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Whole Lotta Blues

ae2-1The 11-piece, husband-and-wife-led Tedeschi Trucks Band headlines the Santa Cruz Blues Festival

Guitarist Derek Trucks and vocalist/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, the husband-and-wife team at the helm of The Tedeschi Trucks Band, have learned that in a band as well as in a marriage, the best way to keep things running smoothly is sometimes to take a step back. That’s especially true when you’re dealing with an 11-piece group that, in addition to its namesakes, features two drummers, a keyboardist/flautist, a three-piece horn section and two harmony vocalists.

“It’s one of those bands where even though the musicians are really great, they’re not egocentric, and they don’t need to play everything [they’re capable of playing] all the time,” Tedeschi explains. “A lot of them sit around and try their best to listen to what’s going on musically in the song, and [ask themselves,] ‘What can I do to add?’ And sometimes adding is by not playing.”

To minimize sonic clutter, Tedeschi and Trucks generally use different chord inversions from one another. It also helps that Trucks plays in open E tuning, while Tedeschi plays in standard. According to the latter musician, though Trucks, who has been playing in open E tuning since about age 11, is more than capable of playing in standard tuning, he rarely does so “unless he’s showing me something.”

Tedeschi and Trucks, whose band headlines at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival on Sunday, May 26, are something of a musical superhero team: Tedeschi, who graduated from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music at age 20 with a bachelor’s degree in music composition, has received multiple Grammy nominations and a gold record for her solo work, while Trucks has played with greats like Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan and come in at No. 16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time (he’s the youngest person on the list, and the only person under age 50 to make the top 20). He also earned a lifetime Grammy award for his membership in The Allman Brothers (he’s the nephew of that band’s founding drummer, Butch Trucks).

Not too surprisingly, The Tedeschi Trucks Band has racked up plenty of its own accolades, including a Grammy for Best Blues Album for the band’s 2011 debut, Revelator, and an invitation to perform at the White House in a celebration of blues music that also included Mick Jagger, B.B. King and Buddy Guy.

ae2-2Though Tedeschi and Trucks had met once in a club a couple years earlier, it was in July of 1999, while the Susan Tedeschi Band was opening for The Allman Brothers, that the two musicians bonded. During a soundcheck, Tedeschi looked out into the audience and spotted The Allman Brothers Band’s Oteil Burbridge (later to join the Tedeschi Trucks Band) and Trucks, who had joined The Allmans about a month earlier. “I just started laughing: ‘Get out of here! You’re making me nervous! I don’t want to play in front of you two,’” she recounts. “But they were so sweet, and I remember comin’ off the stage and walking up these steps, and Derek grabbed my leg from under the stairs.” Soon the two musicians began listening to music together on the bus, hanging out before dinner and between soundchecks, etc.

Fourteen years and two kids later, the partners are enjoying life on the road together. According to Tedeschi, they’ve been getting along better than ever since disbanding their solo acts and joining musical forces. “I think it was a lot more strained being apart,” she notes. “You’re not on the same page as that person; you don’t know what they’re going through, and you’re both leading hectic lives. But if you’re doing it together, there’s a lot less stress, and a lot less talking on a cell phone.”

The Tedeschi Trucks Band has just finished a new record, due out in August, and will be embarking on a tour with The Black Crowes this summer. Meanwhile, blues and soul fans won’t want to miss their appearance at the Blues Festival, which also features crowd favorites like The Steve Miller Band, Jimmie Vaughan, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, John Mayall and Sonny Landreth. The band is filled with ace musicians, each of whom will have a chance to wow the crowd. “Derek’s incredibly generous,” Tedeschi says of her husband. “He could solo on everything all night, and everybody would love it, but he wants to show everybody off.” 


The Santa Cruz Blues Festival takes place on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26. For more information and tickets, visit santacruzbluesfestival.com.

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