How Tedeschi Trucks Found Their Own Legacy Through Classic Albums
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have long drawn inspiration from legacy acts, channeling their music back into the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The group's set lists are dotted with direct nods to those influences, including the occasional tune drawn from Trucks' time with the Allman Brothers Band. Recent shows also mixed in standards from the Grateful Dead, Elmore James, Dr. John, War and many others.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band boasts a catalog of those covers in addition to their own extensive songbook of originals that make their tag of "America's best rock 'n' roll big band" feel quite appropriate. This year finds the group adding several chapters to that oeuvre with I Am the Moon.
During the first part of our conversation, Trucks and Tedeschi discussed how the classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs record by Derek and the Dominos served as an initial point of inspiration for the quartet of albums featuring 24 songs that encompass I Am the Moon.
As Trucks reveals below, covering the Dominos album, as well as revisiting the legendary all-star Mad Dogs & Englishmen project, helped the Tedeschi Trucks Band grow as a unit, something which fed positively into the sessions for I Am the Moon.
Watch Tedeschi Trucks Band Perform 'Layla'
The Layla album, you both have some spiritual ties to that record. Once you dug into all of it to play it as a band, what did you find within the songs?
Derek: I love the songwriting on that record. I don’t know, just the simple little moves. Whenever you take the time to learn music like that, it always informs your playing. You learn little quirky chord changes or little guitar patterns that you never would have thought of – and then, it’s kind of forever in your vocabulary. Sometimes, it will kind of sneak in when you’re doing other things. Or you just know, sometimes you’re writing songs and you’re hearing where you think the changes should go. If you didn’t know this chord change from another tune, you might not know to maybe sneak it in here. It’s always fun, especially, I mean, I think [Eric] Clapton, being around the Beatles so much then, that stuff had to influence his songwriting. I almost feel like [there’s] George Harrison-esque writing in some of those changes [like] “I Looked Away” and some of those tunes that I had never learned fully. Even though I toured with [Clapton], we didn’t play all of those songs.
Susan: “I Am Yours.”
Derek: “I Am Yours” is incredible.
Susan: We played that together and it was gorgeous. Derek made me cry every night.
Derek: That’s a great tune. That was actually a tune I was looking up, when we were going to do the rehearsals with Trey [Anastasio] for that Layla record, I was trying to remember [the origins of] “I Am Yours” and I went to look up the lyrics and I saw the release date was the day Sue was born. I was like, “There’s no way that’s true! I’ve got to find another source!” [Laughs.] Sure enough, Nov. 9th, 1970, the day she was born, was the day Layla came out, which is kind of wild.
Listen to Tedeschi Trucks Band Perform 'I Am Yours'
Revisiting Mad Dogs & Englishmen, it's obviously sad that Joe Cocker couldn't be part of it. But it just seems like it must have been such a powerful and rewarding experience playing that album in 2015 with a number of the original participants.
Derek: That was a magical few days.
Susan: That really was special. I mean, Leon [Russell] is one of those people too. For us, he was a living legend in the moment that was willing to come out and do this. Once he was in, everybody came out of the woodwork.
Derek: I don't know if you got to see the film, but just the reverence of the other musicians towards Leon, it was kind of a family reunion that no one ever thought would happen – and it happened. It happened in rehearsal and it happened on the stage. It really went so much better than we ever imagined it could have, in spirit and musically. That thing and doing the Layla thing, I think was hugely important for this band. After we did the LOCKN' thing with Leon and the Mad Dogs, it kind of gave the band a different confidence going forward. You know, not that a torch was passed, but it kind of was. Everybody there was so happy with the way it felt. They were happy that there was a band kind of carrying on some of that legacy, in the way they went about it, but there was also this sense of, “Oh yeah, but this is actually healthy.” That sounds like a jest, but it gave us a little swagger going forward as a band. “You know what? This is kind of a space we can roll in.” The Layla thing too, when you can pull off something like that as a one-off, I mean, everyone just knocked it out of the park. From the first note to the end, it was kind of extraordinary. Those things, it gives you a little extra juice going forward, I think.
Susan: Both of those bands were 1970 and the Allman Brothers were 1970.
Derek: There was a lot going on.
