Susan Tedeschi Promises Revelatory Changes in Tedeschi Trucks SPAC Concert July 3rd
“This planet is changing really fast,” says Susan Tedeschi, “and you need to be aware of what’s really going on. You can’t do that when you’re running at a thousand miles an hour.”
The pandemic gave The Tedeschi Trucks Band time to get off the tour-record-tour merry-go-round and concentrate on their creativity. The result is their fifth studio album in 10 years, a release as revelatory as The Beatles’ evolution from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.” In a blindfold test, even the most hardcore Tedeschi Trucks fans might not recognize the new symphonic Americana material as coming from this 12-piece band that’s built an unprecedented fan base for rhythm ’n blues big band music in contemporary times.
Their current tour, which brings them to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sunday, July 3rd, will feature material from four new albums that comprise I Am The Moon — I. Crescent, II. Ascension, III. The Fall, and IV. Farewell. The first, I. Crescent was available June 3rd digitally and on CD. All vinyl configurations, including individual LPs and the 4-LP I Am The Moon Deluxe Box will be available on September 9th, 2022.
“I feel like it’s going to be so great to have so much new music to play live this summer,” says Susan, “and I’m really so thankful that we are making it through the pandemic in this world and just trying to bring some light and some love to people through music, trying to heal and bring some hope.”
In the last two years, I’ve interviewed scores of artists who’ve used their forced pandemic lockdown to refocus on their muse. They include Albert Cummings, Jim Weider and The Weight Band, Zac Harmon, Tinsley Ellis, Albert Castiglia, Joe Louis Walker, The Kentucky Headhunters, and Eric Bibb. Charlie Musselwhite told me: “Up until then I’d spend 200 to 250 days a year on the road, and then home was almost like something exotic. I really enjoyed being home. What a luxury having all that time to do stuff that I never had time for.”
Even before the pandemic, streaming was giving fans free access to music and cutting off much of the revenue stream to artists who have been forced to put the emphasis on touring at the expense of writing and recording new music. As James McMurtry told me recently, “We used to tour to make record deals. Now, it’s the other way around.”
Each of these artists has created arguably the best recordings of their career. None is more dramatic than this multi-media blitz by Tedeschi Trucks. “(This is) what happens,” explains Susan, “when you have time off, and you see how important it is to just do your job for your family and for communication with people. That’s what happens to a lot of people in the world. You’re so busy with three jobs, two kids or whatever that you really don’t have time to stop and reflect on what’s going on.”
This blitz of new Tedeschi Trucks recordings was inspired by an epic love poem written almost a thousand years ago by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The poem is based on a semi-historical and mystical Arabian love story about a 7th-century Bedouin poet and the woman he loves. It has been referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet” of Iran. It’s called Layla and Majnun.
You read that right. The star-crossed lover in this story is named Layla. “She was as slender as a cypress tree,” reads the modern translation. “Her eyes, like those of a gazelle, could have pierced a thousand hearts with a single unexpected glance. Yes, with one flicker of her eyelashes she could have slain a whole world.”
“Layla could bewitch with one glance from beneath her dark hair, Majnun was her slave and a dervish dancing before her. Layla held in her hand the glass of wine scented with musk. Majnun had not touched the wine, yet he was drunk with its sweet smell….”
Are Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks a modern-day Layla and Majnun? The threads of comparison run through their entire lives. Susan was born in 1970, the year Derek and the Dominos released “Layla.” Derek Trucks was born in 1979. His first name is a nod to the Derek of Derek and The Dominos (who is really Eric Clapton). Trucks has performed with Clapton, and Susan and Derek’s love story has parallels to Layla and Majnun.
Derek told me in 2012 that even though Susan graduated from the prestigious Berkeley College of Music, her musical gift is intuitive. It’s that quality that endears her musical acumen to her husband. “Her thing is just musical guts. She knows what feels right, and she has the ability to just unleash at will.”
Likewise, Susan’s deep love for Derek is palpable. “Derek is definitely an old soul. When he was in the Allman Brothers, Gregg really had a connection to him, and it was really interesting. He treated him like his brother, and he’d even say, ‘Man, you’re my brother’ or ‘You’re my little brother now.’ It was kinda wild, so it wasn’t just me seeing the connection of this old soul.”
Cultural propriety prevented Layla and Majnun from marrying, and Susan experienced some resistance at first from her mother about her desire to wed Derek.
“At first, when I was dating Derek, it’s kind of funny. When I look back, I hear my mom in my head: ‘You need to focus on your music. Nobody’s ever good enough for my kid,’ and that kind of stuff. She said the funniest things. ‘He’s trying to keep you pregnant with no makeup.’ Just weird, ridiculous things. I’m like, ‘No, that’s not true at all.’
