BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Art Tipaldi
It has been almost two years since the Tedeschi Trucks Band first record their record and began touring in support. With Susan Tedeschi’s soulful vocals and Derek Trucks’ signature slide supporting the vision, this 11-piece ensemble has taken the music world by storm. Blues Revue Editor Art Tipaldi recently had time to catch up with Trucks and talk about the band and his exquisite slide guitar voice.
Art Tipaldi for BluesWax: How has this band grown since we talked 18 months ago?
Derek Trucks: It’s been a pretty amazing run. It took off really quick. Knowing Susan and some of the people I had in mind were involved, I had high hopes and expectations. When we started it, we intentionally avoided playing anything from my band or Susan’s band. I think that really helped the growth of the band. There were no tricks to lean on. Everyone had to carry his own weight. We knew that there would be headwinds because people like their routines, even in music. And this is supposed to be spontaneous.
I think that’s what really stunts people’s musical growth. It’s easy to fool a crowd once you figure out a handful of tricks. It’s just the nature to fall back into certain things you say and do. I felt like with this band I had such faith in Susan’s creativity and what this thing could be that, in the beginning, I just really wanted to shake it up and see what happened. That first six to eight months had everybody feeling it out.
I feel like there aren’t a lot of bands like this where it’s sound on almost every level. There’s no weak spots. Everywhere I look onstage I think, holy shit, I’d pay to go see that person play. It’s a pretty great feeling to look around and see ten people who I’m a fan of who are into the collective and want to make this project work.
I remember that there were a handful of shows where I could feel it lift off, where everything got off the ground. It was loose and free and it had that same feel I remember my band had 15 years ago or the feel of the Allman Brothers on a good night. Because it was all new material, those nights felt even better. That was an exciting time.
BW: Do you alter these songs in small ways from night to night?
DT: Every though the framework on each song is the same, it’s pretty free. I guess it’s all how I’m feeling. Some themes become strong enough that it becomes part of the song. But inside of that, you try to crack it open. I want the arc to be different every night. If it’s supposed to peak, it’ll peak. You don’t have to peak every night. It doesn’t have to be the same thing every night. There are some nights where the ideas just flow and you don’t question it. You just roll with it. Those nights, it’s just a matter of where do you what to take it. That’s a good feeling. I’ve learned that even more with this band. There are certain tunes that always stay similar from night to night. It has to stay free enough where we don’t ever get bored. If we ever play a tune that I feel like it’s just sittin’ there, no matter how good that tune is, we’ll shelve it for awhile.
BW: I watch you smile during your solos. What makes you smile?
DT: Usually if I’m smiling it’s because somebody else is doing something. Even while I’m playing someone will play something that sends me off in a new direction. Or if I can feel the whole thing lifting up or if I feel like it’s going where I want it to go. Those are good feelings that make me smile.
BW: When you are in a solo, do you see colors, hear sounds, or follow a story through your guitar.
DT: On a good night it’s absolutely empty. You’re kind of a spectator. Some nights it’s an emotion. Some nights it’s a color. Some nights it’s a sound. There are times when I hear the ghosts of one of my influences in my head. Or the sounds I grew up with. One of the sounds I hear a lot is Sun Ra’s tenor sax player John Gilmore. Sometimes I’ll be playing something, and I’ll hear that attack or sound or phrasing.
To me the beauty of great music is beyond comprehension. It just makes you feel a certain way. I can either get out of the way and let it happen or get in the way and untie the knots all night. It’s probably similar to what you go through when you hear music. I don’t think it’s much different then when I play it. When things are flowing, no matter how complex the music is, it’s incredibly simple. That’s why you put in all the time on the front end practicing. All the gigs and collected experiences are done so that you can just let it go.
BR: How far ahead are you in a solo?
DT: Not too far. You’re pretty much in it. I know that my solo’s over when I’ve got nothing more to say. That’s something you just get a feel for. You feel the arc coming and can see around the corner a bit. I was reading a story about John Coltrane when he was in a period with so many ideas and was talkin’ to Miles and said, “Man, I just don’t know how to quit.” And Miles said, “Just take the fuckin’ horn outta your mouth.”
I love hearin’ people take it as far as you can go, but you can take it too far. You can give too much. If you go and go and go, I know what you’ve got. I’ve seen everything you can do. You gotta save a bit. To me I think that’s a lost art. Today everyone’s tryin’ to be a full guitar hero all the time. That’s my grip with a lot of newer players.
It’s not that hard to learn the pentatonic scale and how to solo on your instrument. Telling a story and making it believable is what separates good from great and great from the next level. When I listen to Otis Redding and the early B.B. and Albert music, they took the music just as far as they needed to take it. And they gave you just what you needed. And most of the time, they leave you wanting just a little more. That’s what keeps you coming back. The mystery is a huge part of it.
BR: Who makes the rules for the band?
DT: Somebody’s got to be in charge, but I guess that at the end of the day, I’m the captain of the ship. Obviously Susan has a huge say in this. If she doesn’t feel comfortable doing something, I’m not gonna force the lead singer and person on the center of the stage to do anything she doesn’t want to do.
At this point, the rhythm section, J.J. and Falcon, is a huge part of the band’s core. Mike Mattison, Kofi, and I discuss things all the time with them. But more and more everyone else is getting in the fold. Sometimes a player will ask for something that doesn’t fit into the set, but for the most part, everybody chimes in. Everybody feels comfortable saying what works or doesn’t. The drummers call it “the hot wash.” After the show they’ll say, “let’s hot wash,” and that’s where we get brutally honesty.
The bulk of our performance is free. I only ask them to do whatever they want as long as it fits musically. Once you start trusting everybody and everybody figures out what works for the band and what doesn’t, you really, as the leader, have to say a lot less.
I feel like my job in this band is to lay out the vision of what I want it to be. I can’t stick too close to it because a lot of times, it will grow beyond what I thought it could be or it goes in a totally different direction. If it’s working and it’s music and magic and makes people feel good and we feel good about it, then you gotta let it be.
Art Tipaldi is the editor in chief of Blues Revue.
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