Baltimore Sun

Artists dig into 12th-century poem for album

Tedeschi Trucks Band rethinks tale of ‘Layla & Majnun’

- By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Under normal circumstan­ces, one of your backup singers suggesting that the band read a 4,600-stanza Persian poem from the

12th century would seem prepostero­us.

But in May 2020, the members of Tedeschi Trucks Band were open to the request from Mike Mattison to immerse themselves in Nizami Ganjavi’s star-crossed love poem “Layla & Majnun.”

The pandemic shutdown had brought their touring to a halt, so there was time, and further, the Layla in the name was the source material for one of their favorite albums, Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla and Assorted Love Stories,” which they had played in full at the 2019 Lockn’ Festival with Trey Anastasio in Virginia.

“Layla,” a summit of guitar heroes Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, has a special place in their lives, as Derek Trucks, 43, was named for it. Also, it was released Nov. 9, 1970, the day his wife and bandmate, Susan Tedeschi, was born.

So, they read the poem about forbidden love once deemed by Lord Byron to be “the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”

“We had done the live ‘Layla’ record, and Mike Mattison proposed that we dig into that original source material a little deeper, you know, maybe rethink it,” Trucks says in a recent interview. “The Derek and the Dominos ‘Layla’ record is kind of a Layla and Majnun story, but it’s really

from (Clapton’s) perspectiv­e of being involved with somebody you can’t have. And that’s kind of the gist of it.

“Mike’s idea was why don’t we dissect it a little further, and on this break, we all read this, and maybe it’ll spark some ideas, like, how does a relationsh­ip like that affect not only both people in it but the people around them: the family, the friends. When you’re in this love-mad state, you end up burning a lot of bridges and other things. Just kind of rip that whole concept apart and really write about it. And we had a lot of time to write a lot and reflect and a lot of material came out of it.”

Leading into this, Trucks and the band had been through a painful stretch of loss beginning in January 2017 with the suicide of Derek’s uncle, Butch Trucks, with whom he played in the Allman Brothers Band for 15 years.

That May brought the death of Bruce Hampton,

Derek’s longtime friend and mentor, who suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed onstage at his 70th birthday celebratio­n. Later that same month, they lost Gregg Allman, who embraced Trucks as a 10-year-old prodigy and made him a member of the Allman Brothers Band as a 20-year-old in 1999.

Two years later, on Feb. 15, 2019, Tedeschi Trucks Band and former Derek Trucks Band keyboardis­t Kofi Burbridge, the brother of Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, died on the same day that Tedeschi Trucks Band’s fourth album, “Signs,” was released.

“It was a really tough three or four years,” Trucks says. “We had a lot of losses that kind of felt like the rug was pulled out. So, I think we were really needing a little break to reflect and figure out what we were gonna do and where we were gonna go.”

The poem sparked a writing surge on that

theme that led to “I Am the Moon,” a 24-song album that was released in four parts — “Crescent,” “Ascension,” “The Fall” and “Farewell” — with correspond­ing short films, between June and August 2022. The album, which can be enjoyed without any knowledge of the story, isn’t a major departure from the band’s genre-bending blend of Americana bluesrock and is shot full of the brilliant guitar solo flights fans expect from Trucks.

“Everybody had songs that they kind of brought to the table themselves that were either close to finished or half-finished,” he says. “One or two were fully realized when they showed up and maybe needed just a few tweaks.”

Trucks, Tedeschi, Mattison and keyboardis­t Gabe Dixon handled the lyrics, and from August through the end of 2020, the core members met at the Trucks family farm in rural Georgia to jam.

“We weren’t planning on making a record,” he says. “It was just, all the tours had been canceled, and we had nothing but time. And at that point, you didn’t know if you’d be touring in a year ... or never. It was just a weird time. So we were just kind of making music to make it. Management, record label, no one knew we were recording or making a record. We were just kind of doing it to do it. And so we were not really overly worried about it all fitting together.

“Once we wrote everything and started listening back, we realized that it did, but that’s just because they were all in the same place and the same headspace, and that’s just the way it works. No matter how wide arranging the styles are, the feeling and the sentiment were kind of tied to the same thing, so I think that was the thread.”

The songs came to life beginning in January 2021 at Swamp Raga, Tedeschi and Trucks’ home studio in Jacksonvil­le, Florida, with the makings of an album that would run just over two hours long. Something out-of-the-box was in order.

“I feel like people just do not have the attention span to drop 2 hours and 15 minutes of music on them without a lot of the material getting lost in the mix,” Trucks says. “… It just felt more impactful to chop it up. And then once we realized we wanted to make films with it, it just felt right.”

Their independen­t label, Fantasy Records, didn’t balk at the idea of dropping a four-part album.

“I thought we were gonna really have to fight to get it put out this way,” Trucks says, “but I think people were ready for something different. So they were really excited about taking on the challenge of how to make it happen. That was a pleasant surprise.”

They are also thrilled to be on the road with 24 new songs to freshen their sets.

“It’s nice having that much new material to play,” Trucks says, “and maybe because it came out in the pandemic, it seems like our audience is more familiar with the material off of this record than they ever were when a new record came out in the past.

“Maybe they’re better tunes, maybe they just feel better in the set, but it feels like everybody’s just right in with it like it was old, favorite material of theirs. So, it’s been really refreshing. Anytime there’s an influx of new material, I feel like the band just gets a little bit better, and this has been a huge influx of material, so it’s feeling really good. Definitely keeps it from getting stale, that’s for sure.”

 ?? JASON KEMPIN/GETTY ?? Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band perform Feb. 23 in Nashville, Tennessee.
JASON KEMPIN/GETTY Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band perform Feb. 23 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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