Automobile magnate Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” And while this may be an odd source from which to reflect how far Tedeschi Trucks Band has come, understand that since Susan Tedeschi and her husband, Derek Trucks, decided to join creative forces in 2010, they’ve attained quite a number of milestones.
Since merging their bands, TTB has grown into a 12-piece ensemble, releasing three studio albums and two live albums. Their 2011 debut album Revelator scored a 2012 Grammy for Best Blues Album. At a time when the music industry is fragmented and current trends seem to be about minimizing and having an artist’s output more singles-driven, the idea of being a large touring outfit deeply committed to recording complete albums can be a scary proposition. And Trucks admits he and his wife received plenty of cautionary advice when they decided to unite their bands after watching the 1971 rock documentary Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
“I remember seeing that, thinking about having a horn section and saying we should give it a shot. Our manager and all the people that are our devil’s advocate[s] asked if we were sure and if we wanted that many people on the road,” Trucks recalled with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “We decided we were going to do it and we did. There were some headwinds for the first few years because I think people wanted it to be her band or my band. For the first few years, we avoided songs from her catalog or my catalog. We did tunes that the band was writing or tunes that we hadn't played before. We wanted it to stand on its own and sink or swim. And if we got through those first few years, the momentum would hopefully start carrying it.”
Since then, Tedeschi Trucks Band has evolved into a well-oiled machine, fusing Tedeschi’s bluesy guitar playing and soulful phrasing with Trucks’ biting slide work and extended jamming. Those skills are on full display on Live from the Fox Oakland, the recently released two-CD/one-DVD set that's also the band’s second live outing. Not unlike the aforementioned Mad Dogs set, this Tedeschi Trucks tosses in originals, while pulling tunes from a wide array of artists including Sleepy John Estes, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Santana and, in a nod to another Joe Cocker live double-album, a riveting reading of Leo Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire.” For Trucks, it’s an accurate presentation of what the band's doing now.
“The band was in a great spot,” he said. “There had been some personnel changes over the last handful of years and it had evolved into this place where the music was getting more exploratory. We were starting to hit on things that we hadn’t hit on before and maybe some of the tunes had started to open up. Originally, we were just going to film it and then we decided to record the whole tour and do a live record as well. We happened to catch a great night on film that we thought should also be a record. I thought it was nice that it all lined up.”
Interestingly, Tedeschi Trucks Band took the inspiration behind that legendary 1971 Joe Cocker/Leon Russell caravan tour that nearly destroyed Cocker and went re-created a substantial amount of Mad Dogs in September 2015 at Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival. Cocker was scheduled to participate, but he pulled out in 2014, eventually succumbing to cancer that December.
The show became a tribute to the late English raspy-voiced entertainer, and included several musicians who had been along for the ride in the initial Mad Dogs tour, including keyboardists Leon Russell and Chris Stainton and singers Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear. Trucks admitted feeling uncertain about how things were going to go, but felt better once Russell was on board.
“When we were asked about doing it as a Cocker tribute, we didn’t know at first,” Trucks said. “But then we reached out to Leon Russell and once he was in, then it felt right and all of the original cast was gung-ho. That was a special few days of rehearsal and then the show.”
With both Tedeschi and Trucks having so much material from which to draw, fans can expect a rich mix of songs from different points of the duo’s musical journey in the group’s show at Daily's Place on Friday, June 29. The musicians are also working up material for a new studio effort that could emerge by year’s end.
“At some point, the band is going to stay in the studio to revisit about eight or 10 tunes that are floating around in various states of completion,” Trucks said. “But we’re going to go in and keep writing, because everybody’s mind is on the next studio record right now. At this point [in our live shows], we feel like this band is now a part of our history and musical life to the point where we’ll play tunes from her catalog or mine. Or even an Allmans tune (Trucks was a member of The Allman Brothers Band from 1999 to 2014) here or there—things that we’ve been a part of. We don’t have to keep it all separated. For us, this is what we’re doing. It’s all fair game.”