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BLUES PLAYER

"I believe longevity is created by hard work. You must learn to reinvent yourself to be relevant" - Susan Tedeschi

Posted: December 17, 2023
Extraordinary - beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established: extraordinary costs. exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, etc.; noteworthy; remarkable: extraordinary speed; an extraordinary person.

Photo by: Rahm Carrington

Susan Tedeschi is an extraordinary talent. She has been rocking the blues for decades. She has many accolades associated with her music and has proven that she is more accomplished than many blues artists that have come before, and after her. 

I have seen many live performances from blues artists. In fact, some well-known venues for blues artists are located here in the State of Florida. I can’t recount how many live shows I have seen where the audience seemed to be bored. It isn’t the same for me, because blues music is an essential sound that no other genre can match. However, audiences need to be entertained. The demand for artist engagement has never been higher. This is something I believe Susan Tedeschi has known from the start. It has contributed to her success and has enabled her to win over fans quickly. Though, there is much to be said about her guitar playing skills as well. For my money, there is a handful of blues artists that can engage an audience outside of their blues artistry. Susan Tedeschi is a leader in this field. 



Ultimately, is part of her character. The degree in which she finds this important makes Susan Tedeschi worth seeing in person. The benefit to our readers, is that they get to read why she is compelled to engage her audience the way she does.

ABOUT SUSAN TEDESCHI

Susan Tedeschi is one of the most celebrated blues and American roots musicians of her generation, and her unyielding commitment to her craft – both as a solo artist and in Tedeschi Trucks Band – has earned her multiple Grammy nominations and the adoration of audiences around the world. 

But for Boston native Tedeschi, who began performing in plays and musicals at the age of five and in real bands by 13, such success was more surprising given how comparatively late in life she’d discovered blues as an art form while singing with friends at early ‘90s Boston-area jam sessions. Before that, there were a succession of formative experiences: a teenage group in Scituate with Terry Stebbins, which played yacht clubs and private parties; a high-school era combo with the Thompson Brothers, which played the prom; Ted Larkin’s The Smoking Section, which had a weekly gig at the Francis Cafe on Route 109; and a job as a singing waitress on the Spirit of Boston tourist cruise.

Buoyed by this supportive community of fellow musicians, Tedeschi eventually quit her high-paying but soul-draining gig in a top 40 wedding band, traded her trusty acoustic guitar for an electric, wood-shedded the work of Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, Freddie King, and T-Bone Walker, and began garnering significant regional acclaim while playing live with an ever-changing cast of friends.

“If you’ve never seen one of Tedeschi’s concerts, you won’t appreciate the depth of one of the best new artists of the ‘90s,” raved Billboard editor-in-chief Timothy White at the time. “When her band erupts and she starts to sing, her vocals seethe, swoop, and roar with enough sensual bluster to break the seals on whiskey bottles and tear the leaves from trees.”

It all coalesced with the 1998 release of her solo debut, Just Won’t Burn, on which Tedeschi put the wider music world on notice that she was a true force to be reckoned with. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the album will be reissued in expanded form on Sept. 22 via Fantasy Records, complete with several previously unreleased studio and live tracks.

“Making Just Won’t Burn was a pivot,” Tedeschi says of the album, which features musicians such as guitarists Adrienne Hayes and Sean Costello, harmonica player Annie Raines, percussionist/songwriter Tom Hambridge, and keyboardist Tom West tackling her original songs in tandem with material popularized by Ruth Brown (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”), Junior Wells (“Little by Little”), and John Prine (“Angel From Montgomery”).

“All of a sudden, I was working with different groups of people, new musicians, new songwriting collaborators,” she adds. “We had no idea how it was going to turn out. I think the thing that held it all together was the blues. Blues is a language that I love. You can take it anywhere in the world and communicate with people, which isn’t necessarily true about other forms of music. And being a white artist in a black milieu, you just must let the music speak.”

Speak it did, as Just Won’t Burn went platinum (a rare achievement for a blues-based album at that time) and earned Tedeschi a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2000 (alongside the hilariously of-the-moment cast of Britney Spears, Macy Gray, Kid Rock, and Christina Aguilera). It would be the first of five Grammy nominations for Tedeschi as a solo artist, with each of her next three solo releases earning nods for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

“The way people react to Just Won’t Burn has always been heartwarming and surprising,” Tedeschi enthuses. “I used to get letters from a prisoner who identified with the songs and found hope in them, and then I started getting letters from the rest of the prisoners on the cell block because it was the only cassette they had.”

With the accolades came invitations to tour with the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, John Mellencamp, and Bob Dylan. Tedeschi performed at Lilith Fair with Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks, at VH-1's "Concert for the Century," where she met Bill & Hillary Clinton, and Farm Aid with Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Neil Young, and Steve Earle, which made a profound impact on her musically.



Even after 25 years, the past-decade plus of which have seen Tedeschi rise to even greater heights with her husband Derek Trucks in Tedeschi Trucks Band, Just Won’t Burn remains a touchstone of blues-based rock’n’roll. For the anniversary edition, Tedeschi unearthed a series of outtakes and unreleased cuts that widen the album’s scope, including two never-before-heard recordings (a cover of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman” and the Tedeschi original “Waste of Time”) and an alternate version of “Looking for Answers” tracked with Costello and a different rhythm section of drummer Mike Levesque and bassist Norm DeMora.

