Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Wheels of Soul tour kicked off over the weekend in Jacksonville, Florida—hometown of band leaders Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. 2017 had its share of lows for Derek Trucks personally and professionally: The passing of Gregg Allman, the passing of Derek’s uncle and Allman Brothers bandmate Butch Trucks, and the passing of Colonel Bruce Hampton, a guiding light, musically and spiritually, to Derek and several of Tedeschi Trucks Band members. Bandmate of nearly 20 years, Kofi Burbridge, had a serious health scare. Kofi has since made a recovery, rejoined touring with the band, and is making key contributions to the band’s upcoming album.
However, 2017 also had its share of high points as well. Last year, TTB gave birth to a psychedelic free-jazz side project: Whose Hat Is This? featuring TTB drummers Tyler ‘Falcon’ Greenwell and JJ Johnson, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and saxophonist Kebbi Williams. Tedeschi Trucks Band had a successful summer tour; epic stands at legendary venues such as Red Rocks, The Ryman, and six nights at the Beacon Theatre, culminating with a legendary sit-in from Phish’s Trey Anastasio.
TTB has wasted no time in 2018 with a run at the Chicago Theater in January featuring some of the band’s best playing yet and a full spring tour. All the while, Derek has been overseeing the creation of the band’s forthcoming album. I had a chance to speak with Derek Trucks about the band, the Wheels of Soul tour, the album, honoring the memories of loved ones, and more.
Scott Horowitz: First things first. How’s the new album coming along? How far into the process are you?
Derek Trucks: We’ve been writing and working towards this record for probably close to a year now. In between tours, you try to get a few days here and there just to throw down ideas and write, and then you work towards it. Some of the tunes we started playing live—”Shame” and “All the World” and there’s a few others that we’ve tried—you want to save most of the tunes because once everyone’s heard it, if you release a record, nothing feels new. I think the band’s chomping at the bit to hit them, but we’ll save it ’til the release.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Shame” – Count Basie Theatre – Red Bank, NJ – 2/13/2018
[Video: Sean Roche]
SH: Are you working with a producer on this one?
Derek Trucks: We brought in Jim Scott, who worked on the first few records with us. This is the first one we’ve recorded everything to 24-track two-inch tape. We’re just going about it a little differently. It feels pretty amazing. The sounds feel right. It feels warm, and it’s a slower process, but it certainly feels like the right way to go.
SH: Where have the songwriting contributions for the album come from?
DT: It’s all in the band. Mike had a few tunes, and Susan had a few tunes. Some of them were songs that Kofi or the band came up with in rehearsal or sound check. Me and Doyle wrote a few tunes together. Oh, and Oliver Wood. He came down for a day and me, Sue, and Oliver wrote one tune. There’s probably 16 or so tunes that we wrote and recorded, and we’ll probably trim it down to a dozen or so that will end up making the record.
We just had Kofi down the last two days, and he wrote these amazing string charts. We had a string quartet from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra come over yesterday, and we recorded them. That was pretty special getting to see Kofi out there with his conductor’s hat on. Oh man, it was so good. He has such amazing ears, and he has the knowledge and the ability to articulate exactly what he wants to hear. It was a cello and a viola and two violins. They sounded just amazing.
It was great to hear ideas that he had come up with on a program on his laptop with these shitty string sounds. Then you hear it right, and it’s a pretty beautiful thing. You could feel it. It was a proud moment for Kofi. He was out there in his element, and it’s not something you get to do very often. It was a special day. It was. There were a lot of smiles in the studio.
SH: Its rare for a band of four or five people to stay together for more than several years. Tedeschi Trucks Band has 12 members, the roster has stayed consistent for several years, and the majority core of the group has been the same from the very start. How does that happen, and how do you keep the momentum going?
DT: It has to be a personality fit, first of all. You got to be able to survive and function in tight quarters with a lot of people. With a band this big, it has to be a selfless thing. Everyone has to step back at times. And a lot of it is just chemistry. Everyone’s lives, you’re dealing with different things. Some people are in their twenties, and they can just float around and do whatever they want. There are other people in the band that have children—teenage children or young children. Being on the road as much as we are, it can be stressful.
