September 2, 2022 | CULTURE | By Jonathan Cox | Illustration by Jubilee Rivera-Hernandez
With a Grammy-winning debut album, a guitarist topping the Rolling Stone rankings, and a vocalist with the soul to release an army of butterflies in your stomach, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) is the real deal. But do you think Derek Trucks notices his accolades while his heart reverberates through the amplifier?
This band blends blues, rock, soul, jazz, and everything holy in this world to create a powerful, authentic sound, void of acoustic plastic surgery and other post-production manipulation. They aren’t chasing fame or fortune; rather, their stellar reputation is earned through their pursuit of something greater: an original sound.
Every. Single. Time.
That’s why it’s kept me coming back for more: I was in the top 0.05% of their listeners this year on my Spotify wrapped (best day of the year in my opinion, link to the petition to make it a national holiday is below). But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. First, I have to take you back.
The band is a bit like if the Allman Brothers Band and Bonnie Raitt had a baby. Or maybe one of them had an affair with Janis Joplin, ran off to India (see “Sahib Teri Bandi – Maki Madni” in the playlist below), and then returned to the Mississippi Delta. The family of influences that led to the birth of the Tedeschi Trucks Band is as diverse as it is spectacular.
Trucks is part of the Allman Brothers Band dynasty: his uncle, Butch Trucks, was a founding member of the band. Surrounded by such talent as a child, Derek was a predestined prodigy. He played paid shows before he was ten, ripped with Eric Clapton at 18, and started his namesake, Grammy-winning band at 19. This dude was so good he had a song on Guitar Hero 5, but that surprisingly wasn’t the pinnacle of his career.
That happened later when he met Susan Tedeschi opening at one of his shows.
Tedeschi was equally as prodigious before joining forces with Trucks. At six years old, Tedeschi was already making appearances on Broadway, showcasing vocal cords that would soon be richer than almost any singer in the industry today. This led to a gold-level blues album, complemented by some mean guitar chops when she’s not belting her heart out.
In 2010, Tedeschi and Trucks proposed a marriage of their two acts, birthing a 12-member ensemble. Touring with a band of this size is nearly unheard of today and extravagantly expensive, but the band prioritized a community of camaraderie and love.
Oh yeah, and speaking of marriage, Trucks and Tedeschi are husband and wife. Unfettered, harmonious love emits from their 12 strings amidst their many collaborative guitar solos.
As of 2022, the TTB has released four studio albums, four EPs, and three live albums. While the group has produced incredible music in the studio, they know the real opportunity for expression and connection lies beyond the confines of soundproofed walls. Performing live allows for the best of bands to exhibit their spontaneous musical genius.
Last winter, I went to a Nathaniel Rateliff show. It was awesome, but there was something missing: there was no fluctuation and nuance in the mood of the show, zero deviation from the studio recording. This led me to realize the importance of originality.
Jam bands, like the TTB, ensure every concert is unique. This makes the audience excited about seeing another show as it will be a distinct experience from past concerts and the same studio album songs. This originality creates beauty, which is best seen in Trucks’ guitar solos.
A great guitar solo is full of emotion, facilitated by a mixture of chaos and order. His solos have a fluctuating pace, going between recognizable riffs and purely organic melodies. Trucks will go from a sky-high solo with shrieking notes and brings it back with a root note to unify the precarious event.
While there is a key and its associated notes guiding the solo, oftentimes obscure notes outside of the key are filled with the most expressive power. Trucks is also one of the best slide guitarists in the world, allowing him to convey an even deeper meaning and a novel sound, releasing a new kind of beauty.
This beauty is not only for the audience to experience, but also for himself, which still improves the experience of concertgoers. If the musician performs a fresh set every show, they make the experience less monotonous, bringing back the spirit of music. There seems to be a certain facet of capitalist despair in performing an identical show in a discipline that should be considered more of art than work. When the audience knows the band is creating a new sound every time, this makes the concert more fulfilling for the audience members.
There is a reason we call it livemusic, and why it is sacred to so many.
Music has the power to bend time: both artist and audience lose track of it in a beautiful solo. I will put on a backing track to “Midnight in Harlem” and improvise over it on my guitar – closing my eyes as I play and opening them to find the song is nearly over, dissolving the concept of time. And when that happens, we can live eternally in that live moment.
It makes us feel alive.
An openness to experience contributes to a fulfilling life. It makes you expect the unexpected. I saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band again this summer. I had no clue what songs they would play, what the solos would sound like, which notes would raise the hairs on my arm and make me relish in the eternal moment. And that’s the beauty of it. What I do know is I found something I did not know existed before, because it never did before, and will never again be replicated. And that is inspiring.