Eight years ago, guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife, singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, decided to combine their solo bands and rich musical minds for a joint project.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band played their inaugural show at the 2010 Savannah Music Festival. After that show, they recorded and released their debut album, “Revelator,” which won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album.
They return to the Savannah Music Festival eight years after their debut to headline the ambitious finale show on April 14, a first-time, all-day event, alongside Grammy-winning country star Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
“When I heard about it, it seemed right,” Trucks said of the finale show. “It’s nice going back to the festival. I think this band, especially in the summertime when we start doing the outdoor shows and the amphitheaters, you kind of get mentally geared up for that — it’s a different way of thinking about the set and performing. I am excited to do that there. That festival has had serious lineups every year. It’s an impressive thing that they do.”
Combining their love of blues, soul, roots and gospel music, the original eight-piece evolved into a 12-piece band that has toured relentlessly, released three studio albums, two live albums and won multiple awards and accolades, while keeping the core of the band together.
Chemistry on the road
“When you’re first starting things, there’s a lot of ideas of what it could be,” Trucks said. “There’s a lot of newness and freshness. It’s not a fully realized thing yet. It takes getting out on the road and feeling out the real chemistry and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I feel like it’s gone through a lot of changes in the last eight years. I feel like it’s a living, breathing thing at this point."
Keeping the core of the band together through the years is a remarkable feat in the music industry, where members of large ensembles are often traded like baseball cards.
“For a band this big, it’s a pretty hard thing to do,” Trucks said. “We’ve had two or three people come and go along the way, but the bulk of the band and the creative center of it is has remained the same.”
Tedeschi is a multiple Grammy-winning singer and guitarist, whose soulful voice and songwriting has earned her a place in the canon of American roots music. She formed the Susan Tedeschi Band in the early 1990s, going on to tour with John Mellencamp, B.B. King, Bob Dylan and The Allman Brothers Band.
Trucks, a slide-guitar prodigy, got his start with The Allman Brothers Band at age 11. Born into the Allman family as the nephew of drummer Butch Trucks, he was named after Eric Clapton’s short-lived band Derek and the Dominos.
In addition to playing with the The Allman Brothers Band, Trucks formed The Derek Trucks Band in 1994. He was twice named to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. The couple married in 2001.
Tedeschi Trucks Band books about 200 shows each year. Playing constantly has cemented the group's chemistry over the years. More impressively, the band has yet to repeat a setlist. Drawing from a massive playbook of tunes, including Tedeschi and Trucks' solo work, the band rotates songs out for each live show for a number of reasons.
“I don’t think we’ve repeated anything yet,” Trucks said. “We definitely from night to night try to mix it up. A lot of that is for people who see multiple shows. A lot of it is to keep the band on their toes and interested. There’s a lot of creative minds on stage. It performs better when there’s new things to think about.
“I have a pretty thick notebook of setlists and all the tunes,” Trucks said of the process. “We keep track of what we played the last time we were in town and the last time we were in the area or the last week of shows. You try to think about it long-term, too. We try not to repeat from year to year.
"There are certain tunes that we know are going to be in our repertoire for as long as we play together. You make sure you don’t wear those out. You want to really enjoy every time you play a tune. If you feel a tune getting to that place, you stop playing it for a while or re-imagine it. You think of a different way to approach it.”
Last year, Trucks lost two of his former band members and family members. Butch Trucks was found dead in January 2017 and Gregg Allman passed away in May 2017 at his home in Richmond Hill. Trucks notes that his family and band’s connection to Savannah will be on their mind when they put together the setlist for the Savannah Music Festival.
“Sometimes, if people that you know just passed away and you want to honor people,” Trucks said of the band’s setlist, “there’s a lot of reasons that we play different cover tunes. Unfortunately, lately there’s been a lot playing tunes after people go. It’s great to remember people that way, but you don’t want to have to do that too much.
“A lot of people had a rough year in our circle and wider circles,” Trucks continued. “You keep charging down the road and try to learn the lessons that people you played with showed you or taught you and you try to keep rolling. That’s part of keeping people’s flames lit, too.
“I think we’re writing a setlist that will be on everyone’s mind for sure. We’ve been in the studio on and off for the last few weeks with the core of the band and working on a record. Our head has been deep in that. Once we pivot to think about the tour, when you play anywhere near home, you think about it differently.”