Virginia's LOCKN’ Festival is famous for putting together one-of-a-kind collaborations. In 2019, that included Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio joining the Tedeschi Trucks Band to perform Derek and the Dominos’ only studio album – 1970’s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – in its entirety.
Frequent TTB collaborator Doyle Bramhall II, who has played with Eric Clapton off and on for 20 years, also joined the band. The performance ended up being so strong that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi decided to release it as an album, Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN'), which concludes with an acoustic studio version of Thorn Tree in the Garden, performed as a duet by Tedeschi and Trucks. It was the only song they didn’t perform on stage.
“We skipped the song because we were playing the record in order, and I couldn't imagine following the massive crescendo of Layla with an acoustic guitar and the least-known tune on the record,” says Trucks with a laugh.
“When we decided to release this thing, it just seemed right to add it – and it’s such an interesting tune; the tuning and the feel are great, and there are a few bars of weird harmonic overdubs. And Sue just sang her ass off. It was one of the first things we did after not working for a while, so her voice is completely rested, and there's something really, really beautiful about it.”
Thorn Tree wraps up the album beautifully, but the focus of the disc remains the blistering electric guitar interplay between Trucks, Anastasio and Bramhall. The performance was so strong that it jumped to the front of TTB’s archival pile, ahead of the 2015 performance of Mad Dogs & Englishmen [Joe Cocker’s 1970 live album] the band did with Leon Russell and other survivors of the original tour.
Layla has always had a special resonance for Trucks; he was actually named after the band – and the album was propelled by guitar greats Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, who have loomed large in his life and career. Trucks’ uncle, Butch Trucks, was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, with whom Derek played from 1999 to 2014. He also toured the world with Clapton in 2006 and 2007.
“By the time I started playing guitar, the sound of Duane Allman’s slide was almost an obsession,” Trucks says. “My dad would play Layla for me and my brother to fall asleep to and further sear it into my DNA.”
A lot of us were expecting Mad Dogs & Englishmen to come out, but you surprised us with Layla Revisited. What went into that?
“At the beginning of the lockdown, we had rare time in our studio. We had two projects we've been wanting to get to work on: the Mad Dogs show with Leon and this Layla project.
“We really just started working to see what they sounded like, if they held up. We spent two or three weeks finishing Mad Dogs, even getting the vinyl acetates cut.
“Then we pulled up the Layla stuff and immediately the sound was even more focused; we had honed in our recording more and the sound was really incredible, so we just dug into it. It was a good place to put our energy during a time when there was nothing happening live. The further we dug into it, the more we realized there's some pretty extraordinary stuff on there.”
Once it was decided that you were going to play with Trey, who came up with the idea of playing Layla?
“We had one call early on, and I had the idea of leaning into a handful of Dominos tunes. We were at Red Rocks and I was about to call Trey back to discuss this. I mentioned some of the tunes we were thinking about to my friend Julie, and she said, ‘You should just do the whole fuckin' record.’
“That was immediately the most obviously correct thing in the world. [Laughs] As soon as I mentioned it, Trey talked about how important that record was to him and that he's never learned all those tunes and he’d love to.
“There's so many connections that we all have to that record – including that it was released on the day that Sue was born – but for me, it goes right back to the very genesis of even playing music and my family.
“Since the Allman Brothers Band ended, this almost felt like one undone thing. It didn’t even fully hit me how important that record was to what I do until we really got into it.”
You were named after the band! Was that because the album was so important to your parents?
“Basically. The Duane connection made it more mythical because it connected my dad to Eric and a whole other musical world that he loved but didn’t have a direct connection to. Like, Eric's connected to Hendrix, who my dad saw and loved.
“One of the first images I remember as a kid is Layla, along with a BB King record, At Fillmore East and a Joni Mitchell record leaning up against the peach crates that held their records. My parents had a daughter named Jessica after the song; she was born before me but didn't make it, because she had a rare genetic disorder. The music is my dad's religion.”
Once you decided to do this, did you immediately hone in on the Duane parts? Was there a straight split of Trey playing Eric and you playing Duane?
“No. Being slightly unsure of how Trey worked, I learned all the guitar parts myself, just so I could bob and weave, but we didn’t really discuss it. When we got to the first rehearsal, it turned out Trey had done the same thing!”
That’s great. You were like middle linebackers who know every defensive assignment.
“Yeah – it's a game changer when somebody can take on the different parts. A lot of times, people show up having done the bare minimum, but everyone drilled down with this project. Certainly Trey did his homework and then some. It made the thing so much more fun because once you have the material locked in, you can move on to the next phase: making it your own thing and deviating from the script.
“It's one thing to branch off and improvise if you don't know the stuff, but it's a totally different thing if you know what the variation means. And Doyle also knew the songs inside out after playing with Eric for so long, and when his parts fell in, it was perfect.
“We had one day of rehearsal before Doyle arrived and it felt good, but Layla seemed a little undercooked next to the other tunes, but as soon as he took that role, it was off to the races. He was the ringer.”
Do you anticipate working with Trey again in the future?
“I would imagine so because it was so much fun, but when a one-off like this goes so well, there's a part of me that wants to just let it live in that space. [Laughs] Like, we talked about redoing the Mad Dogs thing, but there was something that felt so special about it that I didn't want to dilute it at all.
“It’s kind of the same with this. There’s something beautiful and powerful about something actually existing once... but I'm sure we'll end up playing together again somehow.”
Have you discussed this project with Eric?
“No. We stay in contact and I thought about bringing it up to him, but I felt like I would just leave it alone. Maybe he’ll hear it and enjoy it. [Laughs]”
You’ve been recording a new album. What is the timing looking like?
“I have a feeling it'll be early next year. I don't know exactly how it's gonna play out, but it feels more like it's going to be a project in four parts, because we ended up with so much material.
“It was rejuvenating for everyone to not have a clock ticking. It was a luxury to be able to spend that much time writing and recording and just creating without knowing we have to be on the road in three or four days. Having the time to create for the first time was the one huge upside of not touring. No one has that luxury these days.
“The days when there was enough money that you could take six months off and make a record just don't exist in our world. This was the first time we've ever been able to just be creative in the studio together and not worry about what it was going to be until we get to the end.”
That’s also made possible because you have a studio in your backyard, right?
“Absolutely. We certainly wouldn't have been able to pony up cash for all that studio time. Before the end of the year, we'll be spending all of our free time finishing that up and figuring out the best way to present it, but it's exciting.
“Everyone was really creative, there’s a lot of inspired writing and it's a different feel and different sound and it feels like a new band – which it is! It's the first real thing we've done, since Kofi [Burbridge, keyboardist] passed and JJ [Johnson, drums] and Tim [Lefebvre, bass] left, so it's a new feeling.
“It would be disingenuous to try to keep the sound the same; you have to change and grow and everyone's been really open to that. So that's been refreshing and rejuvenating.”
- Tedeschi Trucks Band's Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN') is out now via Swamp Family Music LLC.