Susan Tedeschi: Dreams and Legends
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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)