Derek & Susan: It’s a Family Thing

By: Andy Tennille

Trucks & Tedeschi by Josh Mintz
It’s Father’s Day, a few hours before he’s scheduled to take the stage at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, and Derek Trucks is beat.

It’s not that the 28-year-old legend-in-the-making was up partying after a sold-out show the night before at the Fillmore in San Francisco or that he’s exhausted from the hours of rehearsing in near-90-degree heat during soundcheck at the winery this afternoon. No, Trucks’ weariness stems from the presence of two new tour mates on the Soul Stew Revival Tour, a 12-date cross-country trek featuring a new ensemble comprised of Trucks’ cohorts in the Derek Trucks Band, his wife Susan Tedeschi on vocals and guitar, sax man Ron Holloway and kid brother Duane Trucks on drums. The new tour mates causing the restless nights? Derek and Susan’s two kids – Charlie, five, and Sophia, two.

“There’s a lot less sleep,” Trucks confesses with a warm laugh as the two young children run around the winery’s small backstage. “But the kids are old enough now to be on the road and it’s not a complete drain. It’s a lot but it’s great to have the family together. And they’re okay with hanging out with other people while we’re working.”

Work on the Soul Stew Revival Tour – beyond keeping up with Charlie and Sophia – consists of playing around two-and-a-half hours a night of classic soul, r&b and rock covers from artists such as Aretha Franklin, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes, Stevie Wonder, Ray LaMontagne and Bobby Bland, with a few Tedeschi and Trucks Band favorites thrown in for good measure.

Tedeschi & Trucks :: 06.17.07
Mountain Winery by Tennille
The Father’s Day show at the Mountain Winery opened with a beautiful take on Bob Dylan’s classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a tune Tedeschi regularly sings when sitting in with her husband’s other band, the Allman Brothers. Tedeschi stepped up to cover the Allmans’ “Stand Back” off 1972’s Eat A Peach as Trucks fell into his comfort zone trading solos with Ron Holloway on tenor. The band stretched Aaron Neville and Allen Toussaint‘s “Hercules” into a ten-minute-plus tour-de-force but it was the encore of The Band’s “The Weight” – delivered like Aretha Franklin’s version on her widely underrated 1970 album This Girl’s in Love With You – that elicited the biggest cheer from the sold-out crowd and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

JamBase caught up with Trucks and Tedeschi before the show to talk about the genesis of the Soul Stew Revival Tour, their introductions to soul music as kids and the importance of family in their lives.

JamBase: I guess the inspiration for this tour came from the New Year’s shows that you’ve done together over the years. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how this tour got put together?

Trucks & Tedeschi :: NYE 2006 by Josh Mintz
Derek Trucks: We’ve been talking about doing this for years. Every time we’ve done New Year’s together, it’s gone really well and really re-emphasized that we wanted to do this. Between last year’s Allmans tour, releasing a new album and touring with my group, doing a record and world tour with Clapton and then Susan’s band, we kinda figured that if we were going to see each other at all we’d have to book a tour together. [laughs]. It’s good timing, too. A lot of stuff is slowing down as far as the obligations that I have. So it was the first time it made sense, timing-wise, to do it.

JamBase: Tell me a little bit about your introductions to soul music?

Susan Tedeschi: Probably when my dad played me The Staples Singers. I remember that really well. I was probably about six years old. My mom also loved James Brown, so I remember hearing that a lot as a kid. We listened to some Sam Cooke, too.

Derek Trucks: I think it was always around both of our households. Ray Charles, Aretha, Stevie. I remember hearing all those records as far back as I can remember. So, it’s been in my head since I was a kid.

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There’s a lot less sleep, but the kids are old enough now to be on the road and it’s not a complete drain. It’s a lot but it’s great to have the family together.
-Derek Trucks on touring with the family
Photo by Adam McCullough

JamBase: What about the importance of keeping this music alive today in your minds? It’s been a topic of discussion of late given the recent revival of the Stax Records label.