With any group, at least a group that’s on the up, you’re constantly trying to figure out what’s going to make it better musically and what’s going to make it feel better. We’ve spent a lot of our time together, and you want to really enjoy it. You want to show up to work and see people that want to be there. You do everything you can to make that happen. We’ve been incredibly fortunate. To have a group this big and even to have the small amount of turnover that we’ve had has been pretty amazing; that it’s been as steady as it has. The group now is a pretty amazing place.
SH: And how about the band within your band: ‘Whose Hat Is This’?
DT: Oh, yeah. That’s fun! When we were in Berlin, they had a gig on one of the off days. Me and Susan went and saw them. I’ve been down to the 55 Bar in New York City when we do the Beacon Run to see them. It’s a great outlet for those guys. Any time you get full Kebbi, it’s a good day. I’m always happy to see him do his thing. When you get Kebbi in his element, there’s nothing quite like it.
SH: The Wheels of Soul tour is kicking off in Jacksonville Florida at the Daily’s Place Amphitheater, as it did last year and was the venue’s first concert. Though that must have been exciting opening up a hometown venue, it was also the day Gregg Allman passed away. What was that day like for you and what’s bringing you back to the venue?
DT: When we did Daily’s last year for the first time, I didn’t really know what to think. I mean, the idea of a theater connected to a football stadium. I’m a Jaguars season ticket holder, I love it down there, but it didn’t fully make sense to me. It was such a good show and such a good audience. But yeah, it was a tough day. When we found out Gregg passed, there were mixed emotions, but it was a pretty magical gig. It sounded really good in there. You never know until you set up and play how a room’s going to sound. It felt really good. We had such a good feeling there last year, we thought it’d be a good place to kick off the run this year and maybe turn that into a tradition. We’ll see.
SH: I’m a Jaguars season ticket holder too, so I have to ask: are the Jags winning the Super Bowl this year or what?
DT: Man, I got my fingers crossed and a small wager placed on it.
SH: Maybe Susan can help? The Jaguars are 2-0 when she sings the national anthem
DT: I know. She has a good track record. 2 and 0 here. One of the games that she sang for, it was the only home win of the season. That was heavy lifting that time.
Susan Tedeschi Sings “The National Anthem”
SH: And it was against the Titans too! Maybe you can perform the national anthem on guitar for a game this year.
Derek Trucks: That would be fun, man. We’ve talked about it. I have to think about the right way to do it. It’s a tough one. I’ve heard so many bad versions on guitar that I’d really have to get my head right for it.
SH: What are you most excited about for a tour like this, especially in regards to being on the road with the same bands, the Drive-By Truckers and Marcus King Band, throughout?
DT: This is kind of the first time we’ve gone on the road with the Drive-By Truckers. We’ve done a show or two with them years back with the Allmans, but I don’t really know them that well. It’s more being an admirer from afar and just knowing them by reputation and through their songwriting and reading an article or interview here and there and feeling like it’s going to be a good fit. I’m excited for it.
We’ve gotten to know Marcus pretty well the last handful of years from playing on his record and sitting in and being a part of shows together. I’ve never really seen his band do its thing, so I’m excited for that. I know how talented he is and what he can do.
It’s always nice to get out on the road with groups for a month or so. You really get to see what people are capable of. You see the growth as it goes. I’ve noticed on this tour especially that it’s always brought out the best in each band. You watch one do their thing and they’re just lighting it up and everyone in the band goes, “Oh, shit. We better serve it up tonight.”
It just puts a fire under all the other bands. I feel like our band has the ability to do that, too. It brings the best out in everybody. It’s never a competitive thing. You just do what you do. It does add a little edge to the thing and it makes you want to pull out more tunes and just do your thing. This tour we always look forward to for that reason. I feel like it brings out different parts of what the band can do.
SH: These days you’re NOT the young talented guy looking up to everyone else, is it strange for you to see someone else on the road, in this case Marcus King, in that spot you were once in?
