Beacon and Beyond: Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks
The Allman Brothers Band currently is ensconced in New York City, completing its annual Beacon Theater run. This is an active time for the Brothers as they are performing a batch of new songs and are in the midst of recording a studio album, their first since 1994’s Where It All Begins. In addition, the group is planning to release an archival performance recorded a month prior to the band’s legendary Fillmore East shows.
Founding members Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks have plenty more on their plates as well. Butch is focussing on signing bands and preparing an IPO for Flying Frog Records (while digging his label’s new web site). Gregg is enthusiastic about his new nine piece Gregg Allman & Friends band (the horn section has joined the Brothers on stage for a few nights at the Beacon). Then in June, the ABB will take to the road one again for a summer tour that will include some intimate theater gigs prior to the opening of the big sheds.
The following article arranges separate interviews with Gregg and Butch, under common topics to providing their individual perspectives on a range of subjects.
THE BEACON RUN
Have the Beacon Theatre shows become an annual high point for the band?
GA- I don’t know about the high point’ because it’s so cold (laughs). But, it’s definitely a part of the year that we definitely look forward to. Usually it’s cold and everybody is bored and winds up in the Caribbean if they got enough dough. Or, you wind up in the studio, which is what we’re doing now.
BT- It’s always like a vacation, I love it, I absolutely love it, especially the last couple of years. We’re just having a ball. I just love coming up here and doing this, coming off six months of not playing, so you really got a lot in you and you want to get it out. It’s a great, great place to do it. The vibes is so good. People come from all over the country and everybody’s in a great frame of mind. It’s a really good situation for us where we haven't been playing for six months so we’re ready to play and you have people who have been getting ready about as long as we have.
The first two or three nights are rough because I haven’t really played in about six months so I got little baby bottom hands and the first couple of nights I get huge blisters all over my hands. The second and third nights are pure hell, I just have to grit my teeth. I’m swinging at cymbals and drums with hands that feel like they’re raw hamburger meat. But now, a few shows in, they’ve finally reached the point where they’re tough.
You put it all together and it’s just something that’s really, really nice. It’s a really good tradition that I hope we can keep doing for a long time.
NEW SONGS AND RECORDING SESSIONS
GA- We started rehearsing two or three nights ago. It’s going real good so far. I got here a little early so that [Warren] Haynes and I could write some stuff together. We’ve got some real nice new songs. It’s a pretty good array. Matter of fact, ...aw, hell…we’re almost through with a whole album. . It feels real good being in there and writing and arranging sober, like the old days. It’s been a long time.
So, your sobriety is going well?
GA- Oh, yeah. It’s almost like I’ve forgotten about it. I mean, the further I get away from it, the further it gets away from me.
What kind of material are you and Warren writing together?
GA- It’s Allman Brother-y type stuff. (laughs) Allman Brother-y, boy, that’s a mouthful, ain’t it. Now, I’m not saying it’s the same song, second verse. There’s some kicking stuff in there. We’ve got six songs done so far. There are a couple of real good blues songs in there, some real funky songs and a couple of nice, slow heartbreakers. That’s what we have so far, We’ll probably write two or three more.
BT- I think it’s the best stuff we’ve done since Duane Allman died. We got six tracks done in five days and if you have any idea what that meantOver the past few years it would take five or six days to learn one song. To go in and actually do six tracks in five days, we kept looking at each other, “Can this be happening?”
We did our first album start-to-finish in two weeks but since then we’ve gotten more and more into playing around in the studio. It’s finally got back to where we started where we walk in and we sit down and just play the song. Once you play the song and everybody plays it well then it’s time to stop. It reached the point where on Win Lose Or Draw we spent eight months making that damn record just redoing and redoing it. If there was the least tiny little mistake we’d do it again and do it again. The best cuts we threw in the garbage can, because the cuts that had all the feel in them were way at the beginning and by the time we finally got around to getting done it was mistake-free but it was also feel-free. It had no soul to it, so we ended up with an album that was very clean and medicinal. In rock and roll there can be a mistake or two, it's the feel you’re after, it’s the intensity. And I think this is the first time in thirty years that we’ve gotten back to that.
What are your favorite songs out of the new batch?
BT- There’s a new ballad believe it or that Gregg is singing, it’s called “Old Before My time.” It’s a gorgeous song. It’s not my favorite to play but it may be my favorite song and it just might have the “Melissa” impact. We also have this up-tempo instrumental, this jazzy thing which we don't even have a title for yet. It definitely could be a classic and that’s a lot of fun for me because that’s about as on-the-edge in terms of my playing as I can get. It pushes me to the limit. I have to play everything I know to play it. We’re still trying to hunt for a title. I came up with “Bare in Mind” and Warren came back and said, “Better yet, how about Barren Mind?’” I said, “Yes, we can subtitle it George Bush.” [Laughs] I don’t know, we haven’t decided. I don’t think it will be either of those but it’ll be something.