“I liked recording with those guys because we’d try different things,” she says. “Sean thought about his solo as if it was going to be played backwards, so he played it backwards in his mind and then we flipped the tape. It sounded weirdly amazing and cool. That was my first taste of experimenting like that in the studio. Back then, I didn’t know what was really going to fly. ‘Waste of My Time’ and ‘Looking for Answers’ let me try different approaches. It’s not all exactly what you think it might be.”

Also included are contemporary live renditions of “Looking for Answers” and the album’s title track performed by Tedeschi Trucks Band, demonstrating how Tedeschi’s music continues to grow and change. “It’s a classic blues tune, and it fits with all the blues-y rock stuff we play live,” Tedeschi says of “Looking for Answers.” “When Derek and I started dating, he was like, hey, you wrote a song in open tuning for slide? He plays in open tuning and is, as you know, the world’s best slide player, so he was like, we should do that song. It’s fun to play and timeless.”

“Sometimes when I look back on the 25 years since the release, I think about the places I’ve been and the adventures I’ve had, and I feel like Forrest Gump,” she continues. “I say, ‘No! You’re a baseball mom. You didn’t do all that!’ But I must have. The blues has its demands. You must be honest — musically, emotionally, and personally — above everything else, and that can lead to some uncomfortable truths. But the blues hasn’t burned me. It hasn’t hurt me. It’s my main resource. I can express myself and get stuff out about my life – or, like B.B. always said, ‘whatever ails you.’ The blues got me here.”

INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN TEDESCHI AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: Hello Susan. Thank you for joining me for a chat today. I enjoy touching base with talented artists who really appreciate the industry. You are had working and comes through with the accolades that you have received. 

What recognition means the most to you to date?

Susan: The James Smithson Award from the Smithsonian Institute would have to be my greatest recognition. More than any Grammy Award or Boston Music Award or Blues Award. Although they all are incredible and helped me get where I am. I feel the honor of the James Smithson Award encompassed all of my accomplishments.

Guitar Thrills: Grammy nominations is a sign of more than just talent. It calls to mind the character traits that an artist has. What specific traits enabled you to stand out from others?

Susan: I believe my character traits as an artist are my honesty, emotion, and empathetic approach to the audience. The importance or bringing joy and healing through musical intention is very important.

Guitar Thrills: Audience engagement is one of the first things that stands out to me from a live concert. Sometimes, even when the artist is lacking in experience, I look for other elements. When did you conclude that “audience engagement” would be paramount to your success? 

Susan: I have been performing on stage since I was four years old and understand the importance of engaging with the audience. I believe people want to be heard and seen. As a performer, it’s important to smile and connect with your audience. Encourage a fun atmosphere and a safe place. A place to let go of worries and hardships. Honesty and a sense of humor and common humanity.

Guitar Thrills: Guitar skill set can be attributed to the notoriety of many artists. Is character traits necessary? 

Susan: Character traits bring personality and diversity to artists. It’s a real way for people to connect to who you are as well as feeling related to you as a human.

Guitar Thrills: I talked about your accomplishments. What has been your most surprising accomplishment as a blues artist?

Susan: My most surprising accomplishment as a blues artist would have to be singing at the White House for two separate Presidents. Concert of the Century in 2000 for Bill Clinton, and Red, White and Blues for President Obama.

Guitar Thrills: Is there something you wished you would have spent more time on improving? Please explain.

Susan: I wish I had spent more time improving my guitar skills – I am still learning all of the time. I also wish I had learned more on the piano. I have limited skills but would like to get some lessons – maybe from Gabe Dixon. ♥️

Guitar Thrills: What would you say is your best asset as a blues artist? 

Susan: My best asset as a blues artist is my singing. Second best asset is my guitar style.

Guitar Thrills: What are you working on now? Are you in the studio, or are you set to tour? 



Susan: We are about to start writing for another record as well as preparing to do some shows with the Grateful Dead in January. We will be on full tour with the Tedeschi Trucks Band starting in February.

Guitar Thrills: We live during a time when many up-and-coming performers are really young. Do you think lack of experience hinders their longevity in the music industry? 

Susan: Age has nothing to do with longevity as an artist. I believe longevity is created by hard work, building an audience and fan base, connecting with people, and learning to reinvent yourself to be relevant in the times.

Guitar Thrills:  What is your favorite guitar brand to use and why? 

Susan: My favorite brand is Fender. I have been using an American Standard Telecaster for the past twenty years. I love the sound, feel, and diversity it has for playing all styles of music.

Guitar Thrills: Is it a particular feel to the brand, or is it the sound? 

Susan: The easy feel and the tone are both important factors.

Guitar Thrills: As I mentioned, I believe you are extremely talented. The accolades and recognition are on point. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to interview with me. I hope that you will keep in touch and let us know more about upcoming projects that you are working on. 

Susan: I will keep in touch and let you know of some exciting projects we are working on. I appreciate the opportunity to talk and hope it works out well.




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