When Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi married in 2001, they both had separate careers, he as a guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band and a solo artist, she as a successful blues singer and guitarist. Over the years, they contributed to each other's records, but it wasn't until 2011 that the pair joined forces as the Tedeschi Trucks Band and released their debut disc, Revelator. To this day, the one-time guitar prodigy remains amazed by both his partner in life and in song.
"I've played with a lot of great singers and musicians, and she has a thing," Trucks says. "She has this instrument, and she knows how to use it in a way that I haven't seen in a lot of people that are that powerful."
For Trucks, who recently announced he's leaving the Allmans, few producers realized exactly what his wife was capable of. "I felt like in a lot of ways her talent was being underutilized," he says. "The way people were producing her record and receiving her — I felt like there was so much more than what was being delivered."
Speaking from his Jacksonville, Fla. home, the affable, easy-going 34-year-old Trucks chuckles as dogs bark in the background, as he notes that, in part, he and his wife were motivated by age. "I realized if we were ever going to do something, we had to do it when we still had the energy and were crazy enough to throw yourself all the way into something," he says.
However, they didn't know if their two fanbases would embrace them as the leaders of the same band. In the end, they decided not to worry about it. They just plowed ahead. "We got to a point where you could just feel the musical momentum and the band really becoming a band, and you just brush all that shit aside and you're like, 'You know what? This shit is legit.'"
Shortly after the band began to gel, the Tedeschi Trucks Band recorded a concert album, Everybody's Talkin', with producer Jim Scott, who'd also recorded their debut disc. However, the band took a hit when star bassist Oteil Burbridge left the band to focus on raising a family. As a result, Tedeschi and Trucks used several different bassists when they went into the studio and recorded Made Up Mind. Scott again produced.
"I felt in a lot of ways there was unfinished business. The first record was the inception of the band," Trucks says. "Made Up Mind was really the exclamation point on the first record."
And it is. Made Up Mind is a richer, fuller-bodied album packed with in-sync grace and songs that dig deeper emotionally. There's an even greater emphasis on Southern soul, a fact evident in tracks like the slinky and simmering kiss-off "Do I Look Worried" and the slow-burn gospel-flavored R&B ballad, "It's So Heavy."
The songwriting is sharper too, though Tedeschi and Trucks can't take all the credit. They collaborated with some fine writers, including the Jayhawks' Gary Louris (who worked with them on Revelator), Grammy-winning songwriter/producer John Leventhal (Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash), and Doyle Bramhill II (Double Trouble, Eric Clapton).
"In the beginning, pure singer-songwriter, that part of the craft wasn't in my focus. It was just trying to get that best guitar tone. Then you start hearing other things," says Trucks. "For me it was really getting into the Band and then redigging Hendrix as a songwriter and the Beatles. Some really obvious shit. Even the early Allman Brothers records."
He adds, "I started realizing that the reason those albums last is not just the great playing or the great sound, it's they're great songs. It's the whole package that makes them eternal. Not a lot of people hitting on all of those cylinders. I felt with the people we were surrounded with there was a possibility to really go after all of that."
Trucks considers the addition of bassist Tim Lefebvre (Donald Fagen, Elvis Costello) in September to be an important part of that rekindled ambition. Coming out of a jazz/prog direction, Lefebvre brings intriguing new flavors to the combo.
"Tim hadn't played with our family of bands. He maybe had heard of us and there was maybe an appreciation of what is going on, but it wasn't like we were from the same playbook," Trucks says. "He comes in and brings a totally fresh approach to what we were doing."
After working with cowriters and bringing in nearly finished songs the last two outings, Trucks hints that later this year they'll head back into the studio song free just to see what develops.
"It's a fun place to be when there's a world-class musician in every corner, and everybody's head is in the right place. Everybody is excited to put in the energy and the time," says Trucks. "I can't say I've ever fully been there where every angle felt correct."