When do you think it will be released?
BT- My guess is that it will be February of next year, just before we come back to the Beacon.
THE RETURN OF WARREN HAYNES
What has Warren Haynes’ renewed participation meant to the band?
BT- Warren is a guy that’s at the top of his game right now. He’s just on fire with creativity and life and energy. I’ve never seen anybody work so hard in my life. He just plays 24 hours a day, he just doesn’t stop. He’s writing, he’s playing. It’s wonderful having him back in the band.
I think he’s helped a lot in getting Gregg back on track. He’s pulled out a lot of the ideas that have been sleeping in Gregg for a while. The two of them have gotten together and that’s where all this wonderful new material is coming from. Warren will sit down with Gregg who will have an idea that he doesn’t know how to finish and they’ll finish it. It’s just been great. If you’ve been to any of the shows you can feel it. It’s great having him back.
GA- He’s a good ol’ homeboy. I really love Warren, I really do. I’m so glad that he came back to the band. I’m glad that Dickey (Betts) brought him to us. [Laughs]
A NEW VAULT RELEASE
Along with the current studio effort, you have another archival release on the way?
BT- It’s finished and it should be out within the next few weeks, Live at American University. We recorded it about a month before the Fillmore East. Historically, it’s very cool and this is an excellent recording that is not in circulation.
This is something that we’re going to be doing every year now, a Dicks Picks type of thing. We found hundreds of hours of old recordings, outtakes from the studio and Universal has hundreds of multi-track tapes and live recordings that belong to us that we're in the process of getting back. Every year we’re going to choose from the best of the old stuff and release a CD directly to the fans through the web site and the Peach Corps for six months before it goes the record stores.
Prior to hearing it, did you have a distinct memory of that show?
BT- No. [Laughs] You have to understand we were playing 250 shows a year back then. They were all just fucking great, there was something really wonderful going on those two years, and this documents it. You can hear the intensity. Things are a little bit looser, maybe not quite as tight as they would be for the Fillmore recordings, but there was a lot of energy.
The “Whipping Post” on it is just incredible. In fact we’d reached a point about three years ago where the “Whipping Posts” were just kind of dying. Then Oteil was down at my house in Palm Beach and I had just received the CD of this show so I could get an idea of what it sounded like. I put it on and Oteil and I were listening to it. When “Whipping Post” came on we looked at each other and our eyes got huge and we said, “We’ve been playing that fucking thing too slow.” [Laughs] It was just hauling ass, moving and really on fire. Somehow we had started slowing it down and we had gotten to the point where it wasn’t going anywhere, it was getting ponderous. So when we went out the next year, it sped back up again and we’re having fun playing it again.
GREGG’S HORN PLAYERS AND A BEACON ANECDOTE
In addition to the ABB tour what else do you have on the horizon?
GA- I’m going to Europe this summer with my band.
Tell us about Gregg Allman & Friends, many people aren’t familiar with that crew of players.
GA- You’ll meet some of my horn players at the Beacon, actually. They’re going to play a couple of nights. Baritone sax, tenor sax and trumpet. I just got them, I only did one tour with them. They’re good and they’ll come and play two or three songs with the Allman Brothers Band. But, you got to hear my new band, it’s a nine piece band. It’s a kick in the ass, man.
Butch, there have been a number of guests at the Beacon shows. On Monday night both Gregg’s horn section and the Dickinson brothers sat in. What did you think of those shows from your perspective?
BT- We had a wonderful time. We did "Been Loving You Too Long” and “Southbound” with the horns and during the second set they came back and we did “Can’t Turn You Loose.” Then we were going to do a version of “Please call Home” with the horns and I started the song off wrong. It’s supposed to be a 4/4 song and I started it off in 6/8 and it was a clusterfuck. In the past Gregg would get so mad about it but last night he was laughing and joking. Except for a couple of parts in the tune, a couple of kicks that are 4/4 kicks you can’t play in 6/8, he really pulled it off. It sounded okay.
When we finished the set Gregg was joking and came up to me and said, “Boy, you’re going to owe us for a long time on that one.” I was laughing and said “I know it, believe me.” As soon as I started it off I went, “Oh, oh,” and I tried to kick it back into where it should be but by then Jaimoe and Derek were so locked into the 6/8 there was no going back. So we just had to plow through it. Then we followed that with one of the best “Mountain Jams” I can recall.
FLYING FROG, SCI-FI, DYLAN AND THE ZONE
Butch, you mentioned that you haven’t played that much over the past six months. Obviously much of your focus has been on your label, Flying Frog Records. What’s new and in the works?
