Keep on Growing: Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Trey Anastasio & Doyle Bramhall II Discuss ‘Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’)’

Dean Budnick on August 18, 2021
Keep on Growing: Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Trey Anastasio & Doyle Bramhall II Discuss ‘Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’)’

photo credit: Jay Blakesberg

Although the audience at the LOCKN’ festival on August 24, 2019, knew that Trey Anastasio would be joining the Tedeschi Trucks Band for a set of music, they had no idea what was in store for them. If the opening song “I Looked Away,” with bonus guest Doyle Bramhall II didn’t quite give it away, then, by the time the collective launched into “Bell Bottom Blues,” most everyone realized what was afoot: a performance of Derek & The Dominos’ double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. One of the most celebrated releases in rock history, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs features a guitar summit between Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, a year prior to Allman’s fatal 1971 motorcycle accident. Of course, the other players are magnificent as well—Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon had all impressed Clapton when they opened for Blind Faith with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs held deep significance for Anastasio, Bramhall, Tedeschi and Trucks (whose parents named him in honor of the group, after all). Fantasy Records has just released Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’), and the four principals share their thoughts on how it came together and what just might follow.

Derek & The Dominos’ lone studio album had a direct impact on the musical trajectory of the artists who would perform it 49 years later.

DEREK TRUCKS: For me, it was one of those records that was always there. I remember that album cover just being one of the two or three albums leaning on the peach crates in our living room when I was a child. Then, when I got older and started playing and realized the family connection through Duane, it became an even more important record. So it was just always there and always in the air.

When I first started playing, it was one of the albums that I would sit down to listen to with my dad. We’d just keep dropping the needle on certain spots of the Duane solos. It was that and Fillmore East and Elmore James. So it has just always been really present in my life and musical life.

SUSAN TEDESCHI: While I was growing up, Eric Clapton was my absolute favorite. I always thought he was the greatest guitar player out there, and you couldn’t convince me otherwise. I can remember my older brother going to see an Eric Clapton concert when I was too young to go, and I snuck into the back seat of his car. He discovered me pretty quickly, but I made him promise to buy me a T-shirt. So I listened to that album many, many times and really loved it.

TREY ANASTASIO: I started high school in the late ‘70’s and I was in lots of bands, and that album was ubiquitous in that era. The inside of the album package really stuck with me. I must have spent hundreds of hours just staring at all those photos in the inner sleeves. There’s a collage of photos from the recording session in the inner sleeve, and it all just looked so fun. I wanted to live in that world—all that gear and instruments and headphones, and Duane Allman looking so cool.

I always liked “Key to the Highway,” and, like many people in my generation, it took me a couple of years to even figure out that it was a cover. Then, it took me even more years to discover all the great versions that the original blues guys played before the Layla and Rainbow Concert versions.

Today, the Freddie King version, for me, is the high watermark. We didn’t have Spotify or computers back then so you really had to dig in to find the history of these songs. Now, it’s super easy, which is an amazing development.

The decision to play the album came about gradually, although it would come to feel inevitable.

DT: Trey and I had a conversation, when the whole collaboration first came up, about the tunes that I would play with his band. He also had a list of our original tunes that he was intrigued by that he wanted to play. Then, I mentioned, “Maybe we do a few Dominos tunes.” I was working on that set for a while and, when we were at Red Rocks, I had one more call with Trey to finalize what we would be playing during each other’s sets. A good friend of mine, Julie Mendelsohn, was there and she was like, “What are you going to do?” I mentioned what I was thinking about and, after I mentioned the Dominos tunes, a light bulb went off. She was like, “You should just do the whole fucking record.” It seemed like the most obvious, correct thing to do. I went to Sue, immediately, and floated it by her before I asked Trey about it. She was gung ho because that record holds a similar place for her, too.

TA: If it hadn’t been the two of them asking, then I never would have agreed to do it—no way. But Derek and Susan’s reverence for, and understanding of, this music—and their personal connection to it, much of which came from Derek’s amazing father who was sitting on the side of the stage—made it all feel perfect. I was, and still am, honored to be asked to join them. 

