Tedeschi Trucks Band Keeps Rolling Through Heavy Weather

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks work hard to balance life between their band and biological families. Their upcoming Houston show will in part aid victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks work hard to balance life between their band and biological families. Their upcoming Houston show will in part aid victims of Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Duo/Courtesy of On Tour PR
It is less than a week after Hurricane Harvey — with all the force of a pile of Marshall amplifiers turned to 11 – made its unwelcome appearance in the city. Susan Tedeschi is asking with concern about the residents and evacuees of Houston.

Then again, it’s also less than two days before Hurricane Irma will make landfall in Florida, and the singer/guitarist is in the curious position of being an evacuee herself. She is calling from Birmingham, Alabama, instead of the Jacksonville, Florida, home and recording studio that she shares with husband and co-bandleader Derek Trucks.

“We evacuated yesterday to here because it was mayhem in Florida and it’s only going to get worse. Irma is going to cover the whole state. And after watching you guys with Harvey, I was like, ‘We’re outta here!” she says, adding that the couple sandbagged and did prep work for their home, but still found all the protective plywood from their local Home Depot had sold out.

“We got our kids, our dog, some family members and a couple of guitars and hit the road," recounts Tedeschi. "We even told our crew down more south in Ocala to get the bus, get the equipment for the tour, and come up here so we can wait it out.”

But the mind reels: How can the two guitar playing and collecting leaders of the Tedeschi Trucks band decide just which one of their precious axes get a trip to Alabama?

“We didn’t even bring the expensive ones, just the ones we’re going to use!” she laughs. “It’s material stuff, but at the end of the day you can’t stress about it. You don’t want to get stuck on the highway for three days. And the tour starts next week!” [Note: When Tedeschi and Trucks returned to their home after this interview and Irma had passed, their property had sustained some fallen tree and trash damage, but no flooding or destruction to their home or studio.]

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The 12-member Tedeschi Trucks Band specializes in stirring up a sonic gumbo of many genres.
Photo by Tab Winters/Courtesy of On Tour PR
The multi-genre, 12-member Tedeschi Trucks Band recently wrapped up their annual summer “Wheels of Soul” tour in which they headline a three-bill act that this year included contemporary folk trio The Wood Brothers and storied blues/Americana duo Hot Tuna. It’s the kind of musical circus that brings to mind jaunts of yesteryear bringing together like-minded players and audiences like Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, or early tours by Delaney and Bonnie.

The short fall tour that will bring them to Houston will culminate in a six-night run at New York’s Beacon Theater, the band’s seventh annual jaunt. Tedeschi says that part of the proceeds from the Houston show at the Hobby Center will toward Harvey relief efforts.

But she does note a difference between a “Wheels” trek and one like this. “The Wheels of Soul tours are fun because we get to hang out with really cool bands and collaborate. And we just get to be with them all day,” she notes. “We’ll get there at 2 p.m. for sound check, even if we don’t go on until 9 p.m. So this last time we just got to hear stories from Jack [Casady] and Jorma [Kaukonen, of Hot Tuna] about playing Woodstock while in the Jefferson Airplane or jamming with Jimi Hendrix! I mean, wow!”

Prior to the TTB’s 2010 founding, Tedeschi had success as a solo artist, and Trucks not only led his own group, but was also a permanent member of the Allman Brothers Band and a touring axeman for Eric Clapton. A fellow guitarist on that tour, Doyle Bramhall II, has become a close friend and writing partner for Tedeschi and Trucks.

And while the band lineup has changed slightly over the course of three studio LPs and two live records – the most recent of which is this year’s Live from the Fox Oakland – she enjoys the somewhat controlled chaos of the circus. “This band is really unique and there are so many great players and the personalities are just wonderful,” she says. “I’m very lucky to be in this circus too!”

The last time the Tedeschi Trucks Band played Houston was at the Woodlands for the 2015 Wheels of Soul tour, in which Bramhall II and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings opened. Jones, whose struggles with cancer even while maintaining a hectic touring and recording career were an inspiration and the subject of the documentary Miss Sharon Jones! passed away from the disease in November of 2016. And when I got to spend some time with her backstage, her joyfulness and vivaciousness was undeniable.

“She was just such an energy force, a force of nature. So sweet and talented. And she even beat cancer once. It’s just not fair what happened!” Tedeschi says. “She was such a positive person, and what a firecracker! She went onstage every time knowing it could be the last time.”

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"Hey honey, it's MY turn to take a solo!"
Photo by Stuart Levine/Courtesy of On Tour PR
Tedeschi and Trucks are currently writing material for a new studio record, collaborating on some tracks with Bramhall II and TTB singer Mike Mattison. Though she says the subject matter is something to struggle with this time. “It’s hard not to write about hurricanes and war and politics and racism," she says. "It’s just hard to comprehend everything going on today. But we want to write music that makes people have a positive feeling…people need hope, because there’s not a lot out there.”

Finally, there is different kind of family element to this family band. While you can find hundreds of teens and pre-teens that have one parent who’s a working musician and on the road…what happens when they’re both gone for long stretches of time? Tedeschi says that during the summer, their son and daughter will often go on the road and help work the merch booths, but the luster has worn off a bit as they’ve gotten older.

“This type of life is what they’ve always known…they’ve been touring since they were babies. They get frustrated with us sometimes because they’ll say ‘I can’t go on tour! I have tests!” Tedeschi laughs. “So we try to listen to them and their needs. Derek’s mom lives three doors down and takes care of them when we’re on tour. It’s not a perfect situation, but we make it work.”

The Tedeschi Trucks Band and special guests Hard Working Americans perform 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 21 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. $19.95 to $220.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero