The Tedeschi Trucks Band is a 12-piece group of some of the best musicians around. They’re led by husband-and-wife team Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, who already had pretty incredible resumes before forming this group. Trucks is a fiery, remarkably skilled lead guitarist who spent years leading his own group and as part of the Allman Brothers Band, and Tedeschi is a soulfully gritty vocalist who’s not too shabby on guitar herself and has a slew of acclaimed blues-Americana solo albums to her name.
But the band behind them, packed with horns, backing vocalists and a killer rhythm section, is just as powerful, and onstage, this ensemble can do just about anything from blues to hard rock to folk to gospel and beyond. But for the last six months or so, this dynamic group has essentially been playing tribute shows; every time they go out onstage, they’re paying homage to a fallen brother, their keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, who passed away in February from complications from emergency heart surgery.
“Every show that we do, we’re working through it and trying to honor him,” says Derek Trucks, “but we’re also trying to hold our sh*t together a little bit. He was such a big part of who we are. I was onstage with Kofi for about 20 years, he was a huge part of everything I did. So it was kind of hard to imagine getting onstage without him. It’s still his keyboard rig up there, his clavinet and B-3 (organ), so it’s still his sound up there.”
Trucks says the band has been able to take some solace in the fact that playing live is exactly what Burbridge would’ve wanted them to do.
“He was such a soldier and such a road warrior, you know this is exactly what he would want everybody to be doing,” Trucks says. “There’s no question. He’d be raring to go, even in his darkest days. So we know what we’re supposed to be doing. But that doesn’t always make it easy. We never want to forget that grief; I want to feel a little of it every night.”
Perhaps somewhere out there, Burbridge is taking comfort in the fact that the Tedeschi Trucks Band is playing about as well as they ever have, both onstage and on album. Their new release, Signs, features haunting, horn-spiked dark soul tunes (“Signs, High Times”), old school R&B ballads (“I’m Gonna Be There”), fiery gospel-tinged slow-burns (“When Will I Begin”), Allmans-style Southern blues-rock (“Shame”) and more, with Tedeschi singing her heart out and Trucks unleashing his bee-stung, surprisingly supple guitar.
Trucks’ playing on the album is remarkable; at times, when he plays call-and-response with Tedeschi’s vocals, his six-string almost sounds like a human voice itself. And that’s entirely intentional.
“I think that’s one of the things me and Sue connected on right out of the gate, was our love for gospel singers,” Trucks says. “A lot of times when I’m playing, I’m thinking about Mahalia (Jackson) or Aretha (Franklin), and those are her go-to singers, as well. There’s a lot of common ground there, and the slide guitar and the female voice have a similar range. Every great instrumentalist, whether it’s guitar or saxophone or drums, when they’re playing, you can hear them talking to you. I think that’s what you’re after, ultimately.”
The Tedeschi Trucks Band will bring their “Wheels Of Soul” summer tour to CCNB Heritage Park Amphitheatre in Simpsonville on Saturday, and they’ll have the rising neo-Southern-rockers Blackberry Smoke and Charleston’s own roots-Americana duo Shovels & Rope with them.
“It’s our 5th year of doing Wheels Of Soul, and we’re always looking for bands who have a similar ethos,” Trucks says. “We try to turn these shows into a sort of evolving circus, where by the end, everybody’s sitting in with everybody else.”
What: The Tedeschi Trucks Band: Wheels Of Soul 2019, w/ Blackberry Smoke and Shovels & Rope
Where: CCNB Amphitheatre at Heritage Park, 861 S.E. Main St., Simpsonville
When: Saturday, July 6, 7 p.m.
Info: 864-296-6601, https://ccnbamphitheatre.com/