Anastasio, Tedeschi and Trucks had only crossed paths infrequently prior to the LOCKN’ gig.

ST: I met Trey’s dad at a Rangers game before I met him. I sat with his dad, who was adorable and sweet. He was just so proud of his son. It was awesome.

But I didn’t really know Trey very well. I had met him, kind of briefly, here and there, but I was always kind of more in the mix with Mike Gordon. He would always talk to me because our families were sort of rivals. His family owned Store 24 and mine owned Tedeschi Food Shops. We would always get into it and mess around with each other about that. [Laughs.]

Trey is so stinking nice and really talented. He’s so down to earth, and he’s a sweetheart of a person and a beautiful musician. He’s got quite a facility as a guitarist. He can play all the right notes and pull-offs and all the cool stuff, but he has his own style.

I find his stuff to be a little bit more theatrical. I grew up in the musical theater world and I noticed the way that he thinks conceptually. Even his songwriting has more of a musical theater approach. I don’t necessarily mean musically; I mean in the production, the concept, the presentation and things like that, which I think is interesting. I can just tell by his approach—the way that he thinks and the way he describes songs.

DT: Trey and I hadn’t really been around each other a lot. Their thing got so big that they were kind of in their own place. It wasn’t like we were doing a lot of festivals together; they were putting on shows for whole cities and communities. There was a whole world around their thing. [Laughs.]

He sat in with the Allman Brothers a few times. Then, he sat in with TTB at the Beacon. That’s when we really connected, and that’s what led to this more than anything else.

TA: There was an interesting line I hoped to cross with Derek at the Beacon. And, during “Mountain Jam” that night, I think it started to happen. In the early ‘90s, Phish had warmed up for Santana in Europe and around America. Carlos was incredibly kind and invited me up onstage every single night to jam with him. The two of us would face each other and do what I call “dogfighting,” where we were both playing sort of at the same time—not soloing, but a unified melding of ideas. I would sort of imitate Carlos, and that was a massive learning experience for me as a guitar player. It was a great honor to stand with such a master guitarist and dive into his soul like that together, finishing each other’s phrases. I’ll never forget it, and I am eternally grateful to Carlos for inviting me in.

After I played with Derek at the Beacon, I dreamed for quite some time about Derek and I revisiting the same sort of playing that I had done with Carlos. I love the sound of two guitars exploding together. If you think of how Keith Richards and Ron Wood play together, they embrace that sound—same with Malcolm and Angus Young. It’s really the rock-and-roll sound, the two-guitar sound. So I was deeply grateful, at the Beacon, that Derek and I were able to open that door a bit. It was an amazing night.

The first time I heard about Derek was sometime around ‘92 or ‘93. Phish used to play with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. They were incredibly fun shows. I remember being at some show somewhere, hanging out backstage, and everybody started talking about this young kid Derek Trucks who was crushing it on the guitar. He was barely a teenager at the time. I remember Bruce laughing backstage and saying, “Gawd!” or some Bruce type of comment. Then, all of a sudden, Derek started showing up everywhere. I was floored the first time that I heard him play—he has God-given talent.

I first heard about Susan sometime in the late ‘90s. She had a great album out called Just Won’t Burn, an amazing, super raw album that I still love. She was suddenly in the ether. Her name was ringing out around the scene. She emerged into consciousness.

photo credit: Stuart Levine

With Anastasio on board, Trucks turned to Doyle Bramhall II since the two guitarists had been part of Eric Clapton’s band when he interpreted much of the record in 2006 and 2007.

DT: When the idea came up, I reached out to Doyle to see if he was available. He was kind of the secret weapon. Having played some of that material with him and Eric, I knew that the stew was going to be right. Then, it was just a question of: Can we get to the heart of the matter?

DOYLE BRAMHALL II:  I was honored that Derek wanted me to be a part of it. I’ve never turned Derek down. He and Susan are family. It also made sense because we had done pretty much all the songs with Eric on the road. That came together in 2006. I had already done a couple of tours with Eric, and then he said that he wanted to play some songs from the Layla album. I mentioned to him that, if we were to do that, then Derek would be a great person to have because there were so many guitars on that record, so many overdubs. And, obviously, it made sense with the lineage. There was no other person in my mind who would be better at playing all the Duane parts with us.

I was already friends with Susan. We had made a record together [2005’s Hope and Desire], which is how I became acquainted with Derek’s playing. The song that really stood out to me was “You Got the Silver.” That’s the one where he played a solo on an acoustic. I think it was a dobro slide thing that he overdubbed. I heard it and then I was so fascinated by his playing and so moved that I went out and bought his records. It was very fascinating that he had such a wide range of influences—a lot of world music as well as the blues— and the fact that he could sound like a gospel singer the way he played slide was something I’d never heard from anybody. I’d heard people do that with a pedal steel, but never on a regular slide guitar.

Some of my highlights from the tour with Eric and Derek were “Keep on Growing,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” “I Am Yours” and “Anyday.” It was also really nice to play “Layla” with all the guitar parts that are actually on the record—to have those guitars weaving in and out of each other every night was pretty awesome to hear, particularly because Eric, Derek and I are players that don’t play things twice, other than the actual form of the song.

ST: Doyle Bramhall is a badass. That became clear right away when we worked on Hope and Desire. He just whips out the coolest guitar parts. It’s effortless for him. I adore his playing. I think he’s really gifted and knows how to add just what you need for a song—rhythmically, atmospherically and melodically. Then, when you need him to solo, he’ll pull off something really cool—in a Jimmy Vaughan way that’s a little more sparse and melodic and takes its time. But he always gets there and it’s always awesome. So when it comes to Doyle, I can’t say enough. I think he’s incredibly gifted—a beautiful songwriter, beautiful singer, amazing guitarist and dear friend for over 20 years. He’s incredible.

Over the years, Trucks has been somewhat reluctant to place himself in musical settings that draw too directly on his past, but this proved to be an exception.

DT: When it comes to hitting things on the nose, or being too literal with anything, I typically keep all that at arm’s length. I probably veer away from that more than most, but this one just felt different. After being in the Allman Brothers for 15 years and having done the Clapton thing, I felt like it was part of my karma. Once the idea was floating around, I almost felt like I needed to do it in a way. It’s so much fun to play, but I also really wanted to tackle it and circle back. It’s good to go right after your roots from time to time. The LOCKN’ prep yielded a new appreciation for some of the material.

ST: When I was growing up, my favorite song wasn’t necessarily “Layla,” even though it’s certainly beloved—and rightly so. Then, when I traveled with Derek to Europe for the tour with Eric—which was just incredible, by the way—my favorite song they did together was “I Am Yours.” It’s so moving and truly timeless, with the poetry of Nizami. That’s the one I kept returning to in my mind as we were preparing for this. It’s not in my key so, at LOCKN’, I had to leave most of the singing to Gabe [Dixon] and Mike [Mattison]. But I was still thrilled to be playing it.

TA: I always loved “Bell Bottom Blues” and I still do. It’s held up incredibly well over time, and I love it as much today as I did when I first heard it when I was young. It’s a beautiful song.

The looming date offered minimal opportunities for group rehearsal since everyone was touring with other projects.

DT: We were all on the road when this idea came up. We rehearsed as a band in our dressing rooms and leading into the show, but we only had one proper rehearsal with Trey at a spot in New York City. Then, when we got down to the festival, we had like a half-day rehearsal with Doyle and Trey. But I had a sense, when we all got together in New York, that everyone was prepared and had done their homework. It was feeling pretty good right out of the gate. And then once Doyle came in, we knew. It wasn’t something where we had a ton of time to get it together, but everyone did a lot of listening on their own.

DB: I flew in from Iceland. Basically, I kept listening to the stuff over and over so that I could get all of it back in my system because I hadn’t played it in a long time. But it’s not just about remembering; it’s about really feeling the stuff and having the original spirit in that music. So even though there is the mechanical aspect, I knew that the Tedeschi Trucks Band could help us deliver on all else. And if, for some reason, one of us were to forget some part of the arrangement, then you’re going to be carried along on the train.   

