Heading to the Vineyard for Beach Road Weekend
Summer in New England usually means that a few things are a given and one of those things is people vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard. The island south of Cape Cod has been a popular tourist destination for centuries and during this time of year it’s a live music hotbed.
One of the many major music events that goes down is Beach Road Weekend, a festival that’s had the likes of Dispatch, Galactic, Matisyahu, and Grace Potter in the past. This time around, it’s a little more condensed, but the Tedeschi Trucks Band, led by Boston native Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks, will perform there on July 24 and 25. Both sets will be under the “Fireside Live” banner, with the band running through the full gamut of their catalog.
Tedeschi and I recently had a talk about her musical upbringing, hitting up old record stores to buy blues records, how she’s grown as a musician, and what it means for her to be coming back to Martha’s Vineyard.
Gospel music played a big part in your artistic upbringing and you gravitated more to the African American Baptist churches when you were young. Who introduced you to attending those churches and what initially struck you about it? Was it the collective rejoicing and harmonizing or was it something else?
I did grow up singing in churches but they were more like Catholic churches but when I started attending Berklee when I was 17, I was in the Reverence Gospel Ensemble there and that gospel choir brought me to the Baptist churches and more of the traditional style. We would go around and sing with people like Shirley Caesar and different mass choirs. We would go to perform different events in New York and Boston and it was quite life-changing for me. It was an incredible experience, I love the choir, I loved learning all the songs, I loved the expansions that we had and it was very moving. It was very inspirational for me and it’s definitely a big part of who I am today, that’s for sure.
You also have a major blues influence from growing up listening to vinyl records featuring Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt and others. Do you view both gospel and the blues as musical siblings due to how they’re both rooted in the spirituals?
Absolutely, they’re very connected. My dad turned me on to The Staple Singers and those musicians you mentioned when I was really little. He plays guitar and harmonica and he’s a huge Bob Dylan fan so I definitely was raised listening to more country blues like Mississippi Fred McDowell and that kind of style. It really wasn’t until I was in college that I started branching out and discovering a lot of electric blues. Growing up I knew about John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Chuck Berry, but other than that I didn’t know about Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor.
I knew a little bit about Muddy Waters but I didn’t really know about all of the amazing artists that were out there and the records that were made. One day I was walking down Massachusetts Avenue and I went into Stereo Jack’s, which was this really cool record store in between Berklee and Harvard. I would just go in there, start shopping and I would walk out with records by Pee Wee Crayton, Esther Phillips and these other amazing artists that I didn’t know about. At that point, I was just getting out of college around 20 or 21 years old and I had some friends that were running a blues jam and they asked me to learn some blues tunes and some down and sing. They had too many instrumentalists and not enough singers so I came down and started playing guitar, that’s when I started playing electric too after playing acoustic for years.
It wasn’t until my early 20s when I picked up the electric guitar and started playing on these blues jams. I just got up and sang, worked with people and learned how to sit in, improvise and all that.
Since you and Derek merged both of your bands together to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band back in 2010, what do you think has grown the most with you as a musician or a songwriter? You’re in a band with 11 other musicians so do you always find yourself learning new things through collaboration or are there always fresh ideas being brought to the forefront when you’re working on new songs?
Definitely my guitar playing, it has grown exponentially. From playing with Derek, he’s been able to teach me a lot of things. Oftentimes I’ll ask him, “What are you doing there? What should I do on this?” so he’s definitely a huge influence on me on guitar. For songwriting, in the old days I tended to write a lot by myself or I would be paired with different writers and do it that way. In this band it’s so fun because we all have different ideas and we can just come to each other at any time and work on stuff. I might need a melody here or I might need a vocal line there or one of us has an idea for a certain groove, so it’s really cool how we can all get together and help each other out in each other’s songs.
