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Talkin' Blues

Susan Tedeschi: Dreams and Legends

By Published: June 7, 2010
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
and Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
1930 - 2010
. 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
and John Mayer
John Mayer
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

, 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
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.

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