Music

The Soul Searchers

Singer Susan Tedeschi and guitar phenom Derek Trucks

photo: James Minchin

Like most married couples, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have their share of disagreements. Right now the main one seems to be who heads their new musical project, Tedeschi Trucks Band. “Oh, she’s definitely the leader—her name is first!” says the jovial Trucks, from the family’s home in Jacksonville, Florida. “You know the saying: ‘If Mama ain’t happy, no one’s happy.’”

Tedeschi begs to differ. “He actually said I’m the leader?” she says later. “That’s a bunch of bull. He’s a fabulous bandleader. When making musical decisions, I trust him a hundred percent, and I know the rest of the band does as well.”

The rest of Tedeschi Trucks Band consists of nine additional members, including bassist Oteil Burbridge, who plays with Trucks in the Allman Brothers Band. Their debut album, Revelator, is a dynamic and rich-sounding mix of blues, sixties rock, Memphis soul, and slow-burning ballads like the highlight “Midnight in Harlem,” which showcases Tedeschi’s powerhouse voice and Trucks’s mournful guitar. Fittingly, there’s also a song called “Ball and Chain,” a simmering rocker that actually turns out to be a love song.

A guitar prodigy, the thirty-two-year-old Trucks (he’s the nephew of ABB founding member Butch Trucks) started touring with the Allman Brothers at age twelve before officially joining the band in 1999. That same year, he met Tedeschi on tour when she and her band were opening for the ABB. Married now for ten years, with two children, the pair has shared the stage before, but due to time and contractual restraints they had never been able to make a full-length record together. The couple dissolved their respective namesake bands in 2010 to assemble the outfit that would eventually record Revelator.

“They’re two of my favorite people, both so, so talented,” says Gregg Allman about the partnership. “Everyone knows how I feel about Derek, and Susan has such a marvelous voice as well as being a great guitar player. I just love what they’re doing together.”

It’s the back-to-basics approach that appeals to the duo, grinding it out in their home studio, then hopping onto a bus and hitting the road. In their sizzling live shows they don’t play any of each other’s material (nor any Allman Brothers Band tracks, though Trucks says there will be ABB gigs later in 2011), preferring to concentrate on their new songs. “I think both Susan and I felt we were on autopilot the last few years,” Trucks says. “I loved playing with my old band, and it would have been easy just to record and tour, but I was getting restless. I’ve been in bands since I was twelve, but I never built anything from scratch. Musicians have to challenge themselves and go without a net sometimes.”

“In my band, everything was my decision,” seconds Tedeschi. “It was getting too comfortable. In this band I have suggestions and others do too. I’m being challenged more and I learn more.”

And being together musically has also brought them even closer to each other offstage, further opening the lines of communication. “This band has helped me realize how important it is to talk things out with Derek before they build up,” Tedeschi says. “I think we’re going to do this for a while. Maybe do just a blues record or a gospel record or a total jazz record. There’s so much for us to do, and it would be silly not to go for it.”