Ten years into their marriage, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are finally doing what they've always talked about - making music together, full time, with a hand-picked band. "All of our favorite people and friends that are super-talented," is how Tedeschi describes the ensemble. "We wanted to make it the best that we could."
Performing June 14 in the Johnny Mercer Theatre, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has one of America's finest blues/rock vocalists (Tedeschi) playing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best electric slide guitarist who ever stalked a contemporary stage (that'd be Trucks).
Altogether, it's an extremely soulful 11-headed monster, with three horn players, two background singers, bass, keyboards and two drummers.
Revelator, the band's debut album, is a hot-wired, heavy-duty combination of Delta blues, old-style funk and intense, smoky ballads. The guitar wails and sings over concise melodies and brilliant hooks. It takes what the Derek Trucks Band and the Susan Tedeschi Band each did so well, combines it and makes it - unbelievably - stronger and more passionate.
Every so often, when their schedules permitted, Tedeschi and her husband would play together, with various band member buddies, as the Soul Stew Revival.
This time, they're in it for the long haul.
"We're both doing really great in our careers, but you can only go sort of so far with that project," Tedeschi explains. "We decided this would be a good time for the two of us to see if we could take it to another level."
Instead of doing things on the run between projects, jamming onstage and hoping to establish a cohesive voice through magic or alchemy, they took their time and wrote all the songs specifically for this project. Then they rehearsed and jammed them. Then they recorded them.
Previously, "We never were able to really find the time, or the right situation. It's different from Soul Stew or a lot of the other things that we just did to be together."
Tedeschi and Trucks married in 2001 and settled in Jacksonville, Florida (Trucks' hometown). Today, their immediate family includes son Charlie (age 9) and daughter Sophia (nearly 7).
"They love to be on the road, but I want them to have a normal life too," says Tedeschi. "So Derek and I try to mix it up with them. They come out with us in the summers, but when they're in school, they're in school.
"And they do a lot of extracurricular activities too. Charlie is a baseball player. And Sophia has been playing violin - and she does dance and loves music. She's definitely there."
When the kids were little, she adds, it was crucial for either Mom or Dad to be around all the time. "They're at the age now where they have each other," Tedeschi says, "and they're used to their grandmother, Debbie Trucks, she's amazing. I think it's a better time than when they're teenagers and really need us, for example. And they're not baby-babies now, they're going into second and fourth grade.
"I don't think any time is good, honestly, to leave. But one of the good things about this band is we really put a lot of time and energy into looking how to get behind the record, and tour it, but without going so crazy that we're never home. So we're just trying to play all our cards right."
Revelator marks the very first time Tedeschi and Trucks have been signed to a record contract as a duo. "There's a lot of things falling together for us because we're doing it together, whereas on our own we might not have had some of these opportunities," Tedeschi says. "So I think this is a good chance for us to see what we can do - and what kind of music can come out of this, what kind of touring, what kind of opportunities ... the sky's the limit."
Derek Trucks was 20 years old when he was made an official member of the Allman Brothers Band in 1999. His uncle, Butch Trucks, had been one of the band's drummers since its formation, so young Derek was already part of the extended Allman "family." He'd been "sitting in" with the band since his teens.
The freaky thing was, his playing was so sweet and so fiery, so fluid and so fresh, it reminded everybody of the late, great Duane Allman.
It was on that first tour that he met a young blues singer/songwriter named Susan Tedeschi - she and her band were the Allmans' opening act. "There was definitely an attraction," Tedeschi remembers, "and definitely chemistry, but we were just hanging out and listening to music together the first couple weeks of the tour. And became friends."
Trucks spent the next nine years recording and touring with his eponymously-titled band, and gigging with the Allman Brothers during one of their increasingly infrequent trips around the country.
("I feel very lucky to be a part of that family," Tedeschi says. "And very welcomed. I've gotten to sit in hundreds of times with that band, so I feel very much a part of them. Even though I'm not in the band or anything!")
Between the couple's separate tour schedules and recording commitments - not to mention Charlie and Sophia - the hoped-for Tedeschi Trucks Band was relegated to the back burner.
Now, that's all old news. The Tedeschi Trucks Band is the one, and the only. "We're not putting a time limit or anything on it," Tedeschi says. "This is what we want to do. This is what we're doing right now. We're focused on it.
"It's definitely not out of the question that some day Derek will do a solo record or something. It's not like anything is out of the question.
"The thing is, we have made a huge change. So we don't really have our bands any more. Just because you can't afford to keep ‘em, you know? And it's very expensive to have an 11-piece band."
Along with Tedeschi and Trucks, the band includes drummers Tyler Greenwell (from the Susan Tedeschi Band) and J. J. Johnson, bassist Oteil Burbridge (an Allman Brothers veteran), Oteil's brother Kofi Burbridge on keys (he was part of the Derek Trucks Band), singers Mike Mattison (another DTB alumnus) and Mark Rivers, plus horn guys Saunders Sermons, Kebbi Williams and Maurice Brown).
They assembled the entire gang in Jacksonville to cut Revelator at "Swamp Raga," the studio Derek built inside the family compound.
The album was released on June 7, just in time for the early-summer tour. And now that the kids are out of school, Tedeschi says, pretty much every day is going to be family day.
"Sophia used to kid me and say ‘Mommy, will you take me out with Mike Madsen so I can sing backgrounds?'
"And Charlie likes to sell merch at our shows. He's our merch guy."
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
When: At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14
Opening: John Hammond
Tickets: $25-$75 at etix.com