A Musical Power Couple With A Dozen-Strong Entourage

Aug 18, 2013
Originally published on August 18, 2013 3:07 pm

Singer Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Trucks met and fell in love in New Orleans. They got married and started a family, but pursued their music careers separately — until 2010, when the two combined forces and gathered some of their favorite players to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band. A year later came their first album, Revelator, and they've just released a follow-up titled Made Up Mind.

Tedeschi and Trucks recently spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about their songwriting process and the challenges inherent in wrangling the talents of their 11-piece ensemble. Click the audio link to hear their conversation.

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SUSAN TEDESCHI: (Singing) I'm always here summer days for you, even where you are out all night long...


Meet Susan. Susan is a singer, a really good singer. Meet Derek. Derek plays guitar. He's really good too. Susan and Derek meet in New Orleans. They fall in love, they get married, start a family and go about their own independent careers. And then years later, Susan and Derek start making music together.


TEDESCHI: (Singing) I know you wish that you could see in my window, wishing you could pull up the blind.

MARTIN: They combined forces in 2010, forming the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They just released their second album which is called, "Made Up Mind." Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks join us from our New York studios. Thanks so much for being with us, you two.

DEREK TRUCKS: Yeah, thanks for having us.

TEDESCHI: Yeah, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Well, let's get into the album. Let's start off by playing a track called, "Do I Look Worried to You?"


MARTIN: As is the case with a lot of tracks on this album, there is some amazing guitar happening here. Is that you, Derek?

TRUCKS: That's me on that track. Susan plays on a few of the other tracks. But yeah, you know, it's a guitar-driven band at times.

TEDESCHI: I think in the old days, you know, I might have played more guitar, but it's hard when you're in a band with the best guitar player in the world, so...

MARTIN: Your husband.


TEDESCHI: Yeah. I mean, not that I'm biased or anything, you know, but no. He's so amazing, you know. I really, if we were actually auditioning for parts, I think he would hands down win.


MARTIN: So Susan, I don't know if you've been asked about this before, but your singing voice does have a different quality than your speaking voice.

TEDESCHI: Well, you know, that's 'cause I'm saving it and I'm trying to be polite. My voice naturally is very loud, so...

MARTIN: Is that true?

TEDESCHI: Yeah. I try to be really quiet.

MARTIN: You have such a sweet voice and to be perfectly frank, your singing voice, it's not sweet. It's rough in all the right ways.


TEDESCHI: Well, you know, there's, you know, the whole trick about singing is breathing and using your diaphragm properly and projecting and so I do save a lot. I don't really use it like that when I'm speaking, but when I'm singing, yeah. There's going to be a lot more volume and it's definitely a lot louder and deeper and crazier.

But, you know, that's a lot of influence from different artists that, you know, have influenced me singing.

TRUCKS: Mahalia Jackson.

TEDESCHI: Yeah, Mahalia and Etta James and Big Mama Thornton and Ray Charles and Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. I mean, it's a big jambalaya of all of them, really.


TEDESCHI: I did start belting, you know, that Aretha Franklin style, you know, that real soulful gospel belt, you know, Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, that kind of thing. I started learning how to belt when I was about 10, and I had a great aunt who was an opera singer and she taught me how to breath right, so I think I really lucked out in the game right there with her because she was - in my eyes she was probably one of the most amazing singers I ever heard in my life. And to have those crucial basics, you know, at a young age, I think that really helped me in the long run.

MARTIN: There are some lovely softer songs on this album as well as songs where you're belting. Let's take a listen to "Sweet and Low."


TEDESCHI: It is sometimes a lot trickier to kind of be sweet and have, you know, the control and also have your voice sound like you want it to sound, 'cause every day and every time of the day is a little different. You know, sometimes in the morning it can be as little raspier or it can be really sweet when you first wake up. You know, it's just depending on what kind of living you're doing at the time.


TEDESCHI: But I find, you know, and sometimes in the morning, you know, Derek would have me come out to the studio, like before I even had coffee or anything. But he would say, you know, come out in the morning and sing this and sometimes some of the sweeter songs I would do in the morning.


TRUCKS: You know, the beauty of having a studio in your backyard is you can, you can key in on those things, like knowing Susan and knowing her voice and just hearing when her voice is at its best, it's nice to be able to capture that.

MARTIN: I'd love to play another song of the album with a distinctively different kind of vibe. Let listen to, "Part of Me."


MARTIN: I mean, that's just fun.

TRUCKS: That is fun.


MARTIN: A lot of Motown going on in there. How did this song come together?

TRUCKS: You know, we're fans of all that music and, you know, the beauty of having background singers, two drummers, horn section, is you can do things like that. You can play that music. But that song came about - one of our good friends, Doyle Bramhall, was down at our house writing with us and when he got off the plane he had this bass line in his head and so as soon as we got to the house we ran out in the studio. And with him it's generally he hears a groove in his head and he's just - it's off to the races.


MARTIN: It is a really intimate thing to work alongside your spouse in whatever industry, but I think especially making music.

TEDESCHI: It's true.

TRUCKS: Yeah. We weren't naive going into this, putting a band together. We knew it could be a strain and it could be difficult, but it's forced us in a lot of ways to be more open and to communicate more and you just don't let the sun set on a problem. You know, you deal with everything upfront. There's nowhere to hide. We can't just clock in. I think the music we play and the band we have, there's such a love for what we do. It doesn't matter what's going on offstage. As soon as you hit the stage, there's just another thing that comes over you.

TEDESCHI: You know, you think about two people who are on the road in different buses going different directions, you know. That's much more difficult scenario than at least the two of us being together.

MARTIN: Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, along with a whole host of talented musicians. They are the Tedeschi Trucks Band. They joined us from New York. Thanks so much, you two.

TRUCKS: Thank you.

TEDESCHI: Thank you so much.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.