Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks work better together -- it just took them a few years to figure that out.
When they married in 2001, she was fronting the Susan Tedeschi Band and he was fronting the Derek Trucks Band in addition to being the slide guitarist in the Allman Brothers Band (Derek's uncle is founding member Butch Trucks). After a successful experiment touring as Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi's Soul Stew Revival in 2007, the pair decided to bring their solo outfits together in 2010 as an estimable 11-person force known as the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Revelator, the collective's brawny blues-rock debut, was, well, a revelation -- for the band, especially. The record earned plenty of critical praise, won a Grammy, and moreover, it signalled the start of something thrilling for a group of musicians who saw their potential as a unit.
Made Up Mind, the Tedeschi Trucks Band's latest album, makes good on that early promise. Released in August, the lean, mean slice of blues, rock, R&B and soul reveals a tighter and more focused Tedeschi Trucks Band, which Trucks credits to the hours spent on the road.
"The first studio album was during the birth of the band," the 34 year old says in his languid drawl over the phone from Columbus, Ohio. "Being on the road, things change and grow. You start hearing how good the band can and should be. There's no substitute for playing together. You can't learn it any other way. You have to pay your dues no matter how many times you've done it before."
And Trucks has certainly paid his dues -- he's been playing professionally since the tender age of 11. By his 13th birthday, Trucks had played alongside Buddy Guy and gone on his first tour with the Allman Brothers Band. By his 20th, he could add as Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh and Stephen Stills to the list of luminaries he'd played with.
Trucks values hard work. He doesn't rest on good press or Grammy Awards. He's got his eye on the long-term.
"I've always been of the mindset you set the bar yourself. You can't let that stuff affect you. We felt great about the first record. We knew what we wanted to do and we just kept hammering away at it. This time, from start to finish, it was a blast to write. It felt great from the first note. What we started with Revelator we finished with Made Up Mind," Trucks says.
Like Revelator, Made Up Mind was recorded at the Tedeschi and Truck's home studio in Jacksonville, Fla. The two-storey space, which also includes guest rooms, allows the couple to work without neglecting their domestic life.
"(Working at home) allowed so much more time to focus on our record. With kids at home (the couple has a school-age daughter and son), it's hard for me to be away that long without feeling guilty. This way, we could do 12- or 14-hour days without feeling terrible about it.
"There's also something nice about not worrying how much every day is costing," he adds with a laugh. "We're an 11-person band. It's a luxury to spend that much time without breaking the bank. And everyone feels comfortable in that room. It feels less like a studio and more like a gig. Every time we record, the process gets better."
The shows keep getting better, too, he says. Tedeschi Trucks Band gigs are impressive displays of athleticism and stamina (most sets clock in at the three-hour mark), and Trucks says the new songs are already taking on a life of their own. "We're really tearing the lid off of it."
Still, in a large band, it's also important to know when to pull back, which is something Trucks learned from his gigs as a sideman. It's not always your show to star in.
"Every situation is different. The Allman Brothers are pretty open to me trying different things. You're always pushing as far you can, but you want to be respectful. That's the constant tightrope you're walking, keeping it fresh and keeping it appropriate. I think that's what separates certain musicians. It's not all 'Look at me,'" he says.
Trucks takes a similarly level-headed approach to his career, which has spanned most of his life. Navigating the ups and downs of the music industry and dealing with the grind of the road are easy, so long as "your head's on right and music is your focus," he says.
And when music is your focus, the possibilities are infinite.
"You can always perfect what you do. Music is a pretty endless road. There's a lot of meat left on the bone."