The Influences of Susan Tedeschi
Susan Tedeschi, an American blues/rock singer and self-taught guitarist, has received five Grammy nominations. She has six albums to her credit. Three of them, Back to the River (2008),
Hope and Desire (2005), and Wait for Me (2002) reached #1 on Billboard’s Blues Albums chart. Her music draws from a variety of influences including her upbringing, religion, other musicians, marriage, motherhood, and more.
She was born in Boston and grew up in nearby Norwell, Massachusetts. Her musical development began at a very young age. Hearing her dad’s Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins albums led to a five-year-old Susan’s debut as a singer. At six, she was an understudy for Broadway musicals. Throughout her childhood, she performed at Baptist and Methodist churches in her area. She was raised Catholic, but was drawn to the musical style of the Baptist church because, to her, it seemed to be “less repressed and more like a celebration of God.” She began singing in bands at the age of 13 and put together her own band, the Smokin’ Section, for the first time when she was 18. Tedeschi earned a degree in music composition and performance from the Berklee College of Music.
According to her official Facebook page, Tedeschi’s influences are: Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Magic Sam, Big Mama Thornton, and Bob Dylan. Buddy Guy is, perhaps, the one who had the greatest personal influence on this self-taught guitarist as his advice led to her typically being the only person on guitar during her live performances. “I used to have a lead guitarist in my band, and, when he left, Buddy Guy said to me, ‘You don’t need to hire anybody to play guitar for you,'” she once said. In addition, her vocals have been compared to Joplin, Raitt, and Etta James. Said the author of one music blog, “With her strong blues foundation and pliable, slightly raspy croon, Susan Tedeschi is always going to be compared to Bonnie Raitt.” (http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/2008/10/quickies-susan-tedeschi-kj-denhert-al.html) Magic Sam, Freddie King, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson are all said to have been key influences in Tedeschi’s style of guitar playing.
Tedeschi’s 1998 album Just Won’t Burn provides several strong examples of her many varied influences. The title track was inspired by the passing of someone close to her. “Found Someone New” was written on the piano and inspired by John Lennon. The third verse of “You Need to Be with Me” gets its third verse from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Tedeschi described the soulful song “It Hurt So Bad” as “something Etta James or Otis Redding might have done.” Her version of “Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine was a near delve into country. Written in open D tuning, “Looking for Answers” was infused with gospel elements.
One of her strengths is being able to draw from various singers and genres and create a sound reminiscent of its inspiration but still all its own. Indeed, her biography on JamBase says of her, “She’s won a large and loyal audience for her ability to craft elements of classic blues, rock, R&B, folk, and gospel into a distinctively individual style that honors rootsy musical traditions without being subservient to them.”
This is exemplified in her album Hope and Desire. In it, she covers songs by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Fontella Bass, Otis Redding, and Donny Hathaway. Though the songs all belong to somebody else, so to speak, she puts her own unique spin on all of them.
Tedeschi explained her reasoning behind this album by saying, “I love to do my own material and create new stuff, but at the same time, there’s so many great songs out there. What I was really going for was to make a great soul record, and these songs all have soul, in one way or another. They all had different things about them that really stood out for me, and they were all songs that haven’t necessarily been heard by a lot of people.”
Her most recent album, Back to the River, shows another side of her music. Regarding it, Tedeschi said, “I think it’s a pivotal record for me—I like this one a lot. I think it’s really emotional, but it’s not really a blues record. The blues is still in there, but there’s a lot of other stuff, too. I definitely put a lot into this one and worked really hard to put a lot of ideas across.” This work is, perhaps, her most personal because her becoming a mother led to “more thoughtful, introspective lyrics, which take a humanistic view of a variety of sociopolitical issues.” (http://www.susantedeschi.com/bio.aspx)
“These songs are about real life issues that have been on my mind. I don’t think it’s my job to impose my opinion on people, but I do think it’s my responsibility to write songs that reflect the times and how I feel about them. Becoming a parent makes you start to think on a different scale, and it made me realize that you can write more than love songs. Even if a song can’t change the world, you can still capture a little tiny bit of truth and deliver it to the people,” explained Tedeschi.
Songs on this album include “700 Houses” which deals with the devastation caused by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and “True” which is about the universal truths and how one’s actions can affect the world. Furthermore, the title song was written about her Jacksonville home along the St. John’s River. Another song that reflects how personal this album was for Tedeschi is “Butterfly” which she wrote along with her husband, Derek Trucks. In addition, he played slide guitar on four of the album’s songs, and the two have performed together numerous times throughout both of their careers.I think this quote from Tedeschi gives a very good idea of her outlook on making music: “I think it’s important to keep learning and trying new things, no matter how old you are or how many records you’ve done. A lot of times people will find something that works for them and just stick with that. But you have to keep an open mind and stay open to new situations.”