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How COVID lockdown helped save the Tedeschi Trucks Band


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: While the pandemic caused heartbreak for millions, it also provided a chance for some artists to reset. I recently spent time with the musicians behind the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who credit their time in lockdown, plus a centuries-old poem, with not only opening new creative paths, but with fusing their band even more tightly.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

In the world of musical marriages, there's none quite like this one, Susan Tedeschi's and Derek Trucks'.

As the creative duo behind the 12-member Tedeschi Trucks Band, this husband and wife have been called two of the best roots musicians of their generation. But before joining together musically, they each had successful solo careers.

Susan's first major label record, "Just Won't Burn," now being reissued for its 25th anniversary, went gold, rare for a debut blues album. With her soulful voice and guitar, she got five Grammy nominations and toured with some of the greats, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.

Derek is considered one of the greatest living blues guitarists. He began touring at age 12, a sneaker-clad prodigy talented enough to take on Eric Clapton's "Layla."

At 20, he joined the legendary Allman Brothers and played with them for over a decade. His blend of blues, jazz, Indian styles made him the youngest player named to "Rolling Stone"'s list of the 100 greatest guitarists, at number 16.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: And this, this up here, there's an osprey nest over there.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, after years of passing each other on the road, these two solo artists met, fell in love, and started a life together.

DEREK TRUCKS: Having a bit of a crash. So, Sue calls.

Yes, we did it all out of order. It was a pregnancy, marriage.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Well, we bought the house first.



SUSAN TEDESCHI: We bought the house first.

DEREK TRUCKS: Pregnancy, marriage.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Then we got pregnant.

DEREK TRUCKS: And then, about 10 years in, you're like...

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Then we got married.

DEREK TRUCKS: ... I think we're ready to put a band together.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Then we did a band after the kids were...

DEREK TRUCKS: We had to be married for 10 years.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That is a really scrambled set of sequence.




SUSAN TEDESCHI: Well, you do what you can, because we weren't -- we don't have a normal life schedule.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Their 2010 debut, "Revelator," went gold, won the Grammy for best blues record, and launched a new chapter.

Their band, including horns, double drummers, and keyboards, recorded a string of records, and spent 10 long years touring the globe. By any measure, they were a success. But it was draining. Then, when beloved band member Kofi Burbridge died of a heart condition, a man Trucks called the beating heart of the band, they began to reassess.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The main story we are following, and that is the coronavirus pandemic.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And then came the pandemic and subsequent lockdown that brought life to a standstill.

DEREK TRUCKS: For us in a lot of ways, the pandemic kind of saved our band. Like, we were really at a point of we were about to take time off to kind of...

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Deal with the loss of Kofi.

DEREK TRUCKS: To deal with the loss of Kofi and just kind of reset and think about what we want to do and what is this thing?

SUSAN TEDESCHI: And then J.J. had left, right, in February.

DEREK TRUCKS: And it was a hard reset for us.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Longtime band member Mike Mattison says it was a rough period.

MIKE MATTISON: The tank was pretty low. I mean, we had been touring pretty hard for over a decade. And we had achieved what we wanted to achieve.

But I think what we realized, in going down this wormhole, is that we hadn't said what we wanted to say.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So Mattison had an idea. During lockdown, everyone in the band would read a 12 century Persian poem Layla and Majnun. It's an Arab Romeo and Juliet story about two lovers held apart by a male-dominated society.

Heartbroken Majnun wanders the wilderness, going mad. Layla gets locked in a tower and forced to marry another man. That poem inspired Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos record "Layla," a record that the Tedeschi Trucks Band had recently recorded live.

But Mattison wanted to go back to the centuries-old source, all 258 pages of it.

MIKE MATTISON: The thing I was most concerned about is that I would be just shunned for being a nerd.


MIKE MATTISON: That, oh, gee, now we have...



DEREK TRUCKS: Mike's original thought was, let's just all read this poem and then just flip the perspective.

Instead of -- like, the "Layla" album is just this lovesick man that can't have this thing he desires. And his was, what does she think about this? Like, what was her perspective? And we're like, well, that's perfect.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, mid-pandemic, the band gathered at Tedeschi and Trucks' home and studio and began writing. An enormous number of songs poured out. Multiple band members contributed ideas.

Some, but not all, of the songs touched on themes from the poem.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: I like when the music comes like that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It sounds like a pretty beautiful experience.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: Yes, because you really don't have any control over it. It is more like, if the muse is there that day and it just pours out of you, and you're in the moment where you can be receptive and write it down or feel it or play off of your bandmates or whatever.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Did you have any reluctance or hesitancy to looking at a book that was principally about the man and the woman at the center of this story that's basically you guys, and have everybody in the group reading about this central relationship?


DEREK TRUCKS: You know, there's a little bit of that. There were times the songs would come in, and I'm like, hmm.


WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That's a little on the nose.

DEREK TRUCKS: Yes, wait a minute.

But it's -- one of the big takeaways from me in reading that story was -- and Mike alludes to this in a few of the tunes he wrote -- is, when you're in a relationship, the -- what's going on doesn't just affect the two people in the relationship. Like, it can really spill out in positive ways or negative ways.




DEREK TRUCKS: Yes. And we see in our situation that's absolutely true.


MIKE MATTISON: It's not just about a guy in the wilderness pining. You know, there's so much more going on.

And in the poem, you hear from Layla, and she has very specific things to say about how she feels about this guy. And not all of them are great. And also her treatment at the hands of her father and the world, yes, I think she definitely picked up on that. I think a lot of that very much resonated with her, especially being in the business she's in and the genre that we do.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: I see, as a woman, and all the things going on in the world, as women, and women really trying to stand up and have a voice in a different way, even though women are more vocal, that doesn't mean we -- our rights are more equal.

It's kind of interesting. There's a lot of things that really haven't changed. I mean, obviously in America, we're much better off. But there are plenty of countries in the world that are just like that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It was a remarkably fruitful period. The band recorded four albums and released them sequentially, "I Am the Moon," volumes one through 4, each with accompanying films by director Alix Lambert.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band continues their tour, a community on stage, 12 members' strong. They are playing music inspired by a centuries-old poem, but, in this telling, the star-crossed couple made it, and the woman's not locked away in a tower, but commands center stage.

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