Given the nature of the double album and everyone’s association with it, there was some self-imposed pressure.

TA: In some ways, it’s all daunting. This is an iconic record that we’ve all heard a million times, so you have to find a healthy place to coexist with it. I’m such a massive fan of Derek and Susan. I truly love both of them and their astounding band. So that was my place of peaceful resolution and acceptance that I could find for playing the music on that record. 

DT: The tunes that we hadn’t really played were the ones that I saw as a challenge. “I Looked Away” is deceptively simple but there’s a lot of intricate guitar stuff on that tune. That was the first one where I wondered, “Are we going to able to make this thing feel right?” I also felt that way about “I Am Yours” and “Layla,” really. “Layla” is one you don’t really tackle too much just because it’s such a seminal tune. Those were the three that first occurred to me. But I was also like, “It’s good to challenge yourself and the band.” And, between me and Trey and Sue—and then after I reached out to Doyle—that’s when I felt we were going to be OK.

photo credit: Stuart Levine

The LOCKN’ performance soon unfolded in both anticipated and unexpected directions.

TA: I remember many ethereal moments but, honestly, it’s hard for me to nail down when they occurred—possibly in “Little Wing?” It’s hard to describe, but there’s a feeling of being unhinged from time that happens when you’re in the middle of that kind of playing, so it all becomes sort of a blur. It’s such a beautiful thing to be standing in the middle of that powerful wave of sound and to just completely lose yourself. Time sort of stands still. It’s honestly hard for me to pinpoint exactly when things were happening.

DT: A lot of it kind of played itself. Everybody learned their parts. You get in the room and then it kind of naturally does its thing. There were certain tunes where you wanted to hear Susan’s guitar in a certain place. There was some harmony stuff that me and Trey did where we both learned both parts. So it was just figuring out which one sounds best—like whose tone sounds best in what range. With the slide stuff, it was kind of obvious that it would be something I would take on. And some of the Eric leads just felt like they were in Trey’s wheelhouse. Then, Doyle could just slot into a situation and put the stuff where it needed to be.

We were pretty good at staying out of each other’s way and making space for whoever was playing when we needed to. So it was kind of the perfect scenario. At times, there were four guitars onstage and it never felt crowded. It takes the right amount of mutual respect to make sure that no one’s trying to outgun each other and no one’s in that mindset. Everyone’s just trying to make the thing great, play off of each other and inspire each other. That was a good place to be.

ST: I just loved being up there and getting to play those songs with them—really enjoying the moment and the pure love that we all had for that record was so beautiful and joyous.

DB: The great thing about the album is that there’s nothing that’s really thrown away. The parts are all melodic, and that’s why it’s so memorable. You can remember all the lines, all the guitar bits, everything. Even the solo bits are parts—everything is a part.

So when we performed it, there was always a melody running through the guitar parts. Even if it was a rhythm part or two rhythm parts, they would be doing two different things to complement each other and make the part. So you have two guitars doing the rhythm parts that are harmonizing and playing different inversions off of each other. You also have two other guitars, which are more of the lead guitars, that are harmonizing in their own way and making their parts as one thing.

Even though, at times, Susan and I would be playing the rhythm parts, I would hear what she was doing and, if she was playing the main chords of the song, I would play the part that’s on the record that accompanied it or different inversions of that. And, of course, we’d play random spontaneous fills over everything.

Over the course of the set, Anastasio occasionally expressed his enthusiasm in close proximity and in contrast to the more reserved Trucks.

ST: Their body language is so different. Trey is so animated, and that comes out of his confidence on stage. Derek is equally confident but he expresses it differently. He’s stoic and doesn’t move a lot, but he still demands attention just by what he’s playing. So it was kind of funny seeing that dynamic because Trey was right up in his face at times, unlike Derek who raises an eyebrow and then the whole band knows, “Oh, it’s time to break it down.”

DT: I liked it. To me, it felt like, “We’re working here.” I felt like we were digging down and we were in it together. It was an intense show in that way. I think everybody was pretty focused on making the thing happen. Sometimes it’s fun to be right there where you can watch what everyone is playing. It can make you feel like you’re more connected. There’s something about the physical proximity that just makes you feel more in the trenches together.

