What a difference 365 days can make. Only one year ago Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 11-piece group led by the husband-wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, debuted with the album Revelator. TTB -- as their fans have come to know them -- and their set list were new, itching to be road-tested. Within a few months, the group had proven themselves one of the hottest, most uplifting acts on the road today - playing concerts that drew tens of thousands of fans and, through radio, TV, and internet-play, reached hundreds of thousands more. In just the past few months, they reached pinnacles of accomplishment that most bands spend a career trying to reach.
In February, Revelator won a Grammy for Best Blues Album of the Year, while Trucks himself, along with TTB bandmate Oteil Burbridge, were honored with lifetime Grammys for their membership in The Allman Brothers Band. In March, Tedeschi and Trucks were invited to perform at the White House with Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and yes, President Barack Obama himself (who sang a verse of "Sweet Home Chicago"). A week later, they appeared at the Apollo Theater, joining Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and a host of guitar heavyweights in an all-star tribute to bluesman Hubert Sumlin.
"It's been an amazing year. I really never imagined it would have turned out quite like this, especially the last few months. The momentum picked up and it just really started rolling - everything kind of happened at once," says Trucks, who maintains that his focus, and that of TTB have remained steadfast on the music itself. "As over the top as a lot of that stuff is, the one thing I notice is, it doesn't really feel any different than being on the road and having successful shows, like on our European tour and in Japan, and seeing the crowds grow. The way the band took shape musically around the time that we decided to record a live record was pretty exciting."
Everybody's Talkin' is both, a catalog of a triumphant year of growth and a great listening experience. Tracks flow one into the next with the collective spirit and lift of a typical TTB concert - raising the roof with a Saturday night sense of abandon, and gently concluding with a Sunday morning spiritual. Featured are versions of tunes from Revelator that are already crowd favorites - "Bound For Glory," "Love Has Something Else To Say" - some with added details, like the fresh horn part that pushes "Learn How To Love" a notch higher than the studio original, or the tasteful, quotes of "Swamp Raga" and "Little Martha" on slide-guitar that set the stage for "Midnight in Harlem." Other songs portray the group's abiding affection for a truly wide range of soulful and gritty forebears, including Stevie Wonder ("Uptight"), Elmore James ("Rollin' And Tumblin'"), Bill Withers ("Kissing My Love"), John Sebastian ("Darling Be Home Soon"), Bobby Bland ("That Did It"), Harry Nilsson ("Everybody's Talkin'") and the Staple Singers ("Wade In The Water").
Beyond the song list, the most attention-grabbing aspect of Everybody's Talkin' is the marked progress of the group itself, as this past year has seen TTB develop at a jaw-dropping rate into a fully mature ensemble. Trucks compares the rapid growth of TTB favorably with that of his first group, The Derek Trucks Band. "I remember the last five years with the DTB we started really feeling that the thousands of shows in front of 30 people in bars were finally starting to pay off, to the point that there was this wave of goodwill with people rooting for the band to make it. But I feel like this band went through that same thing in a much smaller time scale. The last five months especially it feels like a totally different band. It feels loads more comfortable."
The trick, according to Trucks, was both allowing TTB to develop at its own pace, while knowing what they did not want it to be. "We didn't want it to be what my last band was, what Susan's band was, what the Allman Brothers are. We knew we were not going to come out of the gate trying to do that. We were just going to let it be what it is and get out and gig in front of people. We knew the first gigs were not going be as good as those six months later. It's just not possible to go into that first gig to hear a band with 16 years of chemistry."
But as it happened, even the first performance by TTB's current lineup the magic was tellingly there. "It was a gig on New Year's Eve 2010/11," remembers Trucks. "That was the oh-shit -what-have-we-gotten-ourselves-into moment. Now we have to bring an 11-piece band on the road because they sounded that good."
Things went from good to better to much better, fast. The group toured the U. S., Europe and Japan, accruing fans and experience. Various nights still stand out. A night in Paris that found the band eating and jamming informally in a restaurant until dawn, then continuing the music and party during a train ride the next morning. A show in Washington DC -- hometown of the Burbridge brothers -- that inspired a truly special concert (including the version of "Bound for Glory" included on Everybody's Talkin'.) All the while the band grew tighter, and so did the music.
Tedeschi credits much of the group's accelerated progress to the way that her husband leads the band -- more like a jazz ensemble, allowing the group the freedom to explore and nurture its own strengths. "Derek is a great leader in the way that he knows the potential of everyone in the band and has a really nice way of trying to show off all the talent in the band. Because it's such a big band, we only have so much time to play all the songs and make sure they're done right, but then you want to showcase people. I think he has a really good handle on how to make that work."
As evidence of this more democratic approach, Tedeschi points to the notion of TTB as a group that encompasses many possible lineups, depending on who's taking the spotlight or even onstage at any given moment. "There are times when I'll leave the stage, or the horns might leave the stage and it will just be a trio or a quartet out there, with Derek, Oteil and maybe J. J. doing their thing. Then slowly the others will start coming up and adding on to the music. Every show is exciting but it's not always 11 pieces blaring at you. There's always a different mix of stuff and there's so much going on."
As Everybody's Talkin' makes clear, Tedeschi's vocals and Truck's guitar-work are front-and-center as in the beginning, yet have become more intuitively inter-twined. Tedeschi's own guitar-playing is more strident and assured. TTB's ace rhythm section works together with a deeper sense of funk, and a more liberated jazz feel, often extending the close of a well-chosen R&B number into a thrilling, open-ended jam. Onstage, they exhibit an interplay on the level of a group with years of experience together, building a song from a tender whisper to a soul-rending scream, improvising with almost telepathic communication between all members.
One measure of the unusual level of musical camaraderie is the band's shared comfort, Tedeschi says. "A lot of us are used to being bandleaders and having a lot of pressure on us. Derek, Mike, Kebbi, J.J. and I have all done that. With TTB, nobody feels they're the one that has to make it all happen, and can actually relax a little and have more confidence in what they're doing -- everyone has everyone else's back.
"See, to me the great thing about this band is that there are really four singers in this band. I sing, Mark Rivers is a fabulous singer and then Saunders Sermons, our trombone player, is amazing too." Trucks adds: "…and Mike Mattison! Two hours into the show he'll finally sing a song full on, and the crowd is like, "Waaahhhhhh!! – Where did he come from?" It's that build up, you know?"
"It's the contrast and it's the build up," says Tedeschi, finishing the thought.
Everybody's Talkin' also benefits from a diversity of experience ("there's a 20-year range in the ages of the group" Tedeschi notes) and overlap of interests. "Everybody loves Sly, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles," Tedeschi states. "Everybody loves Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. And Nina Simone, Bill Withers, and B. B. King. But one day somebody's listening to Radiohead, while someone else is checking out Ledisi, and someone is creating a hip-hop or rap track on the side. It's the people that we all draw from that help us create new music from those influences."
Both Trucks and Tedeschi happily admit that the TTB sound and setlists owe much to the heyday of classic rock, when distinctions of genre were lowered and a blend of rock, soul, blues, and gospel were at a high point. "I feel like the music that this band draws from is from that sweet spot in American music, and when you think about the late '60s and '70s, they were drawing from music that was 20-30 years before their time…"
"It's soulful, it touches people, and they relate to it," Tedeschi adds. "It's honest music, even now…"
"And it doesn't change and it doesn't go away," Trucks concludes. "Real remains real. They were reigniting a flame and then starting another one. I feel like that's what this band is all about. TTB is straddling the past and future. We don't get to choose when we're put here but we do get to choose what we do when we are here."