DT: It totally is. It’s a strange thing. For the longest time, I was always the youngest guy in the room and the youngest guy in the band by a decade. Then all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, that’s done. That’s not the case. You have kids that are almost their age now.” Yeah, it’s a different feel. This band was the first time I was ever in a band with somebody younger than me.
That was the first time it dawned on me that I wasn’t a child anymore. But yeah, having Marcus out, there’s definitely, there’s some of that. It’s I think the same feeling I had when I was his age is you find people you connect with. For me, it was people like Jimmy Herring and Doyle Bramhall and a few other people where you’re just instant friends.
You feel like you grew up together and you’re contemporaries. I feel like with Marcus, he’s probably of that mindset, too. You can still respect somebody who’s playing and look up to them and admire them. You don’t feel like you’re worlds apart. At a certain point, you’re all just in it trying to make it happen. I feel like that’s where we are and I know that’s where he is.
SH: Are there any other younger players besides Marcus King you admire or would like to be a help to? Or already enjoy helping out?
DT: There’s guys that I certainly admire. There’s that guy Blake Mills who I met through Eric at the Crossroads. Not that he needs my helping out. He’s a full-on producer and crushing shit out there. I think he lives on the West Coast. He’s a really interesting player, just the way he hears things, and he’s an amazing producer. I feel like he’s a bit younger. I met him when he was even younger. He’s great.
I just got a chance to play with Taz for the first time when we were in Atlanta. That was a good hang. I’ve known him for a long time, but that’s the first time he ever sat in with us. I feel like with him, especially through the Colonel, we’re forever connected. We’re all part of the same alumni at this point. That was fun. I look forward to seeing what he ends up doing.
Tedeschi Trucks Band With Taz – “Statesboro Blues” – SweetWater420 Festival 2018
SH: What did you learn from those you leaned on when you were younger that you’ll be sure to pass down to the next generation? Do you go out of your way to dispense wisdom, or do you just make yourself available in case someone wants to reach out?
Derek Trucks: It’s a little bit of both. With someone like Jimmy Herring, he felt like a sibling, even when I was a kid, but in the best sense. There were certain things that I learned from him, just straight musical things. He’s a great teacher. Any questions you had musically, he would answer without it ever feeling condescending. He was always wide open and still, Jimmy’s just a wealth of knowledge and a total badass.
I think, for me, it was Colonel. He was the teacher. He was to everybody in a lot of ways. When I see someone like Marcus or I see Taz, he’s the one I always think about—the lessons that I learned from the Colonel when I did and just about making sure your head’s on right and you’re listening to the right stuff. Your intention is right, always asking why are you doing it. Why are you making music? What are you trying to convey to people? Just making sure you keep things in check.
I think what would the Colonel’s one-liner be, or what would his general sense of things be? In a lot of ways, he’s the musical moral compass for a lot of us in this band. Certainly, I know Falcon from playing with him for years and Susan and me. The Colonel is very much our compass and is pointed at a true Hampton. North is H.
SH: When you’re thinking about Colonel Bruce and missing him or other recently departed loved ones like Butch Trucks or Gregg Allman, what are ways you feel best honors your memories of them?
DT: I think the most direct way is the way you play and the way you protect the integrity of what you try to do. When I think about Butch at his best, I think about him on the drum kit, just giving it every ounce that he had. To me, that’s him at his best. Just wide open, totally tapped into the thing and just giving it. He would just as soon drop on stage. That’s the feeling I always got from him.
Gregg just had that thing, man. He was a part of this Southern gothic story. He kind of was the keeper of the mojo in a way. When he went, it was kind of the last chapter in a lot of ways. He was such a gentleman. He was a quintessential rock star in a lot of ways, and there’s thousands of stories about him, but I think about the way he was with my kids on the tour bus when they were young, and the way he always was around my wife or the way he was around my mom. He was always such a gentleman.
The Colonel’s thing is more all-encompassing, where you just think about certain things with a certain kind of depth. It’s uncompromising. I’ve known him so long, and he was such a part of the family that when I think of him, it’s his presence and just his humanity. When I think of him, that’s the feeling I always get where you just miss him. There’s the outlandish stuff certainly, when you first meet him or when you’re around him, the things that just kind of blow your head open. There’s tons of those, but it’s really all the stuff underneath that that I really think about all the time.