We have so many great songwriters, so that’s also been a huge inspiration. I’ve been working with Mike Mattison and Derek for a while and they’re both incredible. Gabe Dixon on keyboards is an off the charts great songwriter as well and the same can be said of him as a musician. Like you said, it’s been a collaboration of everybody working together and our drummer Tyler Greenwell has been writing quite a bit as well. He has some great songs that are going to be on our next studio project that we’ve been working on during the pandemic, it’ll be coming out probably during the beginning of next year.
We have 25 new songs and it’s pretty incredible. I’m very excited to get a bunch of this stuff out and be able to start playing it. I’m going to say that I’ve stepped up in both guitar playing and songwriting and hopefully my singing has also improved, just because you’re always trying to learn and get better.
I totally agree. With these upcoming shows at Beach Road Weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, do you have any personal attachment to the island? Have you spent any summers there either as a kid or as an adult on vacation?
Yes, it’s huge. This is a big deal for me because I grew up on the South Shore, we used to sail to Nantucket and as I got older we used to go to Martha’s Vineyard. When I was actually in my early 20s, I had a friend that invited me out to the Vineyard and we played at The Ritz in Oak Bluffs. After that, forget about it, I was playing there all the time and there was one summer when I played 30 days out of the 31 in the month of July.
Yeah, it was pretty epic. I literally had a gig every day at a different place. I played The Ritz, I played with David Crohan at David’s island house. He’s a blind piano player who passed away a few years back and he was incredible. We used to play Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, Bob Dylan songs and all my favorite artists, it was always a fun time. We used to play at this spot called The Rare Duck and another place which is now Nectar’s but it used to be called the Hot Tin Roof.
We played a lot of private gigs such as weddings or private parties so the island is a huge love of mine. I almost moved there until I started dating Derek and we bought a place in Jacksonville but that was 22 years ago. Derek and I have our 20 wedding anniversary this year coming up in December but we’ve been together for 22 years, which is pretty amazing. We just haven’t had time with our schedule, our touring and everything with our kids growing up to make it back to the Vineyard so this is a huge deal for me, I have tons of friends there who I’m so excited to see and lots of family coming and it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be awesome and we’re going stuff from both of our old catalogs from my solo band and Derek’s solo band as well as some of our current material, some new covers including stuff from the Layla Revisited record that we did with Trey Anastasio from Phish.
We’re trying to keep stuff fresh until we play a lot of the new original stuff live, which we can’t do until we get that released. We’re trying to focus on some of our old catalogs just for fun and people have been really digging it, it’s been great. I feel lucky just to be working again and I’m really excited to make it to the Vineyard so I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming shows, I think they’re going to be a blast. It’ll be so nostalgic for me just to be going back and seeing everybody, it’s going to be really special.
I can totally see why with what you’ve just told me. You have so many great memories from being there over your career and congratulations on your wedding anniversary. These upcoming shows are titled “Fireside Live”, so what can people expect from these performances? You just mentioned how you’re going to bring back some old material but what makes these certain shows different?
Well, because we’ll be playing as a six piece and not a 12 piece. When we had to book these things, we honestly couldn’t afford to bring up the whole band. COVID-19 made it so with social distancing you can’t sell as many tickets so without having that revenue we can’t bring everyone up. We then figured to do this “Fireside Live” stuff, which has been us as a duo, a four piece, a six piece, a seven piece and an eight piece. We’re doing this whole summer as a six piece, which is Tyler Greenwell on drums, Brandon Boone on bass, Gabe Dixon on piano, a B3 Hammond and vocals and Derek, myself and Mike Mattison.
Mike’s been singing, playing guitar and percussion and stuff. It’s been really cool, it’s been the six of us but it’s been really nice because it helps us really strengthen the core of the band. After not playing for a year and a half, it takes a minute to get back into it and it’s just been great to be able to do some good, old-fashioned music makin’. Just getting up there and doing it has been fun and the crowds so far have been amazing because they’re so excited to have live music again so it’s just been a lot of fun. Honestly, everybody has been really supportive and we’ve had a lot of nice feedback on the shows.
It feels good to be out working and to see people. It’s something we can’t take for granted anymore.