FANS OF CONTEMPORARY BLUES AND SOUL
need no introduction to Susan Tedeschi. The
Norwell, Massachusetts, native busted onto
the scene in 1998 with Just Won’t Burn, and
soon thereafter fans all over the states were
exposed to her passionate, Janis Joplin-like
vocal style and teal-colored Telecaster. She was
a regular on the Lilith Fair tour and opened for
B.B. King, Buddy Guy, the Allman Brothers,
and other marquee names. But it wasn’t just
everyday fans taking notice early on: Tedeschi
snagged Grammy nominations in 2000, 2003,
and 2006—not to mention the heart of one of
the guitar universe’s hottest slide masters,
Derek Trucks, whom she met on the 1999 Allman
This year marks the release of Tedeschi’s
seventh studio album, Back to the River [Verve
Forecast]. Packed to the gills with her gritty
wails and beefy guitar tones—plus jawdropping
leads from Trucks and intriguing
textures from Doyle Bramhall II and bandmate
Dave Yoke—River also showcases the
fruits of Tedeschi’s efforts co-songwriting with
such powerhouses as Tony Joe White, John
Leventhal, Gary Louris, and Sonya Kitchell.
You worked with some prestigious songwriters
for River—how did that come about?
The label suggested calling in some other
songwriters to write with. I’ve been writing
songs since I was about 13 years old, but I’d
never done that, so I had no idea what to
expect. I was pleasantly surprised to meet some
really nice people and to tap into their creative
worlds a little bit. I wanted this record to be
universal on a lot of levels—politically, musically,
spiritually, and stylistically—so I wanted
to have folk, gospel, rock, and blues elements,
without any one style being overbearing.
Did working with the other guitarists change
how you viewed your role?
Originally, I wanted to make a really heavy
guitar record, with me doing most of the
playing. It is a heavy guitar record, but after
having Derek, Doyle, and Dave on there, I
didn’t feel like I needed to do as much of the
playing myself—though I will play a lot of
those parts live, of course. It was nice to hear
how Doyle and Derek and those guys played
the parts. I’ll take the ones I like and adapt
them to my style.
What’s your favorite guitar part on the new
Derek plays beautifully on “700 Houses”
and “Revolutionize”—his solos on those just
make me want to cry. And Doyle’s playing on
“Talking About” just blows my mind because
he’s such a wonderful rhythm player. He
makes a song by how he uses different tunings
and vibrato. I’ll hear something a certain
way but I can’t do it—and then he’ll do it, and
I’m, like, “Man, that’s it.” Derek will do the
same thing. And then there are songs like
“Break in the Road,” which was a blast for
me to play on. I used a little overdrive on the
amp and just freaked out a little bit.
How do you think your playing has evolved
over the years?
With Just Won’t Burn, I was just starting
to get my confidence up when I soloed in
front of people. I wasn’t a guitar player as
much I was a singer, so I was trying to communicate
on guitar what I do vocally—which
is very hard to do. Now I feel like I have more
of my own voice on the guitar. I have a lot
more control, and my playing is more melodic
than it was before.
Is that progress due to more confidence,
technique, or theory?
I feel like it is mostly due to having more
technique, but also to listening to other
players better to find greater dynamics and
more textures. On Just Won’t Burn, I was
mostly trying to get out an emotion that
was super raw. It is still raw at times, but
now I’m getting to be more confident and
Describe your ideal tone.
I like a warmer sound. So, if I’m playing
a Telecaster it has to be a warmersounding
Tele, not a straight-up maple
fretboard model. I like maple fretboards for
Strats and rosewood for Telecasters. Lately,
however, I’ve mostly been playing my D’Angelico
NYSD-9, which has a rosewood
fretboard and is more like a Les Paul in a
way, because it has humbuckers. The D’Angelico
has a really fat tone, and I just plug
it straight into any blackface Fender amp—
whether it’s a Super Reverb, a Deluxe
Reverb, a Vibrolux, or a Princeton Reverb.
If I’m playing a Tele or a Strat, and I need
a little more meat, I’ll sometimes combine
a 4x10 Bassman with one of the blackface
amps. On tour, I usually use the 80-watt
Victoria that Buddy Guy gave me—which
is similar to a tweed ’50s Bassman, but with
almost as much wattage as a Marshall—
combined with a reissue Super Reverb. The
reverb and vibrato from the Super really
determine my sound.
Did you use those same amps on the album?
I didn’t have mine with me because we
flew to Los Angeles. We rented a ’65 blackface
Super Reverb, a ’66 Vibrolux, and a
Magnatone. I also used a Moollon Overdrive,
a Vox V848 wah, a Boss tuner, and a Whirlwind
selector box for switching between
amps. For guitars, most of the time I used
my D’Angelico and my Telecaster. I also used
a Gretsch White Falcon with DeArmond
For many players, it’s probably hard to imagine
what it is like for two high-powered guitarists
to be married. Care to bust any myths?
Well, it’s definitely interesting because I
think couples are naturally a little competitive.
But really there’s no competition on
guitar—Derek kicks my ass, though he does
respect my guitar playing. He gives me
confidence to do what I love to do, which
makes me think I must be on the right path,
because he’s phenomenal. I’ve seen him
play with artists as varied as Carlos Santana,
Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers,
Buddy Guy, the Meters, and the Grateful
Dead—and he always holds his own and
Do you guys ever have big musical disagreements?
No, but sometimes I’ll be, like, “How do
I play over these changes?” And he’ll say,
“Just play an A major.” Or he’ll say, “That
part sounds kind of corny—maybe you
shouldn’t play those changes right there.”
Do you always take his advice?
Sometimes I get ornery and say, “Shut
up—it’s just not your style, Mr. Music Nazi.”
[Laughs.] No, he’s really supportive. And
every bit of musical advice he’s given me
has been right. It can be infuriating sometimes,
though, because I don’t always want
him to be right.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
Having enough time in the day for everybody
and making everybody happy. I’m only
one person, and I’m trying to be a mom and
a wife and a bandleader and a friend. Just
being a parent alone is hard, but then you
add in juggling everybody’s schedules and
trying to get us all together and it can really
Are you able to practice as much as you used
No. I have to schedule time to practice
and get my mother-in-law to watch the kids.
Or I have to wait for them to go to bed and,
if I’m not too tired, then I’ll practice. It’s like
working out—you just have to make time
for it and schedule it in there. You can’t just
say, “Oh, I’ll get around to it.”