Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Tedeschi Trucks Band, the 12-plus-member jam-band tour de force, returns to Santa Barbara on November 7 at The Arlington Theatre. Known for their entrancing live epics, the band released a concert album this year, Live from the Fox Oakland, and a studio record, Let Me Get By, last year. I spoke with cofounder Derek Trucks about the live-versus-studio difference, grief, and guitar hypnosis
I’m listening to your new live album, and your live songs are always more expansive than the studio versions. Does laying them down in studio feel restrictive at all? I don’t think it feels restrictive at all. I think, if anything, it’s the first take on an idea. A lot of times we’ll write a tune and record soon after — you’re getting the first take on it, and in some ways you’re thinking more of the feel of the tune rather than how far you stretch it. We know that when we take it out on the road, it’ll turn into a different beast entirely. We expect that a little bit, and it’s a reason we’ve done a few live records. It’s two sides of the same coin.
Do you ever feel like you’ve gone too far with a song? I don’t know if we ever have that feeling. We maybe have gone too far, but we don’t self-regulate that much. There’s definitely times where you play for long enough and go back and listen to the original and reassess or rearrange it. With as much as we tour, it’s about keeping songs interesting and fresh to the people onstage. If a song starts feeling tired, if it gets too stretched out, we’ll maybe rearrange it, trim sections or add sections. Reimagine tunes — we do that quite a bit.
Have you ever had self-induced guitar hypnosis? [Laughs.] Quite a bit, actually. In a lot of ways, that’s kind of the type of music we’re going for. You want to have a moment or two or night [when] you really feel — whether individually or as a band — the thing lock up. There are moments you can feel some kind of crack in the matrix, and you kind of slip through; those things happen. I think that’s, in some sense, what our crowd is looking for, and certainly as musicians, what we’re looking for: those moments you can’t script, the moments you practice your whole life for. You can’t force it. I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s one of the lucky things of being a musician. Athletes get that too, I think, those peak moments where you feel you can’t miss; but with musicians there’s no shelf life. There’s no end to that. It’s not like you hit a certain age and can’t tap into it. I think of professional athletes being able to do that and then all of a sudden not. I feel very fortunate. I remember seeing Ali Akbar Khan in the ’80s — he was fully locked in — and B.B. King, at the end of his life; there were a handful of moments you’d see that thing happen. That’s inspiring stuff.
I hear you’ve had a tough year personally, and it’s been a tough year for the globe … How you feeling about it at this juncture? It’s been a bitch of a year. I think it’s been such a bitch of a year for the planet, so it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself. We’ve had a lot of people really close to us, huge parts of my life, gone away this year. It’s a strange time to be alive on planet earth for sure. It’s funny, cause, talking about what you were just talking about, having those kinds of moments onstage [that] transcend that, it makes those things all the more important — if more people could focus on getting to that shit, we’d be in a lot different place than we are now. I remember toward the end of last year, post-election, you start[ed] to feel the thing shift. Everything was getting dark. Our buddy Colonel Hampton was one of the guys who passed away; he made a statement: “One of the silver linings is that music is important again.” He lived through the civil-rights movement, grew up down the road from Woodstock. When he said it, it carried some weight. The arts and the humanities … if you’re involved in [them] you’ve got to take it a little more seriously than you maybe once did. Our job isn’t just to entertain people. You have to sneak some medicine in there, too.
I know you basically already answered this, but with all this grief — has it been demotivating? Inspiring? Has it changed your purpose? Strangely, a bit of all of that. When you’re first coping with a loss you don’t see coming, there’s a bit of the wind taken out of your sails. It takes a minute to process. Then I think about the great Indian classical musicians; you have a guru and the guru goes, “You’re on. You’re the one that has to step in, and keep that lineage going and keep that school of thought going.” I feel a bit of that weight, a bit of that responsibility, and in a lot of ways, we’re lucky to be able to do that. The music we learned from these people is a joy to play and is a joy to bring to people. I notice just this year with our audiences that there’s a different connection going on between the band and the audience. People sense it’s a bit of a changing of the guards. A lot of the elders are exiting stage right or left, and it does kind of fall on you to keep a bit of that going.
Do you feel a pressure to live up to your teachers? Me personally, and I think for Susan [Tedeschi] and a lot of people in the band, we’ve been incredibly fortunate in that we got to spend a lot of time with our heroes. We have a lot of intimately close musical friends and family, and you know where you stand with them; it wasn’t a mystery. With the rare exception, most were incredibly sincere and generous with their time and would say, “I really appreciate what you’re doing, I think it’s important that you carry it on.” When you’re in their good graces, it doesn’t feel very conflicted.