Susan: And the Grateful Dead. If you think about all four of those bands, in that moment, they actually do really encompass a lot of our influences. Of course, Derek and I are both influenced by blues and jazz and gospel and things like that – and folk music – but I would say those four bands are a big cornerstone with our stuff.
Watch the Trailer for ‘Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen'
Susan, you and Derek have often been so fortunate to work with the legends that first inspired you. It's an important thing if you are able to be around people like that.
Susan: It is. Honestly, Derek and I have both been incredibly blessed throughout our careers, to not only witness these people in the flesh, just to even be a fan, but to get to play with them.
Derek: Or travel with them and get to know them.
Susan: I got to do how many tours with B.B. King and Buddy Guy? I got to tour with John Lee Hooker and record with Little Milton. Pinetop Perkins. Derek and I both got to play with [Carlos] Santana and Clapton. It’s like a dream.
Derek: We’re in Chicago now and whenever we play the Chicago Theatre, I immediately remember when Pinetop, he came to sit in with the Allman Brothers and me and Susan were sitting in one of the green rooms, hours before the set. There was an upright piano and Pinetop walks in. He’s maybe 92 at the time. He sat down at the piano and knew we were there, but he didn’t really say anything. He started playing and singing for about 20 minutes. We’re just sitting on the couch going, “Oh my God.” This is happening in Chicago of all places, so we’ve had some memorable hangs.
Susan: Yeah, he was playing “Blues Before Sunrise,” and all of these different songs.
Derek: That stuff changes your DNA, getting to have a glass of wine with B.B. King – that stuff changes you.
What's another album you'd like to tackle with this band?
Derek: You know, those came about really naturally. It was nothing we had planned on doing until the opportunity came up. I don’t know if we’ll ever do anything like that again.
Susan: You never know.
Watch the Film for 'Episode III: The Fall'
Derek: We’d played a few Mad Dogs tunes [in our own concerts], so we got the call to do the show with Joe and we were like, “Alright, that makes sense!” When he passed before we could do the show, they asked us to do a tribute. I said, “I’d love to, but I never really got to play with him. I talked to him, but I don’t feel like I’m the one to do it. It doesn’t feel right." But I was like, “Now, if Leon was a part of it, that would make sense.” I was thinking there’d be no way in hell that he would agree to do it. [Laughs.] When he said, “I’ll do it,” I was like, “Well, you were the band leader last time.” He’s like, “I’m not doing that again, that’s on you, Trucks!” [Laughs.] But then it felt right. That one just kind of came about. The Layla thing with Trey, they asked me to sit in with his band one night and him with us. That was going to be the headlining of LOCKN', that collaboration. He had songs of ours that he wanted to play and I mentioned a few Dominos tunes. He lit up at that. I got off the phone with him and was talking to a friend at Red Rocks, Julie Mendelson is her name – and she was like, “You should just do the whole fuckin’ album!” And I was like, “That’s exactly what we should do!” I immediately called him back and he was immediately into it. So I don’t know, things like that kind of happen spur of the moment.
Bringing it back to your new music, I think this series of new albums is a really beautiful picture of how the band really pulled together during the pandemic and found what was possible together.
Derek: I think that’s what I’m proudest of with this record, too. When we finally got to watch all four films. I think we were planning on watching one a night. But when we sat down and poured a few drinks, we watched the first two and we were like, “Let’s go make another drink and then watch the next two!” When we finished all four, the thing that felt great to me was how much I could feel everybody in the band individually. I could feel all of the personalities in the band and all of the characters in the band. Listening to the record, you know, I could feel Elizabeth [Lea] and Kebbi [Williams] and just everybody helped out in different ways. It’s just the way you feel all of the Muppets. It’s fun. And that includes us! [Laughs.] But I love that about the films, too. I really do think you get to experience the band the way we do on the tour bus. I feel like you get to know them a little bit better, which is fun.
Derek, knowing how the band's new albums draw on Layla inspirationally, have you had a chance to share them with Eric Clapton?
Derek: I haven’t yet. We’re going to be overseas in the fall though. We’ll probably see him, so I’ll drop some records on him.
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Tedeschi Trucks Band Discuss Their Influences