Those are the things that when I think about those guys, you try to implement those things. You try to carry those parts of them, the best of who they were. You try to keep that stuff intact. When you do, if you do play their music, you try to do it with the right amount of gravity. You want to make sure that you mean it and you’re not doing it because the crowd wants to hear it. You just never want it to be cheap. I feel like anytime you touch certain things, there needs to be some reverence. It always needs to have that whiff of sacred, and I don’t want to ever overdo it. I feel like that gets done more often than it should a lot of times. But, yeah, it’s an ongoing thing, it’s not a picture you can put on your amp or something. You got to mean it. It’s a practice.
SH: I’ve heard you mention before that one of the more important things Colonel Bruce turned you onto was the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti. What is it about Krishnamurti’s teachings you value so much, and what is the common ground between him and someone like the Colonel?
DT: I think the thing that originally struck me about Krishnamurti, and still does when I jump back into it, is he never lets you off the hook. There’s never this thing you can do and then you’re just fine, you go about your business. You have to constantly be on it, and you have to constantly be present and in the moment. You have to constantly reinvent yourself. You can’t get hung up on whatever it is, status or any part of it.
I feel like his thing was just setting fire to all the dogmas, and everything that a lot of people end up basing their life on. I feel like with almost any religion, any great music, there’s this seed that gets you into it. There’s these moments that you have, these great epiphanies, and it’s really pure in the beginning. And then you just hang your hat on the fact that that’s there. You get further and further away from the whole point, you don’t realize the piece of shit that you turned into.
I feel like with Krishnamurti and with the Colonel and those people of that mindset, you’re never realized. You always have to do it. You’re not a good guy and then you’re always good. You have to work at it. I appreciate that sentiment. You got to get up every day and you got to make it happen every day. You have to re-tap in.
With a band, you have to think about that all the time. There’s times where this band gets to a place where you know it’s really good, but you can’t just assume that it’s going to remain that way. You have to change it up. You got to shake it up. You got to do things here and there. It’s constant work. You have to remind yourself that doesn’t stop. If it did, well, you can tell when that happens. You can feel when people throw in the towel.
SH: Shifting gears a bit, last year, Trey Anastasio sat in with TTB at the beacon. How did that come about, and what prompted choosing a mammoth tune like “Mountain Jam” for the occasion?
DT: He’s always been great to be around and just a super, super humble guy. I remember when he sat in with the Allman Brothers, it was a good hang. When we talked about having him come and sit in at the Beacon with us, I think we had the notion of doing “Mountain Jam” early on. I was just waiting to pick out the right time to do it. He seemed into the idea. Knowing his pedigree and what he does and knowing he had just gone through the Grateful Dead ringer and all that stuff, it felt like it’d be the right guy to step in and do it. I knew he’d give it a hard listen and give it the respect it deserved.
It was fun. We rehearsed maybe parts of it at sound check and just let it fly. That was a pretty special show and definitely that moment was great. We thought about breaking it back out again, but I feel like that’s one you got to pick and choose. Like we were talking earlier, you got to be ready for it and you got to mean it. He certainly showed up.
Tedeschi Trucks Band With Trey Anastasio – “Mountain Jam”
SH: Finally, what music have you been listening to and loving lately?
Derek Trucks: I think the last six months, we’ve been so far down the making-a-record rabbit hole that I’ve been listening to that pretty exclusively. When I do step away from it, it’s been a lot of classical music just for a change of pace in melody and sound. There’s some pretty amazing stuff. Any of the Mahler Symphonies, especially 4 and 5 are great. I’ve been listening to a lot of the masses. There’s a Schubert mass that’s just beautiful.
Really, any of the great composers, they usually wrote a few masses. For some reason, that’s some of my favorite stuff. I guess it’s a little more languid. It’s religious—those guys were trying to stay employed—but they were just writing great melodies. Some of that stuff is amazing, man. That’s what I’ve been listening to the last handful of months when I have to step away from this. They’re worth checking out for sure.