Tedeschi Trucks Band keeps charging down the road despite recent losses
By Timothy Dwenger
For the worldwide family of music 2016 was a harsh year. The list of greats lost includes, among others, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leon Russell, and Sharon Jones. Sadly, so far, 2017 hasn’t proven to be much better and, for the Allman Brothers family, it’s been downright awful with the deaths of both Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman. Couple those losses with the fact that one of the father figures of the Southern jam scene, Col. Bruce Hampton, passed away on-stage in May, and it’s painfully clear that death has been an unwelcome specter on the scene lately.
“It’s been a nasty year so far,” said guitarist Derek Trucks during a recent interview with The Marquee as he prepared to head to soundcheck in South Carolina. “I was talking to my little brother Duane about it and he brought up that Butch, Gregg and The Colonel were probably the three most directly important musical influences that we had growing up. We got a lot of good times with them, we learned a lot from them, we certainly think about them a lot, but we gotta keep charging down the road.”
As anyone who’s lost someone close to them knows, it’s not easy, but life keeps calling and in the end, there are two ultimate choices — show up the best you can or crawl into a hole and retreat. After talking with Trucks, and listening to a few of his recent performances with Tedeschi Trucks Band, it’s clear that he and the rest of the band have chosen the former. Trucks’ solos are searing, his wife Susan Tedeschi’s vocals have a touch more soul, and the rest of the band just seems to be upping the ante. “When you start losing a lot of people like this it adds a little more weight and gravitas to everything you do,” Trucks said candidly. “There’s not all that many who are left doing this thing. You really got to be sure you are digging deep. You never want it to be cheap or throwaway, but now you really want to make sure it counts. You also realize it hits us in a really direct way because we were close with these guys but it affects a lot of people. These were important figures to a lot of people and that music was important to a lot of people’s lives. In some ways, it’s a little bit on us to keep that spirit rolling and we don’t take that lightly.”
There’s no doubt that the burden is heavy, but Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi have hand-picked a twelve-piece band that is built to shoulder the load. “Just like their music, and what they were doing was certainly revolutionary in some ways, The Allman Brothers was also a continuation of the great Chicago blues bands and the Miles Davis quartet. They took on those influences and ran it through this amazing filter that was their personalities and we have to do a similar thing,” Trucks said. “I know that music intimately, and it takes me certain places that I can’t shy away from. When the spirit leads me there I embrace it. With us, part of it is feeling comfortable going to those places. We aren’t necessarily covering them — we’ll play some of the tunes from time to time — but I think we realize that we are a direct part of the lineage and a direct part of the history at this point. We just have to own it a little bit.”
As the nephew of Butch Trucks, and a child prodigy of sorts, Derek Trucks was thrust into the lineage at a very early age. He first jammed with members of the Allman’s at nine and was playing in Gregg’s solo band by the time he was in his early teens. When he was nineteen he joined the legendary southern rock band as a full-time member when he took on the slide based guitar role invented by Duane Allman. Given this rich history, it’s no wonder that Trucks’ musical evolution led him to found a monster blues and soul fueled band that features two powerful drummers and a pair of lead guitarists. “There were many times on stage with the Allmans where it would get so big and powerful and I realized quickly that having two drummers working together is a pretty unbeatable feeling of sound. When we were putting this band together that was something I was very much thinking about,” he admitted. “James Brown did it, Otis Redding did it, and that’s why Duane did it in the first place. He saw Otis with two drummers — and Jaimoe [Allman Brothers Band founding drummer Jai Johanny Johanson, aka Jaimoe] was one of the two — so that goes back a long way. That music very much informs what we are doing and why we put this together.”
Trucks seems to be signaling the dawn of a new age. So many of the true pioneers of rock are fading and disappearing that younger bands have to rise to take their place. “I think about the Colonel and the way he brought a lot of us up — and Butch and Gregg and Leon Russell and all those people we’ve lost in the last few years — and I realize that I’ve kind of been groomed for this for twenty or thirty years at this point,” Trucks said with an air of reverence. “I don’t really have to think about things all that differently, I just have to keep doing it and keep meanin’ it. I don’t have to fully change my whole outlook, I just have to keep choppin’ wood.”
With a busy touring schedule, a recent live album, and a love for working in the studio, Trucks, Tedeschi, and the rest of the band are deep in the trenches and doing their best to keep up the legacy they have been entrusted with. “We were just down in the studio about ten days ago leading up to us heading up to Macon for Gregg’s memorial,” Trucks revealed. “We are just starting the process but we were down there recording and writing. We are back in it. We have a bunch of demos and ideas down and we are in that head space and I think everyone’s excited to get back down there.”
With new material brewing, the band kicks off their annual Wheels of Soul tour this month and they have invited Hot Tuna and The Wood Brothers to join them for more than 20 dates. Unfortunately, despite the best-laid plans, the band was yet again touched by the fragility of life when keyboard player Kofi Burbridge suffered a massive heart attack in June just days before the band was set to head out for the summer. While Burbridge survived and stands to make a full recovery, his shoes will be filled for the time being by South Florida native Carey Frank. It just doesn’t seem fair that a group of people who have endured so much already this year should be made to suffer more. Then again, the history of so many of the great Southern bands has been marred by tragedy that it seems to be some kind of twisted rite of passage at this point.
As Gregg Allman said in his book It’s Not My Cross to Bear, “It was once said that the blues is nothing more than a good man feeling bad, and that’s what it is. Believe me, singing a blues song makes you feel better afterward. Singing the blues doesn’t mean you have them at that minute — the blues usually crawl up on you late at night or early in the morning. You get the blues when someone close to you dies or has an accident or gets sick, or when your dog passes away, and singing is a way of letting go of it.”
With a new album on the horizon, it seems likely that some of that grief and pain will find its way into the music and shape the songwriting.
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