For Tedeschi Trucks Band, it comes down to the road.
The 12-piece ensemble of virtuoso musicians delivers a concert experience that deftly blends bona fide rock swagger, blues-fused improvisation, lush jazz mastery and roots music authenticity, leaving their adoring global audiences speechless.
The emotional impact is difficult to describe and impossible to pigeonhole: they are a technicolor American music band.
Created in 2010 by solo musical standouts and marital partners Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, the collective has earned a two-time, Grammy-winning reputation for their artistic vision. They recently released a wildly-ambitious four-part LP of 24-songs inspired by a 12th century Persian poem that further elevates the band on the creative spectrum.
“From the beginning, we’ve had one foot in a lot of different genres, but never fully embraced by any of them,” Trucks, 43, said with a chuckle. “You kinda write your own script at that point. I feel like what we do at our core is songs. Even if it is original, it is coming out of the tradition of the Great American songbook whether it’s rock, blues, folk or jazz.”
Picked twice by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, Trucks played his first gig at 9, formed The Derek Trucks Band at 15, and became an official member of the Allman Brothers Band – his late uncle Butch Trucks was the band’s drummer – in 1999. He has worked with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead.
On the heels of her two critically lauded solo records, guitarist/vocalist Tedeschi, 52, was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2000 Grammy Awards along with Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray, Britney Spears and Kid Rock.
The duo brings the weight of their experiences to the band, which is equally qualified. “This band is just so outrageous, so talented,” Tedeschi said. “They are friends and family and they are important to us and highly respected by us. We know how lucky it is to be in a band like this.”
“The band is heavily versed in different genres,” Trucks said of the group’s diverse individual musical backgrounds. “We stay plugged in to all of those things and it finds a home on our stage in its own way.”
The result is what Trucks refers to as “epiphanies and musical revelations.”
Each night finds its own groove. “It’s an improvisation and spontaneous band at its core so people need to feel inspired to play. So, for me, a lot of the challenge is making sure everyone is locked in and prepared enough, but not over prepared,” Trucks said.
Tedeschi Trucks may jam, but they don’t consider themselves a jam band. “There are sections inside these tunes that you can reinvent, and even the arrangements can be reinvented from night to night, but I don’t feel like we are up there meandering or at a loss for direction,” Trucks explained. “We like to know what highway we’re on and the destination.”
Recently, that road has taken them to Europe for a string of sold-out shows that included three nights at The London Palladium (2,250 cap) and the band’s first dates at The
Helix in Dublin (1,250 cap), and the O2 Apollo in Manchester (2,500 seated) as well as two nights at LeTrianon (1,000 cap) and one night at Bataclan (1,500 cap) in Paris, and the Ahoy indoor arena (3,900 cap) in Rotterdam, Netherlands, among many others.
“It’s been a true word of mouth phenomenon,” said U.K. promoter Scott O’Neill of FKP Scorpio, who started working with the band in 2018. “If you know, you know, and then rightly understand their position as one of the greatest touring live music acts on the planet at the moment.”
The band, which plays Europe and Japan every other alternating year, performs roughly 100 dates annually. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, they have sold more than 1.1 million tickets with a total gross of $63.4 million and an average gross of $189,000 over the course of 437 reported shows.
The successful career strategy of building multi-night runs and sold-out residencies began with their long-time booking agent Wayne Forte, president of Entourage Talent Associates, and manager Blake Budney of Milestone Music Management.
“We made really strategic choices and knew if we made investments to develop the band then we could build a foundation,” said Budney, who started working with Trucks and his solo band 26 years ago. “And year after year, it has worked like that.”
From the beginning, Forte and Budney positioned the band as a live act and methodically built stronghold markets to generate enough income to sustain a big band on the road and grow the fan base. Forte focused on getting the then eight-piece group into established theaters.
“The philosophy was if we can get the people in the building the first time, they will come back and bring a friend,” Forte offered. “It was a matter of getting people to believe.”
The early focus was on secondary markets in the South, including Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savanah, Georgia, to break the band in before moving on to major cities in the Northeast.
“The beauty is I know they cover all these genres so I can put them anywhere,” Forte said.
“The fact of the matter is we just have to get them on stage and into a place where people are into music.”
As interest grew, Forte and Budney started looking at booking multiple dates in a market to reduce wear and tear on the band and build the audience without waiting a year to play the venue again. “Then we could have 5,000, 6,000 people telling their friends as opposed to, 2,000,” explained Forte. “Talk is still the best way to sell tickets.”
The Chicago Theatre was an early adopter. Jason Wright, president for Live Nation Chicago, was the talent buyer at the time. “I’m an enormous fan,” Wright said. “What they do and how they connect with fans is rare. It’s been a special trip to go from one show at the Chicago Theatre in 2011 and see where it is today.”
The band is set to play four dates at the Chicago Theatre in 2023 (March 17-18, 31, April 1). Other popular home runs for the band include the Orpheum Theatre in Boston (four nights), The Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. (six nights), and the Beacon Theatre in New York City, where the band managed to perform more than 100 different songs – playing its four new albums in their entirety – during a recent seven-show run.
“Let’s be clear, it is all about the music,” Wright elaborated. “It is all about what happens on that stage, which is so special, and so soulful, and touches so many people. I’m 100% confident there’s nobody that walks in the room to see Tedeschi Trucks play that does not walk out a fan.”
In February, Tedeschi Trucks Band will return to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, for their seventh residency and ninth overall appearance at the Mother Church. The Feb. 23-25 shows are sold out.