Derek Trucks by Rod Snyder
DT: There are a lot of people that are obviously influenced by that music, and there are a lot of people that approach it but I don’t think there are a lot of people that either really have the right to do it, do it with the right amount of respect or really dig into it. There are a lot of bands in the jam scene that kinda paw at it but they never really dig in. It takes a certain voice, a certain groove and a certain sensibility to make that stuff sound right and be what it really is. With a lot of the neo-soul stuff, I think the artists might be able to do it but I think so much of that music has been diluted over the years. It doesn’t hit as hard anymore. Whether it’s the sounds or the approach, it seems a little bit lightweight. Classic soul music – when it was really hitting – had some fierce players. The sounds were huge. When you see footage of Bernard Purdie, Jerry Jemmot and Cornell Dupree playing with Aretha, those guys were the bad asses of their time. It wasn’t some retro thing [laughs]. So I think you have to approach it fresh and take a new look at those tunes.

On this tour, we’ve been digging in and playing some obscure covers that we love and really getting them under our belt with the hope that we can also write some tunes in that vein. That’s the goal in my mind – to eventually write and record some soul music of our own. I feel like this lineup has a unique ability to be able to do that. But, first you have to get that foundation and learn the ins and outs of what made those songs so great and the grooves work. Then you can take the next step and make some new music based on those older tunes.

There are people out there that are doing it but like a lot of things in the music scene today, they’re not quite reaching it. They’re almost getting there…

It’s almost as if they haven’t made the full commitment.

DT: Yeah, no one’s really jumping in full tilt. Not that we’re jumping in all the way but I think there’s a real attempt.

Yeah, I would agree. I also feel like with those early Stax musicians and the other musicians playing during that era, there was a certain amount of discipline and reverence for that music and the musicians that had come before, and that’s really what I feel is lacking from some of the soul music today, with the rare exceptions here and there.

Susan Tedeschi by Tennille
DT: Yeah, it’s true. A lot of what made that music special was the discipline of the players involved. Those guys were assigned specific parts in every song and were told to lock it down hard and don’t budge. “I don’t want to hear what you have to say about it, just play your fucking part [laughs].” So for us, that was a different mindset coming into this tour. And the group’s a little different, too. My brother’s out playing drums with us this tour, so we have two percussionists. I’m not used to playing with another guitarist, so we’re delegating all kinds of roles and things. It’s a different approach for sure but I think it’s coming together. The show last night at the Fillmore was definitely the highlight of the tour so far.

Susan Tedeschi: Yeah, it’s starting to gel and the music’s getting better and better…

DT: Everyone’s becoming more comfortable with the roles we have to play. Once we establish those roles and become comfortable in them, that’s when you can shatter them and become freer with the music and really anything goes. But you have to get that bedrock first.

It’s funny you mention Bernard Purdie and that rhythm section because the favorite record to listen to in my house on Sunday afternoons is Aretha Franklin’s The Complete Amazing Grace Recordings. I listened to it on the way down and Bernard Purdie really drives that whole recording with his drumming. I’ve always preferred the Muscle Shoals rhythm cats to the later Aretha rhythm sections but he’s such a brilliant musician.

Trucks & Tedeschi by Adam McCullough
ST: Bernard Purdie played on all the hits. If he played on it, it was a hit. [laughs]. And it’s not just because of the song. Those grooves are so strong…

DT: You’d have to be really terrible to screw up a Bernard Purdie track [laughs].

ST: It’s hard because you really strive for that excellence when you’re in a band. So it’s nice when you’re playing with some musicians who are really talented and into playing this music right but also bringing something new to it as well. That’s what this band does so well and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.

Tell me about how you all selected the covers to play on this tour. Was it something you two handled mainly or was their band participation in building the set list? How did that work?

Derek & Duane Trucks by Josh Mintz
DT: It seemed like most everyone pitched in choosing the tunes. We had a lot of tunes that we threw up against the wall and some stuff just didn’t stick. We’d listen to the track and the concept was better than how it actually came out once we played it. It’s still a work in progress. A lot of the tunes we’re doing are songs we’ve loved for a long, long time. Susan brought in the Delaney & Bonnie tune “Coming Home,” which I was vaguely familiar with but not really. Once everyone heard that, it seemed like an obvious choice.

ST: In a way, if you look at Delaney & Bonnie and Derek and the Dominoes and artists like that, we’re trying to educate some of the younger music fans about that music because they might not have ever heard it before. And we’re playing it for the older music fans as well because they remember that music and love it. So, we’re trying to stir that back up in them.

DT: For us, that stuff’s a pretty good template for a band like this.

