him telling me stories, being so down to earth, so open, sharing the most personal things, whether it's about family or other musicians.

When he first met my son Charlie as a baby, I remember he gave him money and a pen. It's funny because Solomon Burke did the same thing. I guess it's an old school thing, because when Solomon first met Charlie, he was six-weeks-old. We flew out to California and Derek was making Joyful Noise (Sony, 2002), and Solomon was a special guest on the album. He gave Charlie a $100 bill and singed it something like, "To Prince Charles from your Godfather King Solomon Burke." So we've got this $100 bill signed by Solomon Burke for Charlie. It's pretty incredible.

AAJ: Derek got to play with Les Paul
Les Paul
Les Paul
1915 - 2009
guitar, electric
at the Les Paul Tribute Concert at Carnegie Hall, but with your busy schedule, were you able to meet him?

ST: Oh yeah, even before that. Actually I did a radio show with Les Paul around 2000 or so, and I met him through the years. We had Charlie in 2002 and later on that year we went to New York and took Charlie with us. And we went to the Iridium and sat in with Les. He had me bring Charlie up on stage with us when we were playing together. That was a beautiful memory.

And I have another really incredible memory of Les: A few years ago Derek had played Farm Aid, and I don't remember if I played, too, or if I was just sitting in with them. That year I had taken some time off and played with Willie Nelson and sat in with him, and with Mellencamp. And Willie mentioned he would be doing a gig at the Hard Rock in New York because he knew I was going to be in town doing something with the record company, and Derek was going to be on the road. So I went down to sit in with Willie at this Hard Rock event. And Les came out during his break at the Iridium, this was a Monday, so I'm sitting on the bus between Les Paul and Willie Nelson and they are telling all these great stories from the '50s. I felt like, pinch me, this can't be happening. They were both so sweet and they were saying nice things to each other about me, I almost cried. It's like a dream, trust me, I can hardly believe it.

AAJ: Watching YouTube clips of Les Paul and Mary Ford doing stuff like "Alabamy Bound" and "I Really Don't Want to Know," it's just amazing what they were doing in the studio in the '50s. I guess they are kind of a career model for you and Derek now that you have a studio.

ST: They are one, for sure. Another one that Derek mentioned was Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
and Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
1930 - 2010
vocalist
. Derek was playing me this one record of theirs and he said, "Honey we should do this song because it's so powerful," and he mentioned they were married and together. He's a wealth of information, he's always educating me.

The New Band

AAJ: You have a new band, but will you continue to release solo projects?

ST: Eventually, but right now we're really focusing on this new project and recording that. Derek's band had recorded some live shows so he put together a live record to follow up his last record that he won the Grammy for. I hadn't been taping my live shows, and now I'm wishing I had done that because it would have been a good way to also keep the solo thing going. But as of right now I don't have any immediate plans concerning my solo career. You can imagine, with two kids and a new band, I'm very busy.

We've been writing a lot for this new project. Not only do we have a lot of new material, but it's a lot of original material. It's always changing and developing, and there are some covers we're trying to do. There's a lot of stuff to remember and a lot of stuff we keep writing. There's a lot going on, and anything I'm writing is going towards this project. That's where my focus is right now.

AAJ: Which label will you be working with?

ST: That's a good question. Currently I'm with Verve and Derek is with Sony. There are all these names, but basically it's Universal and Sony. Right now, I'm in the process of trying to figure out if I'm going to renew or not. So, I'm in a situation where I can get out. I would love to do this new album with the two of us on our own if we could, but I think Derek is still committed to Sony. It all depends, and as you can imagine, it's very political.

AAJ: Any chance you'll have a release this year?

ST: It probably won't come out this year. You know, I can't imagine that it could because we're going to be recording it this summer. Even if it's done by August or September, it still takes six months to promote it, package it, and do all the work to put out a record. I guess that a release next spring would be more likely.

And we're not touring as much now. Originally, we were only going to do five or 10 shows, but it's turned out to be a lot more—it's hard to turn down work. But it's a nice amount of touring, it's not so crazy. But you know, with school-age kids, it's harder to tour; they're no longer babies that we can just bring along with us. They're doing well in school and kindergarten and they have all their extracurricular activities, so it's hard, but somehow we're doing it and it's a lot of fun. But it's really nice being home with the kids right now and we're enjoying that.

AAJ: Last year, Derek mentioned that he'd like to keep the band loose and open so that people could come and go. Is that still the plan?

ST: Yeah. For example, we have two drummers in the band—one is my drummer, Tyler Greenwell, and the other is J.J. Johnson, who has worked with everybody from Boz Scaggs
Boz Scaggs
Boz Scaggs
b.1944
guitar
and John Mayer
John Mayer
b.1977
guitar
to Doyle. But as much as we adore him, we know he's got prior commitments, so starting in August he'll be available and will be coming out with us all the time. We do have kind of a revolving cast of characters.

