Derek Trucks is on the phone from Virginia Beach, where he’ll play the final date on the Allman Brothers summer tour that night and, the next day, fly out to meet his wife, singer-guitar slinger Susan Tedeschi, and the nine other members of their Tedeschi Trucks Band onstage for a gig. Then it’s a few days off before the group sprints back into a tour that will continue through the end of 2013.
Trucks seems intent on vying with his Allmans’ compadre Warren Haynes for the title of “hardest working guitarist in show business,” with his own recent credits including a stint in Eric Clapton’s band and a non-stop touring schedule. But right now his focus is squarely on Tedeschi Trucks, who’ve just released the new album Made Up Mind. The disc has wilder, heavier turns than the group’s studio debut, 2011’s Grammy winning Revelator, and expands on the improvisational ground staked out in 2012’s bold live concert recording Everybody’s Talkin’.
Of course, Made Up Mind thrives on the instrumental voices of the band’s two leaders. Trucks has already burned himself into rock history with his astonishing command of his Gibson SG and open E tuning. And Tedeschi is also an exceptional picker whose soloing style is reminiscent of blues greats Jimmie Vaughan and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. She also happens to possess the strongest female voice in contemporary blues-rock.
Then there’s the band, a group of top-notch players who recall the heyday of inventive roots ensembles from the ’60s and ’70s, like Delaney and Bonnie & Friends and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
We stared our conversation with Truck’s own role in the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
How has your strategy as lead guitarist changed since the beginning of the group?
In the beginning I was interested in keeping it different than my own band, and Susan wanted to keep things different from her band. So I was intentionally downplaying the guitar element — especially on Revelator. As time has gone on the band has expanded into being more improvisatory and taken on a different life. It was important to get this band to be it’s own thing. Now that it’s there I’ve been pushing things more, exploring more, on the guitar. Especially live. Everybody is more confident on stage so we can feed each other better musically.
Have you been using any new gear on stage or in the studio?
I still use my vintage Super-Reverb live. For Made Up Mind I used an old Ampeg V-12 bass amp quite a bit. Also a 1965 Firebird V I got from (vintage guitar dealer) Ed Seelig in St. Louis that turned out to be an amazing guitar. Plugging it into that old bass amp, I was able to fully dig into the low end and it never gave up on me. I used it on “Made Up Mind” and “Whiskey Legs.”
Jim Scott (who produced the album with Trucks) is really honest about what he’s hearing. So we would pick a song to record and start looking for guitar sounds, and I would plug in and he’d immediately say “that’s good,” or “kind of boring. Next.” When I plugged the Firebird into the Ampeg, his reaction was immediate: “That’s a sound I want to hear over and over.”
Another thing that Ed Seelig got for us, from George McCorkle of the Marshall Tucker Band, was Duane Allman’s 1961 Marshall amp that he used at the Fillmore. He found it a few years ago. So I played through that on “Idle Wind” and Susan used it on “Whiskey Legs.” It’s inspiring to go play through something like that.
The other big change on this album was that we got an old Studer tape machine we used to mix down to tape. We could automate one or two faders on a piece of outboard gear, but were we mixing live on the Neve console. Mixing like that is a performance, too.
Jim Scott also worked with you on the Grammy-winning Revelator. What does he bring to the game?
He’s always finding interesting new gear to add to the studio, like the Studer, and providing ideas that make it better. He’s also part of the band, really, but he’s not there all the time so he brings an outside perspective. It’s great to be able to have a reliable set of fresh ears to turn to.
Gary Louris form the Jayhawks, Doyle Bramhall, Jr. — who played with you in Clapton’s band — the Wood Brothers’ Oliver Wood and Grammy winning producer-guitarist John Leventhal all co-wrote songs with you and Susan for Made Up Mind. Why work with so many co-writers?
Being from a family of musicians and growing up with a lot of other musicians around, I like the idea of being surrounded by a massive amount of creative people. It keeps everything fresh and moving, and something new happens every day. That way writing songs and being creative isn’t a job; it’s your life.
Susan and me started co-writing with other musicians on Revelator. That when I first met Gary, John and Oliver. After Susan and I did the Soul Stew Revival tour together (in 2010) and decided to put this band together, we knew how good it could be and wanted the band to have strong songs right from day one. Now the band is at full speed as a working and touring group, but you can get pretty deep inside things playing with 10 other musicians night after night. These other songwriters are all friends and they’ve watched the band grow from the outside, so they have a fresh perspective on where things can go and how it can grow. But I think that on the next record we’re going to see a lot more writing coming from inside the band as everybody offers more and more ideas.
Since the departure of Oteil Burbridge, the band has had a shifting bass chair, with Pino Palladino, Eric Kasno and other top-flight players filling the role. Have you found a permanent bassist yet?
When Oteil left I told the band we’d know it when we found the right musician. Tim LaFave has been playing with us, and I’m pretty certain he’s the guy. Right now he’s going to be with us at least for the rest of the year.
You’re known for broadening your musical embrace by listening to music from other cultures, like the great Pakistani spiritual singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. What are you listening to right now?
Lately I’ve been a little more domestic. After Pino Palladino played with us, I’ve been getting back into that D’Angelo album Voodoo. It’s such a great wormhole to disappear down. It reminds me of a modern Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield.