It was a night with the Allman Brothers Band that I will never forget. Dickey Betts and the entire band were on fire, and my close friend Paul Rogers and I sat mesmerized in the second row at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California.
Paul and I had attended many concerts together since meeting in college at age 20 at the University of Colorado, but this one — on Aug. 1, 1999 — was so uplifting. It typified the essence of rock-and-roll boogie-ing and craftsmanship.
So, after we returned home to Connecticut, we were hungry for another Allman Brothers performance and bought tickets for the group’s June 25, 2000, show at the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford. Before that show, we were distraught when we learned that Betts was no longer in the group and a 20-year-old guitarist named Derek Trucks, the nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, was in the band. We contemplated selling our tickets but reluctantly showed up expecting the worst.
Within minutes after the Allmans took the stage, Derek unleashed the most jaw-dropping licks, and it was quite clear that the kid had chops beyond belief. We left that show in awe, saying Dickey was great but Derek was an even greater player. And, among many other Allman Brothers fans, that belief continued for 14 years until the band retired in 2014.
With his hot solos and brilliant slide-guitar playing — often standing still and seemingly emotionless on stage — Trucks has made an incredible mark on rock and roll since his debut as an Allman Brothers Band member. His credits are numerous, including his own band, his work with Eric Clapton and other top musicians, and, today, his partnership with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band’s 2011 debut album, Revelator, won a Grammy for Best Blues Album, and its most recent album, 2017’s Live from the Fox Oakland, was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Tedeschi has played a mean bluesy and rockin’ guitar for many years and has built her own impressive resume since releasing her first album in 1998. She has written alone, and with Trucks, many stellar songs and really stepped up her vocal prowess as the lead singer in the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The first time I saw the band was at the wondrous Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver in August 2012, when 86-year-old B.B. King warmed up for them. I ask Susan if she remembers that night and whether there was anything special about it.
“When we played Red Rocks with B.B. King, it was a co-headline,” she responds. “The only reason he went on first is because he wanted to play early. Every night we shared with B.B. was a special one, and this was no exception. He came to visit Derek and me after his show in a wheelchair just before we went on. He always said the nicest things and was so supportive of us and our band.
“He was like a grandfather to me,” Tedeschi continues. “I played seven tours with him all around the world and have many stories. One time, Derek and I were at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, and we went to the back of B.B.’s bus with our son Charlie. I think Charlie was around 7 years old. B.B. asked Charlie if he knew who B.B. was, and he said, ‘Of course, you’re B.B. King.’ B.B. proceeded to pull a crisp $100 bill out of his pocket, gave it to Charlie, and said, ‘Good job! You’re a sweet boy and you have very special parents.’ It was a beautiful gesture and a very old-school thing to do. Back in the day, artists would give babies $100 bills as a sign of good luck in the future. Solomon Burke did the same thing with Charlie at seven weeks old and signed it: ‘For Charles, Love, Your Godfather, King Solomon Burke.’ We miss those amazing men and will never forget them!”
Another person they will never forget died more recently — Gregg Allman in May 2017 —so I ask Trucks about their relationship.
“I think most of my stories about Gregg that are fit for the public are already out there,” Trucks replies. “I sure miss him — his musicality, spirit, and humanity.”
With Gregg’s passing, yet with many musicians in the extended Allman family now performing, might we see another Allman Brothers Band in the future?
“I’m not really in the business of making predictions about that sort of thing,” Trucks says. “I will say there’s a lot of us who really care about the Allman Brothers music, and I’m sure the music will be around much longer than any of us.”
The Allman Brothers Band’s extended runs each year at New York’s Beacon Theatre will always be legendary for the incredible music that was made, often with many big-name guest stars. And, last October, the Tedeschi Trucks Band completed its seventh year of multiple dates at the venue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I attended one of the band’s blistering sold-out shows there last fall and ask Derek what the Beacon has meant to him.
“It just feels like home at this point,” he says. “After being on that stage so many nights, we know every corner of the building. That just makes it easier to take some of the doubt out of your mind and just give the best performance you can. Because we’re up to six shows (per year) at this point, it challenges us to make each night unique and expand the songs in the setlist.”
