Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Susan Tedeschi seem like an unlikely superstar. There’s no denying her talent and aura as an emerging music diva with all the attention she garnered as a Grammy nominee this year. Guest appearances with legends such as Bob Dylan and B.B. King have bolstered her reputation as one of the most entertaining and versatile young musicians playing today. Despite all the international media attention and hype that goes along with a Grammy nomination, Susan has retained her easygoing nature and graciousness. She is quick to point out that despite her lifelong dedication to music, fame found her and not the other way around. With roots in blues music, her petite appearance contrasts with her soulful singing and powerful guitar tone.
Tedeschi has certainly traveled a long road to the success she enjoys today, although her journey is far from over. She graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, took out a $10,000 loan from her family to make her first album, and won awards for her playing at blues festivals and competitions all over the country. The success of her first album and growth of a grassroots fan base led to her signing with Tone-Cool records, also based out of the Massachusetts area she grew up in. Her second album, “Just Won’t Burn” distinguished her from the numerous female singer-songwriters that have come to the musical forefront in the past 5 years. She also has strong ties to the jamband community since she opened for the Allman Brothers Band during their summer tour in 1999. She recently sat in with Frogwings at the Jammys for a performance of “Feels So Bad,” and it is quite possible that she will team with that group in the future. Tedeschi also isn’t afraid to put in a few guest appearances at Derek Trucks Band gigs and tours almost constantly by herself when she’s not in the studio planning her next album.
I had the chance to talk with Susan on a rare day off between two of her shows. Excerpts from that interview follow.
C: You certainly had a breakthrough year last year.
S: Yeah, I’m very lucky.
C: I took a look at your tour schedule yesterday. You have as busy as summer as anyone I’ve ever seen. It must be hell to be your travel agent.
S: It is! [laughs] I don’t have many days off. It’s a little crazy. It’s actually not that bad being on the bus. What we’re doing in August with B.B. [King], we’ll be really busy with that. We’ll be driving every single day.
C: I know you’ve already gone from Red Rocks last week to Illinois where you played a gig with John Hiatt, back to Colorado to do the Telluride Bluegrass Festival this week as well. Did you make a special trip to do the date with John?
S: Yeah, I made a special trip to do that one. I was asked if I wanted to do that show. I was told I would have to fly to make it, but I said “sure.” I wanted to do it because of John. He’s been an influence of mine since back in ’89.
C: I always liked his song Buffalo River Home. That was on the radio when I was in high school.
S: Very cool. I didn’t discover him until 1988. A friend in the family turned me onto him and I’ve been a big fan ever since, pretty much.
C: Two nights ago you played a gig with Ray Charles in Indianapolis and tomorrow you’re headed up to Virginia to share a bill with Maceo Parker. Have you been brushing up on your funk licks or just your soulful singing?
S: Oh, I didn’t get to play with Ray Charles. I did get to go on right before him, so I got to meet him. I hugged him and got my picture taken with him. That was great. I’ve done other festivals with Maceo before, but we’ve never played together. I’m doing Wolftrap tomorrow with him, so I’m looking forward to that. His band is outstanding. He’s got some great players.
C: Gospel has always been in your background a little bit. Songs like Looking For Answers from your last album leans towards that tradition.
S: It’s funny that a lot of people think that, and I don’t hear it as gospel. Gospel to me is Mahalia Jackson or the Wynan family, you know, groups like that. For me Looking For Answers is almost more of a traditional or. I really don’t know how to describe it.
C: You play that song in an “open D” tuning. For non-guitar players such as myself, how does that differ from other ways of tuning or playing that guitar?
S: Well, the strings are different. Instead of being E-B-G on the bottom, it’s D-A-F#, so everything is a little different just in the actual tuning of it. Derek plays in open E tuning. I’m actually in Harrisburg with Derek right now.
C: You were about 21 when you graduated from Berklee School of Music in Boston. Was being a professional musician or entertainer something you had planned on doing all along?
D: Well, I was 20 when I graduated from Berklee. I was definitely hoping for it. It’s always a crapshoot. It’s easy to make it one day and then be poor the next day, trying to find a gig. There’s no security in being a musician. I’ve always been in love with singing, so it was just a matter of time until I started making records or doing something like that. I was playing out all the time, even in school, so I’ve kind of been doing that for a while. I certainly didn’t expect to have all of the success I’ve had in the past 2 years. I don’t know if it was timing or luck or what. I feel very blessed. I feel very lucky because there are so many people out there who are playing well. I’ve had a good year.
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