Doyle is another example. We had him for the original project, but he's become a well-known producer around the world. So that makes it difficult because he hardly has any time off. He did a double record with Eric Clapton and he just did two albums or a double record with Sheryl Crow—I'm not sure, but it's like 25 songs. He's been really slammed. We're really happy for him but it's hard because we really want to do things with him as well.

There's a lot of different people involved and a lot of different writers, friends, like people from Soulive
Soulive
Soulive

band/orchestra
, like Eric Krasno and Adam Deitch, who actually write and produce for a lot of different people—even 50 Cent—but they're musicians who play jazz, soul and blues. Then there's the Wood Brothers, Chris Woods
Chris Woods
b.1925
and Oliver, they're fabulous and they're both so talented. Oliver is going to come down and write with us, he sings and plays guitar. It's fun to have a lot of our friends come down.

We're all busy with families and touring, but it's great to be able to get together and write, or do some shows together. Like they opened our very first show for us and it was a really nice fit. There are also other friends like that who will come out and tour with us, so it's great.

AAJ: Perhaps you guys might work with Moogis and do a run somewhere that fans around the world could subscribe to. Have you all thought about that?

ST: Yes, I have thought of that. The real problem is that it costs so much to set up the cameras, so you really would have to do a run in one spot for a while. Or maybe pick a couple of shows where you could do it.

AAJ: Maybe you could work around the Allman Brothers New York run, a few days before, or maybe on the off days?

Susan Tedeschi with Derek Trucks

ST: You know that's not a bad idea and I like the idea of having a live Moogis stream.

AAJ: You had a horn section for your Soul Stew Revival and I loved things you did with them, like blending "Dreams" with Miles Davis' "All Blues." Even if they aren't members of the band, will you use horns on tour and when you record?

ST: This year, with the new band, we've been doing male backup vocals instead of horns. They also play different instruments, so it's kind of nice. We've been using Nigel Hall, who is a fabulous singer somewhat in the tradition of Donny Hathaway, and he also plays Fender Rhodes and B3 and all that, so even though Kofi is a genius on B3 and keyboards, this frees him up to play more flute. Then, we have Mike Mattison, who's the lead singer of Derek's band, also doing backup and adding a bit of acoustic guitar which is another flavor. It's nice, we're expanding vocally and adding other musical options.

It's already a big band and thus hard to add horns right now, but I think if it gets to a point where we can afford it, I think yes, we'll bring horns out.

Magic Moments

AAJ: Let's imagine you're a grandma, sitting out by the river with Charlie and Sophia's teenage children and they ask you a few questions.

First, what were some of your most exciting moments on stage?

ST: There's been a lot of them. One would be last summer playing with BB King at the Montreux Jazz Festival when he invited me up to play guitar with him. I said sure, and I'm standing in the wings waiting to come out, and I look over and there's George Benson
George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
with a guitar. So George Benson and I go out and sit in with BB, and it was like another Les Paul moment. I'm thinking, "How did I get here?" And we played blues, so I was in my element, really happy and just hanging out. We played two or three songs and it was a blast.

I have so many it's hard to pick, but Buddy Guy would be another one. We have some kind of special chemistry together. I first started playing with Buddy when I was opening for BB in 1998. We did a beautiful summer together, it was BB King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John
Dr. John
Dr. John
b.1940
piano
and myself, and the four of us just got along so great and had a wonderful time. Actually, before Dr. John, I think Jonny Lang
Jonny Lang
b.1981
was out with us, that was when his Lie To Me (A&M, 1997) record came out. It was an exciting time, and when I would get up on stage with Buddy it was just magical. It felt so comfortable, yet I never knew what was going to happen. It was just so spontaneous and in the moment, it was pure improv as well as pure energy and excitement.

People talk about great guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix, well, when I'm up on stage with Buddy, and BB, it feels like that. It feels like I'm with a great guitar legend, a hero. He's just an amazing human, just awesome.

I had an incredible moment when I opened for Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana
b.1947
guitar
in Italy and he invited me to come up. So playing with Santana is another.

Playing with Bob Dylan is another one, holy crap! I was opening for him and he invited me up to play guitar. Now if he'd asked me up to sing that wouldn't have been a problem, I was raised on Bob Dylan. I pretty much know every Dylan song. But he asked me up to play guitar, and I'm thinking, "Oh God, I don't know the changes." His bassist was a sweetheart and he was calling out changes to me. I played something like six songs with Bob Dylan, so that was incredible, too.

AAJ: Well, back to the dock with your grandkids again ... what was the most moving or memorable musical performance you ever saw but weren't a part of?

ST: Oh, again I've had so many of those, it's hard to think. It's not fair because I've cried seeing so many people, from Buddy Guy and BB King, to Ray Charles. But one that keeps popping into my mind that was when I saw Ali Akbar Khan for the first time. He played classical Indian music. It was a whole other experience for me. You had to be really quiet and listen carefully, and that was a very emotional and moving experience.

Another was when Derek was playing with Eric Clapton. I don't know why, but when I was a teenager I used to have these reoccurring dreams about Eric Clapton that I was going to meet him someday. Derek was rehearsing with Clapton in the South of France and I remember the dream very specifically, because the band was rehearsing and I was in front looking up at the band and talking to Eric. And it came true, which was really uncanny, you know, to have a dream when you are 13 or 14 and have it come true in your 30s.

I was off with the kids one day when Derek was off at rehearsal. I guess Eric asked Derek to call me and have me come down to rehearsal. So they sent a car, but I wasn't home. I was walking the kids at the beach or something, so I came back and Debbie said Derek had be trying to get a hold of me and wanted me down at the rehearsal. I was kind of flustered, and I rushed down and got there at the very end. And Eric is singing [Susan sings] "Lately I've been runnin' on faith, what else can a poor boy do." And I just started crying, I was weeping. I heard him and his voice was so pretty and it all hit me, and it was just so amazing. I think that could be it, that was one of those moments that was a life changer.

Eric is like that for me anyway; I just adore him as a singer and a guitarist.

AAJ: I was at that opening concert in the South of France and that was very special.

ST: It really was, that whole tour was like a dream. [Laughing] I kept thinking, "Oh, God, My husband is playing with Eric Clapton!"

I always knew Derek was incredible, but I said, "Honey, you've made it!" But Derek just thought of him as a fellow musician, I don't think it hit him like it hit me. You know what I mean.

AAJ: Right, and it's probably a good thing because it would be difficult to perform if you were totally in awe. At that concert, when Derek took his solo, Eric started nodding his head and he had this big smile on his face and you could tell how much he liked it.

ST: It's funny about that tour, Derek, Doyle and I were talking and saying there's got to be more of that Dominoes material in there. Eric didn't really want to play those songs, but those two convinced him, so that's how they got that Derek and the Dominoes material on the tour, which was really cool. Because they had Derek, whose has a style similar to Duane who was on the record, and Doyle was perfectly suited for his [Bobby Whitlock's] part. I thought it was just a great combination with the three of them if you know what I mean.

AAJ: In terms of people you've had a chance to meet, who thrilled you the most?

ST: Oh gosh, these are not fair questions. Obviously, meeting Barack Obama was a huge thrill. You know, getting to go to the White House, getting to play at the Inauguration, and meeting him and his wife was wonderful and thrilling.

I really need to write a book and remember everybody whom I've met.

AAJ: Chuck Leavell kept a journal.

ST: That is a smart thing to do. Especially for me having been so blessed to have toured with everybody from the Stones to the Grateful Dead, from Pinetop Perkins
Pinetop Perkins
Pinetop Perkins
1913 - 2011
piano
to BB King, it's ridiculous. I need to write it all down, Dylan, Santana...

AAJ: You could write a chapter for each of the people you've opened for.

ST You're right, I could call it Opening for Legends, or something. You know, one of my first encounters was when I was 10 years old and I was auditioning for Broadway. I was thrilled just to be there, it was the height of that whole thing when little girls were into Annie. Anyway, I was staying at the New York Hilton hotel and the Bee Gees were coming and I was running back to the hotel to get my grandmother and I ran into this guy.

He said [in a Southern accent], "Slow down little darlin.'" I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to run into you." Then he asked where I was going in such a hurry. I told him, "I'm running to get my grandmother because the Bee Gees are coming." Then, he said, "You like the Bee Gees?" And I said, "Well, they're singers, and I'm a singer." So he says, "You're a singer? Well, I sing, too, and I play guitar. Maybe we'll sing together someday." This guy was just the sweetest, he was adorable. He was all dressed in black, and he was wearing an "I Love New York" pin, and he took it off and gave it to me.

Ten years old, and I have that pin to this day. It was Johnny Cash.

I told Willie Nelson this story, but unfortunately I never got to meet Johnny because he was very sick at the time, his wife had just passed. Still, to have that moment with Johnny, that was thrilling. I think when I ran into Johnny Cash that was the start of my good luck, things started looking up from then on.

Selected Discography

Derek Trucks Band, Already Free (Sony, 2009)

Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve, 2008)

Robben Ford, Truth (Concord, 2007)

Susan Tedeschi, Hope and Desire (Verve, 2005)

Susan Tedeschi, Live from Austin, TX (New West, 2004)

Susan Tedeschi, Wait for Me (Tone Cool, 2002)

Derek Trucks Band, Joyful Noise (Sony, 2002)

Susan Tedeschi, Just Won't Burn (Tone Cool, 1998)

Susan Tedeschi, Better Days (Oarfin, 1995)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 4: Carl Linder

Pages 2, 3: Gene Driskell


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