I mention to Trucks that the Allman Brothers Band was a great group before he joined, but his addition to the group, as well as the addition of guitarist Warren Haynes, made the band even better. I ask him how he views their contributions to the band and how they changed the group’s music.
“With everything that has happened, I think it will be some time before I’m able to look back on the Allman Brothers and be able to clearly look back on my role in the band,” Trucks responds. “I was just a kid when I joined up. and that whole organization took me in with open arms. It meant the world to me, and it still does. As far as how we changed the music, Warren and I weren’t trying to copy anyone. We knew we couldn’t if we tried. So we brought what we had to the table and tried to add our own musical voices. It’s hard for me to evaluate from the inside how we might have changed the band or added to its evolution, but I’m definitely proud of my time in that world and thankful I was a part of it.”
Trucks is also thankful he was at the Marin Veterans Auditorium in San Rafael, California, in 2000, when he watched Ali Akbar Khan perform. He says that concert influenced him as a musician more than any other one he ever attended.
“I had the honor and pleasure of sitting in on a few classes at the Ali Akbar College of Music in the late ’90s, but this concert was the first and only time I had the opportunity to hear him perform on stage. Seeing one of my heroes, who at 78 years old was still pushing the envelope and playing with passion, was incredibly inspiring. There were endless melodies coming out of his instrument throughout the night. Witnessing a true master resets your bar and makes you want to keep searching and practicing.”
Tedeschi says the best concert she attended was a John Hiatt and Ry Cooder performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1989.
“Ry and John played duo without a band, and it was such a special show,” she recalls. “It was my first time hearing Ry live, and his slide playing on ‘Lipstick Sunset’ was amazing. Another highlight was John playing piano on ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’ which was gorgeous. Hearing the two together was something I will never forget.”
Tedeschi mentions several guitar players as the best ones she has watched live and most admired.
“It’s not fair to pick one guitarist,” she says. “I, of course, love B.B., Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughn, and John Lee Hooker. They changed my life and took me on tour with them. But I would have to choose my husband, Derek, because of his amazing ability to make people cry and heal through music. He always plays beautiful melodies, and his rhythm playing is outstanding. He can play any style of music and inspires many. I love his versatility, tone, and passion.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band has also been known for its versatility, and I ask Trucks why the individual musical talents in the 12-piece group have clicked as a team.
“We started this band by trying to find musicians who shared our musical vision and also brought something unique to the table,” he says. “And you have to initially trust your gut and imagine what each player will be like both on stage and off since we live together the majority of the year. We’ve been very fortunate to find some amazingly talented people for this band. Once you have the right group in place, it’s all about developing that chemistry through a ton of shows on the road, living together, rehearsing, and studio work. There’s no substitute for time spent playing and hanging together. Each tour, the band seems to evolve, and we’re able to further that chemistry.”
Tedeschi says the group’s most recent studio album, 2016’s highly praised Let Me Get By, was a major step in the band’s development.
“It was a big leap for us on many levels,” she says. “It was our first Tedeschi Trucks Band album that Derek produced himself without an outside producer. I feel really comfortable with Derek producing, and it allowed me to do my vocal parts in the studio whenever the time felt right. More than on our other studio albums, we really turned inward to the band for inspiration and worked from there. We continue to learn and grow during our studio process, and I feel like you can hear that evolution in Let Me Get By. We’re a few years removed from it, and it still feels good. It’s always a good sign when an album stands the test of time.”
What's next in the studio for the Tedeschi Trucks Band?
“Now that Kofi (Burbridge, the band’s keyboardist and flautist) is back, we are ready to get back to it,” Trucks says. “We’ve been working on material for a new studio record with writing sessions during short breaks from the road, and we’re increasingly making that our focus with the goal to get a new album out this year. We’re looking forward to the collective creative process and feel good about what we have so far. A few new tunes have worked their way into the setlist already.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band will be performing numerous shows in the Northeast and the South through April and then embark on a Wheels of Soul Tour, playing mostly outdoor venues with the Drive-By Truckers and the Marcus King Band in the summer.