“Layla’s parents wouldn’t let her be with Majnun,” says Susan. “And my parents were kind of like, ‘Oh, maybe you should focus on your thing,’ but I didn’t let that rule me. So, thank God. Also, women do have to fight harder for what they want, and it is a difficult world. So, in very much in that way there is that parallel. It’s like Derek has always been so gifted. He’s been a prodigy since he was nine years old, and he’s been touring since he was 10, and he’s enjoying 32 years (performing professionally.)”
I asked Susan if she thinks of Derek as her teacher? After all, he is almost 11 years younger than her. ‘Oh, yes. Absolutely, yes. When I met him, I (thought), “This guy is not his age. He’s been here before. It’s some kind of reincarnation. I don’t know exactly what it is, but some people have a certain thing, a certain wisdom.”
I told her I thought Derek was an old soul.
“Yeah, yeah. Derek is definitely an old soul.”
For this music journalist’s money, “Layla” is Clapton at his best. Most likely, he titled the song “Layla” because of the similarity between the ancient poem and his own real-life experience of stealing Patti Boyd away from her first husband George Harrison in 1974. Patti divorced George and married Eric. That marriage dissolved in 1988, and after George died, she told one journalist that he, George, in fact, was the love of her life. From Derek and The Domoinos’ “Layla:”
Make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane
Please don’t say we’ll never find a way
Or tell me all my love’s in vain
In the original poem, Layla is forced to marry another man and dies before she can be reunited with Majnun: “Layla, the enchantress, was a treasure to others, but a burden to herself. If to her husband she appeared to be a precious jewel, he was for her a serpent coiled around her. In his eyes she was the moon; she saw him as a dragon holding her in his jaws. So, each suffered from the other.”
“Thus, the dead man (Majnun) was left alone; even beasts which feed on carrion did not touch him. What little remained of him fell into dust and returned to earth; in the end, nothing was left but his bones.”
In my 2017 review of Tedeschi Trucks concert at SPAC I wrote: “With all that’s going on, Trucks simply obliterates everyone else on stage. He does use the firepower of the band to accelerate on the straightaways but keeps their power in reserve on the dangerous curves where he simply overpowers them with his playing that calls upon an encyclopedic knowledge of American musical history. He’s like Clapton in his versatility. He’s like fellow Allman Brothers alumnus Warren Haynes in his aggressive assaults, but he bests both in his bending of notes and an unparalleled dexterity with a slide that he applies with the finesse of an Appalachian acoustic guitar picker as much as an electric guitar slinger.”
If this new work is any indication, Derek (who produced these recordings) will be more ecumenical on this year’s concert tour in using the power of his excellent 12-piece band in creating a sound as cohesive as a small symphony.
Noted music journalist David Fricke quotes keyboardist Mike Mattison as a primary inspiration for this epic work. “We get so carried away with the music – everyone knows it so well.” Mattison came to Tedeschi Trucks Band straight from the Derek Trucks Band and has co-written such TTB setlist staples as “Midnight In Harlem” and “Bound For Glory.” “That album is one point of view, Layla as this love object: ‘I want you, I can’t have you.'” But after Mattison read the original work, “I realized there are many things going on from different perspectives” and proposed, in an email, “revisiting this source material (collectively) as a band, as writers.”
On “Hear My Dear,” Susan sings “The world keeps on turning….I was lost in the wilderness and that’s where I heard a song.” On “Playing with My Emotions” she sings, “How is a girl supposed to love a man when he plays with my emotions?” Keyboardist Mike Mattison sings, “I am the moon/You are the sun.” You can palpably feel the “Layla” influence on this number. “Pasaquan” is a 12-minute psychedelic extravaganza somewhere between the Dead and Jefferson Airplane that evolves into a Santana-like run by Derek.
If Derek Trucks’ searing guitar licks have until now been leather, sweat, and lace, this is a spring-fed pond. This music is less dependent on Derek’s guitar. This is not The Allman Brothers or Clapton. Throughout, the music floats about six feet off the ground. It doesn’t tear through the songs like R&B.
The four albums were borne of riffs and ideas developed collectively at the Trucks’ family farm in rural Georgia and their home studio, Swamp Raga, in Jacksonville, Florida.
“We don’t just have sidemen in the band,” says Susan. “Everybody can be a front person in this band from the horn section to the singer to even the drummers. They have their own band. You know, it’s just one of those things. I think we have a huge amount of respect for one another. We can push each other. We can make each other better. In some bands, it’s all about the leader, and they’re the ones that have to push everybody to go and make everybody better. In this band, we all do it to each other. It reminds me of an Olympic team or an all-star team.”