Susan Tedeschi: a singer at a crossroad

By Gene Myers

(I interviewed Susan right after “Hope and Desire” came out. Those who thought it a misstep, might also see her newest album, “Back to the River” as course correction. But to the singer, it all made sense.)

On stage her powerhouse vocals burst forth only to be matched in intensity by her fiery guitar solos. Her songs make you want to dance, testify, or if nothing else, get out of her way. Off stage, she seems humble and unassuming. Her voice is quiet and dare I say it, sweet.

To some, this might seem like a contradiction. Some might think that a middle class, suburban white girl singing the blues like she’s got the grit from a South Chicago dive bar in her lungs would also be a contradiction. But the Massachusetts native is just doing what comes naturally.

“My mom said I sang in the crib before I ever spoke,” said Tedeschi. “I have been singing my whole life.”

The album “Hope and Desire,” featuring cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child,” The Rolling Stones’ “You Got the Silver” and a beautiful version of “Follow” made famous almost 40 years ago by Richie Havens, seemed like a misstep to those who preferred her guitar-slinger blues.

But to a singer, the choice made sense.

“I don’t notice any difference because this is just the way I sing,” said Tedeschi. “If I sing a blues record then people think its blues, and on this one, it’s soul sounding. I just sing it the way that I sing it, and if that comes off as soul then thats great. It’s a change in people’s perception of me. But I don’t think that it’s different from me. Its not a stretch because I sang all styles of music growing up.”

A lot of people are also surprised that she didn’t play guitar on the album.

“I have really only been playing guitar for 10 years. So its pretty wild that all of the sudden people think that I am a guitar player first when I have been a singer my whole life,” Tedeschi said.

Although she has been singing her whole life, Tedeschi conceeds that it was blues music that set her soul on fire. She already graduated from Berklee College of Music by the time she found her calling.

“I was turned on to a Magic Sam record “West Side Soul” and it ruined me. All of the sudden I was turned on to all these blues artists. It really hit me. It seemed like something I could do. I could visualize it,” said Tedeschi. “T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, Otis Rush, Freddy King, Johnny Guitar Watson All of these people changed my outlook on music. I just wanted to be like one of those Chicago guys, just sing really great and have a great guitar style.”

It was the energy level of the music, the chords, and the way they sang that captured her attention. And there was something else that this New Englander related to.

“I loved Gospel music and it was the closest thing that I had heard to Gospel music — also, because it told a story. I was raised on Bob Dylan and The Beatles, so I am used to hearing a story. But I wanted to hear soul with energy. So when I heard them I was blown away. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

But that brings us back to the sound of “Hope and Desire”: soul music.

“I think this (album) just enhances the idea that I am a singer. The label really wanted to do a record with great songs,” Tedeschi said.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in blues, Bob Dylan, Chicago blues, Freddy King, Gatemouth Brown, interview, Johnny Guitar Watson, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, singers, singing, Susan Tedeschi, T-Bone Walker, The Beatles, West Side Soul and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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