For Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and an 11-piece Supergroup, It's Now or Never.

MusicEntertainmentSusan TedeschiJacksonville (Duval, Florida)Joe CockerPhish (music group)Gladys Knight

In 2010, after several trying years of juggling successful careers and a growing family, guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife, singer Susan Tedeschi, shelved their respective solo groups and began assembling what would become the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

It’s a stupefying collective of veteran musicians: bassist Oteil Burbridge, his brother Kofi Burbridge on flute and keyboards, drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, and a horn section of saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trumpeter Maurice Brown and trombone player Saunders Sermons. And it’s easy to imagine why, after hearing what the band is capable of, the duo has wanted to keep it together.

Still, you’d be hard pressed to find a more inopportune period in the history of the music business to grow the size of your band.

“Economically, it’s a crazy time to be doing this kind of thing,” says Trucks by phone from Jacksonville, Fla., where he and Tedeschi reside with their two children, when they aren’t on the road. “Once we did a few gigs, we had to take a hard look and say, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to eat it for a year.’ But it’s kind of now or never for really going for it, for doing something a little beyond our means. This is that window for us. We either jump and go through with it or keep doing what we are doing, which has been fine. We’ve both been very happy with our solo careers.”

Compounding the fiscal management headache of the big band is the unwieldy musical nature of larger ensembles. Smaller bands are naturally more able to shift gears, to cut and run off in other directions, than larger ones. What you gain in dynamics and tone color, you sacrifice in spontaneity, and on the jamband circuit, where audiences raised on the Dead and Phish have come to expect the latest, newest, most off-the-cuff musical utterances by setlist-free musical explorers, that can be a risky venture.

But it’s not always in the best interest of the music, Trucks says, to be loose and spontaneous.

“I think the nature of this band is a little different than normal,” Trucks adds. “I’m not as interested in making sure that every set list is different than the previous one, as long as every song is being played fresh. I want to see how great we can do each tune. I kind of look to this band to focus on that part of it a little more … That’s what’s lost with all the the shift on a dime thing that’s going on these days.”

The TTB -- previous incarnations of the band fell under the umbrella of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi's Soul Stew Revival -- released a debut album in June. Revelator, recorded at the couple’s Swamp Raga Studios in Jacksonville with Trucks and engineer Jim Scott sharing production duties, as a collection of originals, doesn’t stray too far from the swamp-soul path carved out decades earlier in places like Muscle Shoals, Ala., where Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett rubbed shoulders with Duane Allman, Trucks’ musical pater familias. (Another of Trucks’ regular gigs is playing in the Allman Brothers Band with his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks.)

Revelator’s opening track, “Come See About Me,” is the band in full-bore, flaps wide open mode; Kofi’s B-3 and clavi textures trade barbs with Trucks’ bottleneck (overdubbed on acoustic and electric). Greenwell and Johnson ebb and flow, with Tedeschi’s throaty, reverbless alto mixed far out in front. The band don’t waste time ducking history; “Midnight in Harlem,” the album’s standout track, channels Gladys Knight and the Pips, while “Learn How to Love” brings back riff-heavy 70s funk.

On breezier moments, such as “Shrimp and Grits (Interlude),” a snippet of a studio jam (and one of Oteil Burbridge’s best moments on the record), you get a sense of what they can do live. Revelator sets a high-water mark going forward for revivalist Southern soul (Rolling Stone’s David Fricke gave it four stars out of five and called it a “masterpiece”) but it’s never showy. And that may be the most important clue to the band’s ethos, which seems somewhat out of step with the jamband scene.

“Everyone wants this to be unique,” Trucks explains. “We want it to be a supergroup but we want to be more than an all-star jam ... In saying that, there’s also this sense of wanting people to leave knowing there’s still more to the story.”

Live, the band does a mix of originals from Revelator and funky, crowd-pleasing covers; Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” and Derek and the Domino’s “Anyday” have all been part of the band’s setlist. The covers allow the members to blow on classics they grew up with, and audiences eat up recognizable, festival-worthy FM-rock anthems. It’s a good formula.

“It’s all of those things,” Trucks says. “There’s also this sense that we’ve never had an 11-piece band that can play these [cover] songs. Even going back to the early ideas of the band. We were home watching the [Joe Cocker] Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour DVD, and the tunes they really dug into the most were the cover tunes. As the tour went along, the originals caught up. It’s a good way for the band to get its feet wet early on. There is a sense that there’s this great band that’s able to play those songs that people want to hear.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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