In the 40-plus years that The Allman Brothers Band was active, the group accomplished just about anything that a rock band would hope to accomplish. Many millions of albums were sold. Hit singles (e.g. “Ramblin’ Man,” “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider,” “Whipping Post”) charted, many of which remain staples of classic rock radio today. Attendance records were set — they still hold the record for sell-outs at New York City’s Beacon Theatre — and festivals revolved around them. But arguably most important from a musician’s perspective, other artists were influenced by them, as the ABB was one of the first bands to popularize on-stage improvising.
After The Allman Brothers Bands disbanded in late 2014, drummer Butch Trucks wasted no time in putting new projects together. He formed Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band, which will be headlining B.B. Kings in Times Square on Aug. 1. The ensemble includes Vaylor Trucks, Damon Fowler, Berry Oakley Jr., Bruce Katz and Heather Gillis; Berry’s father was the original founding bass player of the ABB. For those unable to make it to B.B. Kings, Butch is also part of Les Brers — with fellow ABB members Jaimoe, Oteil Burbridge, Marc Quinones and Jack Peasron — whose U.S. fall tour will launch in early September.
Butch kindly spoke to Downtown about his past, present and future. The Freight Train can be followed online at www.butchtrucksandthefreighttrainband.com. Les Brers maintain an online home at wwww.lesbrersband.com. Butch himself keeps up on Facebook at @ButchTrucksOfficialPage.
The Allman Brothers Band is often cited as one of the foundational building blocks of the “jam band” scene and genre. Several generations later, which current bands or musicians, if any, do you see as best continuing the vibe and atmosphere of the ABB from the late 1960s?
Butch Trucks: I can think of no one currently in the field of “rock” that would fit the bill. I believe it is those jazz cats that did what we did from the opposite direction — we took rock and blues and added Miles [Davis], [John [Col]Trane, [Charlie] Parker, [Herbie] Hancock, etc. to the mix. They were jazz cats that added rock to their mix) it’s called fusion. A couple I have jammed with a lot are John Schofield and Bill Evans. I would say that they are continuing and improving on that vibe now.
What is your favorite venue to play? Is it the Beacon Theatre because of the repetition and familiarity? Or something else?
BT: The Beacon Theatre, without a doubt. How can you play 357 sellouts in a row one place if you didn’t love it? The acoustics were superb from the beginning and after we had played a dozen shows or so we had the sounds down to a science. Every seat could hear perfectly without it being too loud up front and not loud enough in the back — we used a three-part speaker system to keep it down up front and up in the back — plus, on stage everything always sounded perfect. We had the choice of doing a couple of nights at MSG, but doing 12 to 20 shows at the Beacon was so much better and so much more fun.
At what point in your career as a musician did you know that you were going to be okay in terms of earning a living? Or at least that you didn’t have to worry as much?
BT: I never recall worrying about money. Once Duane [Allman] assembled the group and we started playing, it truly was ALL about the music. In fact, I would say that money and fame are at the top of the reasons the music deteriorated. We, even from the beginning, always seemed to find enough bucks for the necessities — wine, cigs, etc. — but I never recall even talking about it. It was all about the music. And the girls, of course. Music first. ALWAYS!
For someone who hasn’t seen you live before outside of the ABB, what should be expected at your B.B. Kings show?
BT: I put together The Freight Train band to try and fill the void left by Allman Brothers splitting. Gregg [Allman] has always felt that we jammed too much and he is finally getting to do things the way he wants. He has a really good band and he is obviously loving what he is doing. I’ve heard him a couple of times and its very good, it’s just not coming from the ABB genre. [Nephew] Derek [Trucks] and Susan [Tedeschi] are doing what they want to do and it is also really good. Warren [Haynes] is doing everything just like he always has.
Nobody seems to be picking up where the ABB left off in October 2014. That is what I am trying to do. When the ABB stopped, we had many young people who were just getting into music the way the Allman Brothers played it. I’ve put this group together to play that music — we’ll usually play 5 or 6 ABB greatest jam tunes — but we also play many cover tunes that come from a similar direction, and then we push them even further into that direction. Plus a few months ago, we were finally able to rehearse and now we have several brand new songs in our set. What I’m loving is finishing a set thinking we had only played 15 minutes or so and seeing that we had just played over 1 1/2 hours.
Aside from this upcoming tour, what’s coming up for you? Any recording?
BT: During this upcoming tour I’m doing my favorite event of the year, Roots Rock Revival. This year I am bringing along the Freight Train plus we’ve added Colonel Bruce Hampton, Sister Sparrow and a few more surprises. Then we go straight from RRR to the Peach Fest, where I’m playing a set with the one other band I’m playing with now, Les Brers. Tour starts Jul. 21 and I get back home Aug. 16th. Really looking forward to this run.
You were ahead of the game in starting up Moogis. Are you involved with any start-ups or websites?
BT: No! I was ahead of the game, and when I see all of the streaming going on now, it’s hard not to let it get to me. But, at my age and with all of the successes I have had — Roots Rock Revival, Wanee and Peach Fests were all my concepts, plus a couple of failures, Moogis being one — I’m ready to simply keep playing music as long as it keeps moving me and my body can keep up with it.
Is there something you wish more people knew about Butch Trucks?
BT: Not really. I’d have to say that after doing interviews like this many more times than I could ever count. I doubt very seriously if I’ve left anything out.
Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished professionally but still hope to?
BT: Not one thing. It’s been a great life so far and simply being able to play with the amount of energy I can still bring with me with two very smoking bands is more than enough until I am finally ready to lay back and write memories.
When not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
BT: I am in Mas Les Baux, a 12th century French farmhouse in the Languedoc region of France. My wife, our Yorkie and I spend as much time here as is possible. I have a very large vegetable garden that I love to work in. I have my man cave where I am writing this right now — by the way, this room was 300 years old when Columbus landed. I have a set of drums behind me right now. My computer is in front of me and then the room has three steps down to the area where I just this morning finished building and filling six book shelves and filling them with my collection. I am quite the bibliophile ad most of them are leather-bound and they are all books I have read or intended to read. I also have a 7.1 Klipsch Surround sound system with 80” monitor. Have all my gold and platinum records on the walls and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy and the statue from my introduction into the Hall Of Fame in here.
I felt quite some time ago that the U.S. was not on a very good course and maybe I should have a back door out. At this point with Trump doing what he is doing, I am very glad I did this. I will retire here.
Finally, Butch, any last words for the kids?
BT: The best advice I can give anyone, especially a young person, is if you think you want to play music, then do it. If like me it’s drums, get a pair of sticks and a practice pad and learn your rudiments. After some time, you’re developing what talent you may have into the skill you will need, then get a set and practice. Practice until you think you are ready to play, then find other players that have the same approach to music you have, not necessarily from the same background. Then start playing music.
Play it for yourself. Music, when it’s music, is a very selfish thing. Play to please yourself. Find people to play with that tell the same way and then develop a language with them so that you can communicate. Once you reach that point where it’s talking to you, then find an audience to pay for it. Don’t try and entertain that audience. Play what turns you on. If they “get it,” then they will add their energy to what you are doing and great things can happen. Of course, if you simply want to be an entertainer — rock star — then do whatever you want to get the crowd on its feet. That’s cool but it’s not music. It’s entertainment.