There is a reason that Tedeschi Trucks Band calls their summer outings “Wheels of Soul.” With more than a dozen people on stage, including power couple Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, plus a revolving guest lineup that features Hot Tuna and The Wood Brothers this summer, it’s a musically pure and yes, soulful, night of music.
TTB will pull into the Fox Theatre on Saturday – one of the smaller venues on the tour that is drawing around 7,000 people at some amphitheater shows – and there will be mixed emotions for Trucks.
He and Tedeschi last stood on the Fox stage in May for Col. Bruce Hampton’s 70th birthday celebration, which ended with the jam band patriarch shockingly collapsing during the encore and dying a few hours later.
It’s been a tough year for Trucks and his family. In addition to losing longtime friend Hampton, Trucks’ uncle, Allman Brothers band drummer Butch Trucks , committed suicide in January and at the end of May, one of Trucks’ lifetime influences and, for many years, bandmate, Gregg Allman, died of liver cancer.
The thoughtful Trucks called this week from Virginia to talk with me and Kaedy Kiely at The River 97.1 about the tour, his recollections of Hampton and the healing power of music. You can also listen to it here.
On his earliest days on stage playing with the Allman Brothers:
“I honestly never really focused on the crowds all that much. Even then, I was more intimidated or excited to be onstage with Gregg and Dickey (Betts) and my uncle. When I first started playing that was really the music I wanted to play – I didn’t look up a whole lot, I looked down at my guitar. That hasn’t changed too much!”
On learning to play guitar:
“There was always music playing in my house…I played baseball, I played different sports and played guitar and it kind of came easily. I didn’t overthink it a whole lot…I figured out early on you could hear things and figure it out and find it on the instrument. It’s a pretty amazing amount of energy you could conjure up. You keep searching for different ways and different levels of that. I met Colonel Bruce around that time; you learn a lot from people like that.”
On his relationship with Col. Bruce Hampton:
“I think I met him when I was 11 or 12 and really to me and my siblings and the whole Trucks family, he was a father figure. He adopted us and we kind of adopted him in a way. There’s been a lot of loss, but the Colonel hit us as hard as anything. We all spent a lot of time with him. While he was alive you thought about him every day, you run everything you do through this Colonel Bruce moral compass. He really was about trying to take your ego out of it and make it an honest undertaking…Him going out the way he did, I can’t think of anything more intense. In one way, you can’t think of a better way to go, but it’s also incredibly tragic. I just feel lucky to have known him as long as we did. Some people, there’s just no one else to occupy that space. He was such a singular human being.
For Atlanta, he was a total part of that scene, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like without him there. He just made everyone who knew him feel better about things. As absurd as everything was, as dark as everything was, he had a little sliver of light. If felt like, when B.B. King passed, you had that feeling that he’s supposed to always be here. With the Colonel it was that feeling, too. It really is a before and after, a different era. The first day of this tour, Oliver Wood gave me a guitar case painted with a Catholic prayer candle with a few pictures of the Colonel painted on it, (so) he’s always hanging around.”
On being back at the Fox Theatre for the first time since Hampton’s death:
“It’s something we started thinking about almost as soon as we left there. It’s going to be in the air and on everyone’s mind. With Kofi’s situation just a few days before this tour (the band’s multi-instrumentalist underwent emergency heart surgery in Atlanta in June), we’ll all go try to visit him and try to talk him into not coming out to the show. He’s such a soldier who wants to get out and play, but I think it’s time to heal up.”
On the therapeutic power of music:
“Performing is healing, for everyone on stage. It’s important to get out and play; there is definitely something cathartic about it. You can feel it in the audience, too. People like Bruce and Butch and Gregg, they meant t lot to a lot of people. When you acknowledge those things and play that music, it helps a lot of people in a lot of ways. Everyone was ready to get out on the road on this tour…certain tunes you play that cut right to the chase. When you first start listening to a certain song, it reminds you of someone (and) sometimes it can be hard to get through certain tunes.”
On attending Gregg Allman’s funeral:
“There were a lot of parts of that day that felt scripted but couldn’t have possibly been. That was an intense day.”
On playing onstage with such a large band:
Thirteen people – it’s intense! It’s a lot of personalities to keep moving in the right direction, but when it’s all lining up musically, it’s a powerful sound. It seems to just be getting stronger as it goes. Everything that’s in the air the last few years makes this tighter and closer, it makes you lean on each other in a different way. It’s in a healthy spot right now.”
On choosing tour mates for the “Wheels of Soul” outings:
“That first year with Sharon (Jones), we just wanted to hit the road with two other bands we wanted to watch play every night; it was selfish on some level. Who do you want to share the stage with and learn from? It’s a pretty short list when we first started compiling. Hot Tuna and The Wood Brothers were on it from the very beginning. It’s just a matter of who is available. Last year (we were) with North Mississippi All-Stars and Los Lobos. You can’t think of better people – they’re all lifers, this is what you do. We put these tours together with where is there going to be a lot of mutual respect… Oliver Wood, he spent a lot of time in Atlanta, he played with Tinsley Ellis…Oliver is an amazing singer-songwritwe - he used to hang at Northside Tavern a lot. The Fox will be quite a trip for a lot of reasons.”
On customizing set lists:
“We write a different set every day. Where you are plays a big part in that. Being in Atlanta, being in the Fox, being on that stage again, there will be a lot of things that we’ll be thinking about with the set list.”
On his longtime favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves:
“I finally went to the new Braves stadium a couple of weeks ago. I went into it wanting to hate it - the whole concept of moving out there didn’t seem right - but I loved it. It’s a fun team to watch, there’s a lot of young talent. There’s a lot of baseball left this season.”
On playing in Atlanta:
“Atlanta has been the hometown for at least half the band, for every band I’ve played in, so it’s always nice to get home. It’s always mayhem because it’s an extended family reunion. Most of our musical history is rooted in Atlanta, so it’s always good to be get back. The Fox is a special spot, too. We’ve had great shows there over the years.”
On the next studio album:
“We already started writing and making demos for a new record. We were gonna head back in at the end of this tour, but with Kofi’s situation we’re going to ease back on the gas, and I think the studio is a good way to ease back in…Everyone is thinking about a record, we’re ready to get back in.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band
With The Wood Brothers and Hot Tuna. 7:30 p.m. July 15. $30.05-$116.90. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org .