While he enjoyed the entire performance, Anastasio also had a clear highlight.

TA: I definitely had a favorite moment: Susan singing “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?” I’m standing there next to her, and she was just crushing it in every way, shape and form—killing it on the guitar, killing it on the vocal. Suddenly, I was just head over heels smitten. Susan was singing, “Have you ever loved a woman so much you tremble in pain?” And I’m like, “Hell, yes. Right now! Right this second!”

ST: While I was playing my solo, he was giving me googly eyes; it was so funny. And it was really sweet for him to do that and make me feel comfortable because here I am with like three of the best guitar players in the world and who am I? I’m just some chick singer. But they all made me feel very loved and they were very gracious. And they let me play, so that was cool. [Laughs.]

photo credit: Jay Blakesberg

The ensuing release Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’) came about by happenstance.

DT: The album was kind of a surprise. We decided to mix the first tune as a lockdown project, just to get out in the studio and work. Out of curiosity, we wanted to see what it would sound like. Then, after we pulled it up and listened to the first tune, there was a sense of: “Maybe we should mix all of it.”

I remember we got to “Little Wing” and I was thinking, “What an incredible cacophony of guitars and sounds.” Everybody was just digging in and no one was in each other’s way.

When we did the show, it felt like an incredible night with real magic and energy. But, sometimes, if you go back, it doesn’t necessarily hold up the way you thought it did. The fact that this one did, and then some, was kind of the revelation for me.

So the fact that the project exists is just from going in and listening on a whim. When we started, there wasn’t really a sense that we were going to make a record out of it.

At LOCKN’, the performance ended with “Layla,” the penultimate song on the original release. Then, as the lights came up, the original version of “Thorn Tree in the Garden,” the final tune on the record, emerged from the PA as exit music. Derek and Susan decided to record a new version of “Thorn Tree” to close out Layla Revisited.

ST: After they started mixing the record and we were all so excited about it, I reminded Derek: “We never did ‘Thorn Tree.’” He was like, “I know, I kind of feel like we should do it.” Then, he went and listened to it and he realized there’s like eight different guitar parts on there. It’s all these different guitars. One part was literally just one note that would be played like every other bar. It was really strange.

But he learned all of the parts, and all the different tunings, and he played them all. Then, I just went in and sang it, and it turned out so beautiful. He played one of the parts while I sang and then he layered all the other parts.

Honestly, it hadn’t always been my favorite tune on the record but, after we recorded it, I really had a new love for the song. I thought it was so heartbreaking and beautiful. I think the reason I didn’t love it growing up is because it wasn’t Eric singing; it’s Bobby Whitlock singing lead. He’s a fabulous singer and it’s great, but when you want to hear Eric, you want to hear Eric. Then, when we did it, I also had a new perspective on how it fit into the album.

DT: We hadn’t played it that night for the obvious reason, which is that after you get done playing “Layla,” it’s kind of hard to go back onstage and play an acoustic tune at a festival like that. It just felt like maybe it wasn’t the way to go out. Instead, I loved the idea of hearing the original performance on the PA as kind of a walkout for the crowd.

We’d been doing that at our shows for the last year before everything stopped. The first time I ever heard Kofi [Burbridge, the TTB keyboard player who passed away in 2019] on record, he was on this straight-ahead jazz album with Naked Jazz [Takes Off]. And on the first track of that record, he plays the most blazing flute solo of all the time. That’s what we play when our show is over.

There was just something nice at LOCKN’ about hearing Duane and Bobby Whitlock and Eric on “Thorn Tree.” So that’s why we did it that night. And then during the lockdown, when we were mixing the record, we had the idea that Sue and I would go in and record “Thorn Tree” in the studio. So that was one of the first things we did while the world was stopped.

Now that everything is back in motion, what might the future bring?

TA: Derek and Susan are two of the most lovely and righteous people that I’ve ever met in the music world. I love them both dearly. I don’t have enough words to describe how much joy it brings me to know that they are out there together playing music every night. I’m beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to play with them—I hope we can do it again soon.