“Tedeschi Trucks Band’s music lends itself to the intimate atmosphere and world-renowned acoustics of the Ryman,” said Chrissy Hall, director of concerts at the Ryman Auditorium. “The band’s reverence and appreciation of the venue’s storied history and magic that happens on the Ryman stage makes their shows here a match made in music heaven.”
“Places like the Ryman, they have so much history and it does mean something to all of us,” Tedeschi said. “The Ryman tells a story. The great thing about this band is that there is so much diversity, we can fit into many stories. We can fit in the Ryman, which is country and folk based, and then we can fit into a jazz club and a rock place because we have all those sides, too.”
Though booked to provide a brief hiatus, Trucks said residencies are sometimes challenging. “It’s funny, we originally thought it would be nice to be in one place and you could relax a little, but it seems to be the opposite,” Trucks laughed. “It feels like you have run multiple marathons.”
They may not be getting any rest, but residencies are an opportunity for the band to stretch as performers. Trucks said, “When you are one place for multiple nights, you have to dig in. It keeps everything fresh and everyone on their toes. And when you go back year after year, you really try to reinvent yourself.”
Being in a city for multiple days is easier on the crew and a bonus for fans who attend multiple nights and often make a vacation out of seeing the band.
“They know we are going to play three completely different shows,” Tedeschi explained. “Repertoire-wise we can do anything from the old days, his solo band, my solo band, our band with all the records we’ve made as well as the four new ones that are out.”
With the release of the four-part I Am The Moon, the band’s first new studio release in three years, there is ample new material to draw from and a creation story as vibrant and intricately woven as a rug from the country that inspired it.
Two months after COVID-19 forced the band off the road, band member/songwriter Mike Mattison (harmony vocals) had an idea. He sent Tedeschi, Trucks and bandmates Gabe Dixon (keyboards and vocals) and Tyler Greenwell (drums and percussion) a 100-page poem titled “Layla and Majnun” written in 1188 by Nizami Ganjavi and dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by Lord Byron. Mattison, who has a degree from Harvard in English and American literature, challenged the group to write songs inspired by the love story.
Mattison’s vision of collecting different voices from the shared literary experience took on more significance through the lens of the pandemic and forced isolation. “I thought if we don’t come out of this on the other side with something it would reflect quite badly on our creative ability,” Mattison said with a laugh. “Even if we didn’t write an album at least we were thinking about each other and thinking creatively.”
Using the poem as inspiration wasn’t as farfetched as it seems and may have been destiny. “Layla and Manjnun” was the title inspiration for Eric Clapton’s 1970 double LP with Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The couple has a strong attachment to the Clapton record: Trucks was named for Clapton’s pseudonym and Tedeschi was born the day it was released on Nov. 9, 1970. In August 2019, Tedeschi Trucks Band performed Clapton’s record at the Lockn’ Festival with guest guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish and released their recorded version as Layla Revisited in 2021.
Mattison’s belief that there was more to the star-crossed love story than one point of view panned out and the music flowed. “It was a study point to talk about relationships,” he explained. “And I think everybody was already in that space anyway. In our isolation you start thinking about who you are, who your people are and what they mean to you.”
The collaborative writing session netted an amazing 24 songs, more than two hours of original music. The band started recording in early 2021 at Swamp Raga, the couple’s home studio in Jacksonville, Florida, adding other band members to the mix including singers Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour, and the horn section with Kebbi Williams on saxophone, trumpeter Ephraim Owens and trombonist Elizabeth Lea.
Produced by Trucks and recorded by Bobby Tis, the band turned to Jud Strickland to handle the daunting task of sequencing. The next hurdle was deciding how to release the music. This time inspiration came from Axis: Bold As Love, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s classic 1967 recording, which is only 36 minutes long.
The group decided to release the project in what Mattison called “small discreet statements” of 35 to 40-minutes each. The I Am the Moon episodes became Crescent, Ascension, The Fall and Farewell (Crescent and Ascension are a nod to records by jazz saxophonist/composer John Coltrane).
“There was so much music and it wasn’t like we could weed anything out, they were all great songs,” Tedeschi said. “The thing that was really important was the concept of breaking it up so that people could digest a little at a time.”
But it didn’t end there. The band engaged documentary film maker Alix Lambert to create lush, atmospheric visuals for each of the episodes. The films were streamed on YouTube three days before the recorded music was available for purchase. The first episode was introduced on May 31 and followed each month by another. All four episodes are now available individually, as a four-LP box and on vinyl from Fantasy Records.
“Part of the risk is that it’s not like putting out an album,” Mattison said. “People are going to have to sit with it and live with it for a while. And it’s hard to ask that of people. But we were up for the task and I think the listeners and the fans are, too. Not to sound high minded, but we were hoping to put out a work of art.”
In a bold move, no singles were sent to radio before the launch. The methodology was egalitarian. “Derek wanted it to be a community experience; for everyone to experience it together, to hear it in the order it was supposed to be heard,” Tedeschi offered.
“It unlocked something for us and made us realize that if we make the time to get together with this group of people and write it can be incredibly productive,” Trucks said. “We never had that amount of time to be together when there wasn’t a tour breathing down your neck. It wasn’t nice not having gigs for 20 months, but the freedom to create and the space to create, that was a revelation for us.”
Now that the music is out, Tedeschi Trucks Band is doing what they love most: playing on the road. During the recent run of London dates, the couple caught up with Clapton and did laundry at the rock icon’s home. Tedeschi recalled that over dinner, “I was like, ‘I guess you manifested us. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘I think you’re doing pretty well.’ He was so sweet. It was an emotional, beautiful day and honestly, it’s like a dream that doesn’t feel real sometimes, getting to do the things we have both been able to do.”