Yeah, that’s the obvious question, so I guess I’ll ask it. How much of an influence did Delaney & Bonnie – that music and the concept of that band – play in putting this tour together?

DT: More so after the fact once we decided to do the tour. It just kinda reinforced that it’s not an impossible task and that there are people that have done it or done things similar to it in the past. Sly Stone was another big influence on this tour. That group is similar in the sense that it’s a traveling circus.

And they’re back out on the road again this summer, too.

DT: Yeah, I saw that. I’m curious to see how it turns out. They just reissued all those records on vinyl. I’ve been listening to Fresh constantly since it came out again.

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It used to be that I could bring the kids anywhere. Now that Charlie’s going to be starting school this fall, I’m going to have to be at home during the week more and only tour on the weekends. So, that part is tough because I can’t go out for six weeks anymore like I used to. Sometimes it’s hard to just play on the weekends and then try to recapture that the next weekend after five days off.
-Susan Tedeschi on touring with the family
Photo by Josh Mintz

Tell me a little bit about the guys you’ve got playing with you on this tour. I know the majority of this band comes from Derek’s band but you’ve also got Ron Holloway playing sax with you. Ron’s a monster – he’s one of my favorite sax players out today.

Ron Holloway by Tennille
DT: He’s a great player, and he knows how to get through in a setting like this. There are a lot of great tenor players out there but in a rock band setting, which essentially is what this is, a lot of horn players can’t break out the blade, cut through all the noise and get to the point. Ron absolutely can.

ST: Or blending with the rest of the music. Ron is great at blending in and making everything sound great.

DT: Yeah, it’s not like he’s a rock saxophonist, which I really don’t like. Ron played with Dizzy Gillespie, so he’s got the street cred and jazz chops. He’s done some great stuff with Gil Scott-Heron and Root Boy Slim for more of the esoteric stuff. I played with him in the Allman Brothers Band some and he’s been in Susan’s band full-time for the last two years. My guys have been playing together for so long that it just seemed like the natural group to take out…

ST: Yeah, but I had to have someone from my camp represent, so I told Derek we had to bring Ron. [laughs]. Everyone really loves having him around ’cause he’s so great at teaching us about a lot of stuff. He’s been around so much, he’s kinda like Jaimoe in that way. He’s got a great outlook on life and some great stories to tell.

When I saw that he was playing on this tour, I immediately thought of that tune Aretha did with King Curtis and Duane Allman, “It Ain’t Fair.” Figured that would probably make an appearance at some point.

Derek Trucks by Rod Snyder
DT: That’s a great tune. I haven’t heard it in a while.

ST: What is it? It’s called “It Ain’t Fair?”

Yeah, it’s on This Girl’s in Love With You with “The Weight,” “Dark End of the Street,” “Hey Jude,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Son of A Preacher Man,” I believe. It’s among my favorite of Aretha’s Atlantic stuff, one of her more underrated albums.

DT: I need to hear that again. Might have to throw that on the list. Write that down for me! [laughs].

Will do. So today’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to you.

DT: Thank you, thank you.

Wanted to ask you both how parenthood has changed your life and the balance you have to strike between your career and family.

ST: You have to think about a lot more than just yourself and your career since you have other people depending on you.

DT: Being on the road and scheduling requires a lot more thought now than a few years ago. You can’t just get up and go without thinking about your other responsibilities anymore. It’s been nice the last few years because we could bring the kids on the road with us with a nanny and still do as many dates as we wanted.

Derek & Susan by Josh Mintz
ST: It used to be that I could bring the kids anywhere. Now that Charlie’s going to be starting school this fall, I’m going to have to be at home during the week more and only tour on the weekends. So, that part is tough because I can’t go out for six weeks anymore like I used to. Sometimes it’s hard to just play on the weekends and then try to recapture that the next weekend after five days off. But, we’re doing our best. We try and bring the kids with us when we can, like for this tour. They’re Silver Medallion on Delta now… I’m not so sure that’s a good thing yet or not [laughs].

DT: Yeah, it’s a little different than most kids their age but they’ve gotten to see some pretty amazing places like Japan and the south of France this past year on the Clapton tour.

ST: We got on a flight the other day and Charlie sat down next to this older woman who was flying for the first time. She told him she was a little nervous and he patted her on the arm and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve flown a lot. You can hold my hand.”

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