Grammy-winning guitarist Susan Tedeschi has shared stages with some of the most acclaimed musicians of all time. However, none of those experiences quite prepared her for what took place earlier this month during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
On Dec. 8, Tedeschi, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Dave Grohl received the James Smithson Bicentennial Award, which is presented “to persons who have made distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Institution.” Tedeschi and Grohl had never met before, but they were quickly comparing notes on their favorite punk bands and introducing one another to their spouses (Tedeschi and her husband, Derek Trucks, have played together in Tedeschi Trucks Band since 2010).
“Smithson mandated that this award goes to someone who exudes an American tradition and dedicates their life to doing good,” Tedeschi tells SPIN over Zoom. “They can give it to anybody from a scientist to a musician to an athlete, and many of the winners have created the American experience, like Pete Seeger, Les Paul, and Jim Henson. It’s a huge honor and it reminds me that we’re all part of a community. Personally being recognized is recognition for my band, my husband, and everything I’ve done along the way, including all these great musicians I’ve had the pleasure to play with. I’m trying to help keep that American story alive while telling my own story too.”
Tedeschi will have a chance to do exactly that next year with a 25th anniversary reissue of her 1998 album Just Won’t Burn, which introduced her to a wider audience beyond her Boston roots. The artist purchased the masters back from her original label Tone Cool and is going through her archives to find previously unreleased material to augment album tracks popularized by Ruth Brown, Junior Brown, and John Prine.
“That record was a big turning point for me. It helped me get out there and be able to tour with my solo band,” Tedeschi says. “There are old tracks I recorded not long after that record, which were supposed to be for the preceding record that never came out. I’m going to dig into some of those masters and see what I have.” Options include music recorded with blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins, who was in his 90s at the time and still driving his station wagon to “McDaniel’s,” which is how he referred to McDonald’s.
“He always got the same thing: a little cheeseburger, a small fry, and a drink,” Tedeschi recalls. “There was a time when he was impatient and ran through the crossing arm by a railroad track. Another train was coming the other way. He kind of made it, but his car got a bit clipped by the train. Somehow he survived! He smoked Pall-Malls and drank, and they told him he had to give one up. So he gave up drinking and continued to smoke cigarettes, and still lived to be 97 years old.”
Tedeschi is also thinking about making a country album, which could comprise “some original material I’ve never really recorded,” she says. “I have lots of amazing country friends — I’ve been talking to Chris Stapleton and Norah Jones, who is close with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. I’d love to do something with some of them.”
“Another idea I’ve been needing to do too is a gospel record,” she continues. “I want to make a blues record, a country record, and a gospel record. I just want to be Ray Charles, okay? Derek, [keyboardist] Gabe [Dixon], [vocalist] Mike [Mike Mattison], and I have been writing a ton and doing some brainstorming, but we’re so happy to be learning and playing the four new records we just released. This next year, we’ll be doing a lot of touring in the States for those records. I’m also getting ready to record with Dion next week.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band will continue to support the aforementioned four albums, dubbed I Am the Moon, during its extensive 2023 tour itinerary, which begins Jan. 20 in Fort Myers, Fla., and includes multiple-night stands at such historic venues as the Roman Auditorium in Nashville and the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.
“We have been busy! We toured 180 days this year,” Tedeschi says. “It’s been good getting back out in the world and trying to help people heal. We played the Bataclan, and that was really heavy. I was nervous to play there because of what happened back in 2015. I did the Harry Styles song ‘Sign of the Times,’ which has a lyric about running from bullets. The bullet holes are still in the wall there, in these beautiful paintings. It’s not just in America that we’re going through stuff. We have a lot of work to do, and music has the power to help.”