BT- Well we’ve signed a new band, Bluestring, and we should have a new release from them in the fall. Within the next two to three months I also want to sign three new acts. That’s my goal, to get three new acts and to have three to four new releases by the end of this year.
We’re also real close to announcing our IPO. We’ve spent three years working our butts off coming up with a business model so that every artist who gets involved with Flying Frog will never regret it and never get screwed. By the same token we don’t want to take investors’ money and screw them, so we’re putting together a business model that can work. The prospectus has to be precise, it has to say exactly what we’re going to do and we have to do what it says. So that’s where I’ve been putting my focus. I think we’ll be ready to go within the month and we’ll have an announcement about the symbol and the exchange where it can be bought, so that anyone who wants to get involved can do so.
You’re also real proud of your revamped web site. What don’t you talk about that?
BT- Oh man, rather than talk, how about putting a pointer right here in the interview to Flying Frog Records.com. I don’t have to talk about it everybody can just look it. I’ll let it speak for itself, it does it quite eloquently. It’s a place for people to go more than once a day and before I got this web site there was no point in going more than one a year. Now there are seldom fewer than 100 people on the site. I’m loving it. You have a great web site too with a lot of information, a lot going on. I’m so glad that I finally have one.
Gregg, take us through a typical day when you’re at home.
GA-Hmm. I just got me a new motorcycle, so you know what I’ve been doing. It’s a Harley-Davidson, but I just had them build me an extra big one. It’s a 113-incher. They’re usually 88 inches. It’s real nice. It had these big cams put in and everything. I mean, this thing is just two CC’s from being illegal.
So you’re still riding?
GA-Oh, yeah, I got three of them and my wife’s got one. They’re fun, especially if you live out in the country. I see these guys in New York City who have them and think, "God, where the hell do you ever go?" First of all it’s freezing. And I guess they ride in the middle of the night, when the cabbies aren’t having races down the street.
Does riding give you a similar feeling to playing?
GA-It gives me what booze used to give me, to be honest. It does. It’s a kind of an escape. It will kill you, but it’s not as harmful. Booze will kill you real slow. But, I’m real careful.
In terms of that feeling you get while performing, what do you think about when you’re on-stage?
GA- I’m thinking about exactly what I’m doing, because it might be the last time I get to do it. I’ve always thought about what I’m doing right in the moment. I’m just totally oblivious to everything else.
You’re talking about getting in "the zone" – the way athletes do.
GA- Oh, yeah. There’s one where the audience leaves, there’s one where the whole band leaves. It feels like you leave your body, almost, and everything goes on some kind of incredible automatic pilot. I know that sounds real cosmic, [Laughing] but that’s what music does to some people.
When we finally unravel all of the secrets of music it will be like unlocking the key to time travel.
GA- [Laughing] Let’s not get too carried away with this conversation. Have you seen that movie yet, The Time Machine? I love that kind of stuff. I’m dying to see that movie. I’m a Trekkie, and I like to watch the Sci-fi channel.
Wow, a Trekkie. I’ll bet most people didn’t know that you’re a sci-fi geek.
GA- I like the old stuff. What I really like is “The Outer Limits." Those shows are just as heavy as "The Twilight Zone.”
In terms of you free time are you listening to any new music?
GA- Yeah, I’ve been listening to some Matchbox Twenty. (laughs) Some of it’s good. My wife got me a tape the other day, the Barenaked Ladies. I dig them. I mean, wow, times have changed in music. And, you know, that new Dylan album, I’ve heard bits and pieces of that.
What do you think about Dylan?
GA- He keeps coming, don’t he? I don’t know him personally, never met the man. Dickey played on a couple of his records, I think. Seems like I heard that, anyway. [Laughs]
But, I take it you’re a fan of his music?
GA- Oh man, he’s written classics. He’s been around for so long. He’s just a musical icon to this whole country. I mean, jeez. Most of them British boys came over hear to see Bob Dylan, anyway, I tell ya. They all dressed like him. [Laughs].
A BABY BROTHER (THE ROAD GOES ON)
Butch, have you met your grand-nephew yet? [Butch’s nephew, Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi, recently welcomed the birth of their son, Charles]
BT- Yes in fact he’s here in town. We just had a little family reunion with my aunt, my father’s sister. My father came up for the weekend with my brother, Derek’s dad, and about nine of us in the Trucks clan jumped in the car and went over to see her. We had lunch and a family reunion and Susan had the baby with her so everybody was oohing and aahing. He’s cute. He’s definitely a Trucks kid. Towheaded and all the guys in our family have little BBs behind our ears and he’s got one too, so he’s been certified as a Trucks.
Since Susan is up here do you think she’ll come out and sing with the band?
BT- Noooo, I don’t think so. She just had a baby a week ago, bro (laughs) I think it’s amazing that she’s up here as it is.