By John Orr
Sept. 1, 2000
Susan Tedeschi called from her car while on her way to the Jacksonville airport. She was using one of those silly little earplug cords with the microphone spinning around somewhere near her chin, so was hard to understand part of the time.
But one quality rang through like hitting a bell with a hammer: happiness.
And why not? She's 29, good looking and talented, and was on her way to see her good-looking and talented boyfriend, Derek Trucks, a 21-year-old prodigy guitarist who was in Pittsburg with the Allman Brothers Band. They were to have about one day before Tedeschi would get on another plane to go to a jazz festival in Baltimore.
Because Tedeschi herself has been known to play guitar, and to sing. With such pals as Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker and Bob Dylan, and was just about to start a big tour with the B.B. King Blues Festival, which runs through Sept. 17.
Truth is, Tedeschi is the new darling of the blues world, a cheery, powerful talent who sounds like a 14-year-old on the phone and still gets carded but who struts and shouts on stage with a voice that has been compared to Bonnie Raitt and Etta James, but is all her own.
Her second album, "Just Won't Burn," on Tone-Cool Records, has just gone gold and everywhere she goes, veteran musicians are glad to help her out, glad to see a new champion preparing to carry that blues banner into the future.
Tedeschi's having a blast.
For instance, she just recorded "Crazy" with Willie Nelson.
"It's going to be on his new record, coming out in August," says Tedeschi. "It was great! Well, he's wonderful. I did Farm Aid with him last year and we became friends. And we've hooked up a few times since then. I played at his picnic on July 4th, out in Austin, Texas -- that was crazy. It was fun.
"He is wonderful! I mean, he is a lot like B.B. King! He's very humble, a music junkie. You know, he loves music, just loves it, always talking about music, always excited to play and sing and meet people and you know, just very down to earth."
B.B. King's charm is mentioned.
"Yup!" says Tedeschi. "I think him and Willie are pretty equal in that department, except one smokes a lot of weed and one doesn't smoke any!" She laughs.
She also has had plenty of fun with Guy, with whom she's toured before. They'll jam together and she will play one of his tunes -- "a lot of his early stuff is among my favorite stuff ever ever," she says -- and "he's like, 'What are you doing knowing that song?' He's shown me how to play stuff. Whatever he's in the mood to show me. He's very supportive and very open minded. A very wonderful man. He has given me a lot of chances: he asks me to come up and sing with him on stage. He is such a ham!"
Tedeschi even has a home now -- with Trucks in Jacksonville, after having spent a year or two completely on the road -- and even gets to visit it from time to time.
"I've been home 10 or 14 days since February," Tedeschi says gleefully. "After the tour I'll be home for a while --a couple of months, I think."
Right now Tedeschi's supposed to be writing songs for her third album, but "I've been on the phone every day, talking to managers, getting ready to do the album in November" -- not to mention giving interviews, or talking with Derek, wherever he might be on his own tours, with the Allmans or his own band.
Tedeschi is striking while the iron is hot, of course, making the most of a popularity that began in Boston, where she became the 800-pound gorilla of that music scene, and that is continuing to a national and international level.
Her "Just Won't Burn' album has gotten plenty of play on blues radio and also on such AOR stations as KFOG, which also recorded her at a KFOG concert.
Listening to "Just Won't Burn," you might wonder why she had the temerity to record John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" when Raitt owns it -- until you hear Tedeschi sing it live, such as at that KFOG concert. Then she purrs and growls the tune into something of her own, with a great voice she trained at the Berklee College of Music.
She's even nailed down a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, although that pop trophy went to Christina Aguilera.
Happy with the success of "Just Won't Burn," she's not sure what she will put on the new album, which she is to start recording about the time she turns 30 in November.
"I do have some new stuff," she says. "I might do blues, I might do a gospel song, might do a soul. I don't know what I'm going to do.
"There's always a sense of needing to learn more all the time, to go on musical journeys and learn more."