Susan Tedeschi values tone over comfort, and strings her guitars accordingly. “I use a normal pack of .011s because I like the way the guitar sounds with heavier strings,” she says. “I always make it way too hard for myself. I have higher action than I should and big strings.” Photo by Debi Del Grande
Between the keys, the two guitars, and the horns, you have a lot of instruments in the same frequency range. How do you keep from stepping on each other’s toes?
Trucks: You have to be conscious of those things. You don’t want to all be in that same sonic space. Having a B-3 fills up a lot of that, too. But I’ve been playing with keyboardist Kofi Burbridge for close to 20 years, so there’s an instinctual thing that goes on between me and him. [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted about a week before Kofi Burbridge’s untimely death on February 15.] You just play when the other person isn’t. If I am holding down a bunch of low-mid during the tune, when I go to solo, Kofi usually slides right into that range on the B-3 so you don’t feel it disappear. There’s a lot of dancing that goes on like that.
Sue’s tone is much more Chicago, Magic Sam, maybe a little punchier, which naturally occupies a different space, so her sound is a bit more percussive, almost clavinet-like. She plays a bit of wah, too, which cuts and puts it in a different place. Certain tunes, if she’s holding down the fort with more cowboy chords or things, I’ll explore more single-note things. You try not to put too much mud in there. That’s something you have to always be thinking about, especially with that much sound onstage. You have to be more aware of that.
My solo band was just one guitar forever and so I didn’t really think about those things ... you’re trying to fill space a lot of times. Then joining the Allman Brothers, you have to take on that complementary role a lot more. But then the Clapton gig with three guitars, that’s when it really started clarifying for me that you have to be aware of that stuff. So when we put this band together, I think we were already attuned to it.
Tedeschi: The horns and backing vocals definitely have to coordinate, because if not, they’ll take each other’s parts [laughs]. What we try to do is let the singers choose first, and then we’ll work the horns around it. Because with horns, you can write all different types of parts and they can play whatever, but singers can only really sing so much in their ranges.
Who does the arrangements?
Tedeschi: Each section does its own. The singers will do their section, and if something’s clashing, then we'll bring it up. Derek will hear it, or when Kofi’s around, Kofi will hear it. “Somebody is playing a C# and you should be playing a Bb,” or whatever. So there's definitely awareness of what everybody’s playing, and if somebody is clashing or somebody has a problem, we communicate and we fix it.
How do those sonic choices translate in the studio?
Trucks: That’s something we think about a lot. Sometimes you don’t think about it until you track a tune and go in and listen in the control room and you go, “Oh, that’s fucked. That’s way too much of one thing or the other.” You go out or reimagine your parts or you think of different instrumentation. That’s the beauty of making records: You get to work that stuff out in real time. That’s some of my favorite parts of making records, finding where things go sonically, where things sit. Sometimes, it’s addition by subtraction.
You go in and start muting things and go, “Ah, that’s better. Maybe this song doesn’t need this other part.” Then you find the thing that propels the tune. Sometimes it’s Susan’s rhythm, sometimes it’s Kofi on piano, sometimes you realize you don’t need everybody doing everything. You figure out what’s making the tune move down the road, and what its focal point is, and you rally behind that.
Do you switch different amps and guitars in the studio, just to vary tones?
Tedeschi: I have a 1964 Deluxe Reverb that is my baby. I love that thing. It’s pre-CBS, it was made in February of ’64, and it still says Fender Electric Company on it instead of Fender Musical Instruments. It’s all original and it sounds amazing. I took really good care of it. I had two guys who worked on it in Boston for years—Jim Mouradian and Roy Goode. It just has to do with maintenance. Whenever we’re recording, Derek likes to use it, too, and I say, “We have 100 amps, why do you want my one amp?”
Trucks: It’s track to track, but generally I use an old blackface Fender. When I can get my hands on it, I use Sue’s Deluxe. We have a few in the studio, but hers is the one, so when I can sneak it away from her, that’s what I use. But usually she takes it back [laughs]. I usually use a Neumann 47 FET on the amp and a ribbon a few feet away, but one of the things we did a bit on this record when we were mixing was re-mike my guitar through a Super and an Echoplex.
You reamped it?
Trucks: Yeah, through a Super. We wouldn’t use a whole lot of that sound, but just enough. Maybe if the guitar is sitting right-of-center for a tune, maybe left-of-center you’d add a little bit of that air. It just gave the track a little depth and somehow cleared it up. We had this old tape Echoplex the band gave me a while ago, and it was a lot of fun to go out there and mess around with that and the Super.
How rehearsed is the band?
Trucks: The band works hard. When we’re on the road, the soundchecks are pretty long—an hour or two depending on how much we can get. There’s a rehearsal room set up backstage, too, so we’ll run through tunes at soundcheck, and we give a few tunes another crack in the rehearsal room. Sometimes you’re working up tunes for a few shows down the road. This band works hard when it’s on the road, there’s a lot of extra time put in. We don’t get as much time to rehearse away from the tour, just because we’re working a lot and people have families and it’s a big band to get together. When things are healthy and good, the more you’re playing together, the more you’re hanging out together, the better.
Do you ever pull weird things out of the hat?
Tedeschi: All the time [laughs].
And you don’t have charts?
Tedeschi: You can write a lead sheet, but for the most part everybody has got it in their heads. You know, Derek runs a tight ship. He keeps us working and our brains going. It’s good—we don’t have time to get bored.
Watch TTB track “Anyhow” live in their studio. With two drummers, the groove is deep, and the horns, singers, and keys provide a rich sonic foundation for Tedeschi’s soulful vocals. At 5:18, Trucks cuts loose with a searing slide solo.
TTB is a well-oiled sound machine, as evidenced by this nearly two-hour concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The musicians and singers all get space to shine, and, of course, Trucks’ open-E slide guitar brings down the house, time and again. If you dig the Allman Brothers, you won’t want to miss TTB’s rendition of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” at 1:25:36, with Marcus King joining Trucks on guitar.