Do you have any marital advice for musical couples? You know, I think we went about it in a unique way. We were together and married and had kids and all of these things well before we decided we were ready to put a band together. I don’t love giving out advice, but … You wait ’til the time is right. You don’t force those things. You make sure the connection you have musically is strong, or at least what you’re after is musical and not fame or career. That’s when it gets messy, when it’s egos fighting for position; when it’s something musical, it’s easy to be in the same headspace. You rise and fall together, and I think that helps. … We took our time. She was in the middle of her solo career, and I was out with my solo band and The Allman Brothers and the Eric Clapton tour long before we formed a band together. We finished what we wanted to do individually, and we were both ready for something different and fresh. Even with that, having a band, there are challenges all the time … This isn’t a group of me and Susan and a bunch of side people; everyone’s emotions and musicality and opinions matter, and it’s just constantly about keeping the communication clean. It’s a challenge having a band of this size; it’s a challenge having any band. I’ve noticed that musicians are pretty emotional creatures, and trying to get people on the same page, humming at the right time, can be a bit of a challenge. But I like that part of it. You never get a chance to get too complacent.
Tom Petty passed away recently. Has his death affected you? Yeah, he was kind of local to us, too. He grew up right down the road. I’m from Jacksonville; he’s from Gainesville. His music started here. Dwayne and Greg Allman were six years older, and those guys were almost mythical when Tom started playing. They were Florida musical heroes. The first time I met Tom, he was on the road with The Allman Brothers. It was great to see the amount of respect that went both ways — pretty historical stuff. I grew up on this property in St. Augustine, Florida, and my dad and his crazy friends had a legendary party on late 1960s or early ’70s that turned into a weeklong thing … I always heard about this party and I assumed it was exaggerated, but I found a newspaper clipping about liquor stores in a 40-mile radius [of the party] selling out.
We [worked with] Jim Scott, who produced two or three records for [Tedeschi Trucks], and he did all the Tom Petty stuff. I was telling him about this party my dad threw. There was this old corner store called the Orange Spot, and the directions were, you go down US-1, heading southbound, and head right at the Orange Spot, and someone just spray-painted a big orange dot in the highway for this party. I was telling this to Jim Scott, and he said, “You know, Tom Petty told me about this.” And I said, “You’re shitting me. Tom Petty was at my dad’s fucking rager?” That was one of the things that popped up. There’s not many like him left. It’s a shitty year musically already, and he’s a tough one to lose. The few times I met him, he was very generous and a sweet person, one of those people who they don’t know who you are but they’re still sweet to you. He was always very genuine that way. That’s who he was.
These past years have also seen a lot of mass death at concerts … Does that make you feel about music differently? We’ve had probably close to a dozen really close musical friends in the last year and a half go, and they’re not all from the same generation, which makes it harder to wrap your head around. Then the shit that went down in Las Vegas, Paris — they do give you a little bit of pause. We were staying in the hotel about three blocks from the Bataclan the night before it happened, and playing right up the road when it happened. In some sense, you live in a crazy time on a crazy planet with a lot of darkness and illness, but you can’t let it rule you. You definitely think about things a little differently — you find the exits. You do a little recon when you go into a venue. You think about some of those outdoor venues, at least during the last five to 10 years of the “terrorist age.” …. It’s a vulnerable space you’re in, and it’s gotta affect everybody that goes out to shows. But we played in Amsterdam the night after the Paris shooting, when there were a lot of questions about all [of our] concerts in Europe — are we cancelling, what’s going on? — but the crowd came out in full, and you could hear a bit of defiance in the audience, like, fuck that, nobody’s gonna be running scared. It was a pretty amazing show.
What are you most excited about in the months ahead? We’re ready to jump in and start a new record, which I’m always excited about. With all this stuff we’ve been talking about, there’s a lot to write about. Sometimes it’s hard to filter it down to a lyric or music, but the overarching themes come out in the end. I’m excited for that, and when there’s new material, the band gets a new wave. And then Kofi Burbridge, our keyboard player, had a massive heart attack and hadn’t been on the road for a few months. We thought we’d lost him, and we’re all excited to have him back. He’s just such a badass; I’ve been on the road with him for 18 years. You don’t realize how much you lean on people and how much you miss their sound until they’re gone. I’m excited for Kofi to be back. There’s some good news.
Tedeschi Trucks Band plays with David Luning on Tuesday, November 7, 8 p.m., at The Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). Call (805) 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.