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Tedeschi Trucks Band's bigger-is-better strategy pays off

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Automobile magnate Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." And while this may be an odd source to reflect how far the Tedeschi Trucks Band has come, understand that since Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks decided to join creative forces in 2010, they've achieved quite a number of milestones.

Since merging their bands, the TTB has blossomed into a 12-piece and released three studio albums plus two live albums. Their 2011 full-length debut Revelator landed a 2012 Grammy for Best Blues Album. At a time when the music industry is fragmented and artists' careers tend to be more singles-driven, the idea of being a large touring outfit very much committed to recording complete albums can be a scary proposition. And it's a decision Trucks says he and his wife received plenty of cautionary advice about when they decided to unite their bands after watching the 1971 Joe Cocker documentary Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Trucks and Tedeschi: "At this point, we feel like this band is now a part of our history." - STUART LEVINE
  • Stuart Levine
  • Trucks and Tedeschi: "At this point, we feel like this band is now a part of our history."

"I remember seeing that, thinking about having a horn section, and saying we should give it a shot. Our manager and all the people that are our devil's advocates asked if we were sure and if we wanted that many people on the road," says Trucks. "We decided we were going to do it, and we did. There were some headwinds for the first few years, because I think people wanted it to be her band or my band. So for those first few years, we avoided songs from her catalog or my catalog. We did tunes that the band was writing or tunes that we had not played before. We wanted it to stand on its own and sink or swim. And if we got through those first few years, the momentum would hopefully start carrying it."

And it did. The Tedeschi Trucks Band have developed into a well-oiled unit that fuses Tedeschi's bluesy playing and soulful phrasing with Trucks' biting slide work and extended jamming. All of that comes to fruition on Live From the Fox Oakland, the recently released two-CD/one-DVD set that's actually the band's second live outing. The collection mixes originals with covers that pull from the canons of classic artists like Sleepy John Estes, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Santana and — in a nod to one of the tracks on Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen album — a riveting reading of Leonard Cohen's "Bird On a Wire." For Trucks, it's an accurate reflection of the group's current sound.

"There had been some personnel changes over the last handful of years and it had evolved into this place where the music was getting more exploratory," says Trucks, who's also played in the Allman Brothers, a band that his uncle Butch Trucks had co-founded. "We were starting to hit on things that we hadn't hit on before, and maybe some of the tunes had started to open up. Originally we were just going to film it, and then we decided to record the whole tour and do a live record as well. We happened to catch a great night on film that we thought should also be a record. I thought it was nice that it all lined up."

In fact, the Tedeschi Trucks Band went so far as to re-create a substantial amount of Cocker's Mad Dogs onstage in September 2015 at Virginia's Lockn' Festival. Cocker was originally supposed to participate, but he pulled out in 2014, eventually succumbing to cancer in December of that year. The show became a tribute to the late English vocalist, and included a number of musicians who had participated in the original 1970 Mad Dogs tour, including keyboardist Leon Russell, keyboardist Chris Stainton and singers Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear. Trucks admitted uncertainty about how things were going to go, but felt better once Russell was on board.

"When we were asked about doing it as a Cocker tribute, we didn't know at first," he recalls. "But then we reached out to Leon Russell and, once he was in, then it felt right and all of the original cast was gung ho. That was a special few days of rehearsal and then the show."

For their current tour, the two musicians are no longer reluctant to play their early solo material onstage. "At this point, we feel like this band is now a part of our history," says Trucks, "to the point where we'll play tunes from her catalog or mine. Or even an Allmans tune here or there — things that we've been a part of. We don't have to keep it all separated. It's all fair game."

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