Wanee and Warcraft: A Conversation with Butch Trucks
The upcoming Wanee Festival in Live Oak, Florida on April 14-15 will be the Allman Brothers Bands first appearance after their annual Beacon run. In the days just prior to Wannee, drumming legend Butch Trucks, took some time to speak with jambands.com from his South Florida office about the state of the band today, guest possibilities for the upcoming Wanee Festival, how to take over an apartment building, and why hes not teaching high school math.
Trucks has that drawl and that dry Southern humor that makes people from the South the greatest storytellers on Earth. He had plenty of stories to share, and all I had to do was sit back and listen while the interview became far more interesting than my questions could make it. A lot has happened, obviously, since Duane moved in with him in March of 1969, and Trucks seemed to touch on all of it, the good and the bad, with grace, candor, and the ability to laugh at it all this far down the road.
TH: So Im reading wikipedia.com, and rumor has it youre a Level 60 Human Paladin on World of Warcraft
BT: Im actually looking at him right now. His name is Ryd, on Bleeding Hollow. I just got some Judgment Armor we were doing Molten Core last night. Its one of the things that keeps me sane. One of the problems about touring is youve got all damn day long with nothing to do, and I think its one reason that so many artists wind up being alcoholics or drug addicts, or watching soap operas. Theres not a whole lot to do sitting around a hotel room all day long. Ive just gotten fanatic about playing these damn games. It keeps me occupied. Its really fascinating. I did about five or six years on EverQuest and had several high-level, including a level 70 Cleric, and always, I dont believe in buying a damn character, its kind of dumb.
To me, the fun is in building the character. I also have a Level 60 Priest. I have two accounts, and two computers. Right now, I just logged on my priest, and Im about to head over to Silithus and do a bunch of quests that my Paladin can do by himself, but it takes him a long time. He has to do a lot of sitting and drinking mana water til he can go again. If I have my priest sitting around and keeping him healed then everything goes a lot faster. Yeah, Wikipedia, somebody told me about that, this damn online encyclopedia. I went and read that, and I read something about how I like to read and study philosophy and literature and I have a Level 60 Paladin in World of Warcraft. There are more important things in my life, but hey, whatever turns them on.
TH: Six of the sixteen bands at Wanee have members of the Allman Brothers. I dont think franchise is the right word, but do you take pride in the fact that the Allman Brothers keep having, for lack of a better term, band babies?
BT: Absolutely. Its definitely not a franchise, but weve been around a while. The first band thats gonna play is my oldest sons, Vaylors, hes the little kid on the cover of Brothers and Sisters, its his band. Theyre playing on the side stage and his band is opening at 3:45 on Friday afternoon on the side stage and Im hoping to be there in time to catch it. Theres all the people everybody knows about, Derek and Oteil and Warren and their bands. It would be fun to put Frogwings back together, but thats not possible for the near future.
TH: Who will you have onstage with you at Wanee and who will you play onstage with?
BT: I just dont know. I really dont know. I figure Friday night is just gonna be mostly us. Saturday, Derek has to leave to go to England and start rehearsals with Clapton. Hes doing rehearsals with Clapton on this European tour and touring with him this summer. Dereks in there for Friday night, but hes leaving on Saturday and Jack Pearsons going to join us, so I see Saturday as more of a grab anyone who is there for the two days and get them all on stage and lets just have some damn fun. Well see who it is. Im sure Medeski will get up and play for a little bit, and I think Robert Randolphs around, and if Robert Randolphs around you can count on him playing. Well see whos still around on Saturday night, and as far as the two days, when the other bands are playing, when the urge gets you, you just get up and play. Thats whats so much fun about these kinds of things, theyre for the most part spontaneous. You just go around, listen, and join in when you feel like it. *TH: What did you think of the 2006 Beacon run? *
BT: I think its the most unbelievable music Ive ever been involved in. I cannot explain what happened. I cant. It was 14 sellout shows and every single night it was like we were men possessed. It wasfor years, Im used to getting up and maybe one out of five shows things really click and you kind of get in that space where you cant make a mistake that hittin the note, whatever people want to call it. But this year it was every damn night. Ive never played with that much power, Ive never had that much fun. Thats the most fun Ive ever had with my clothes on. I have no explanation for it. I dont know what happened, but I sure hope it keeps up. Whatever it was, I sure as hell hope it keeps up. As long as it does, Im gonna keep playing. When it doesnt do that anymore, or at all, thats when Im gonna quit, but man, right now, its not only fun, but its the most fun Ive ever had. *TH: Widespread Panic, R.E.M., Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers Band, and the list goes on. What makes Georgia such fertile musical soil? *
BT: I really dont know, and we didnt really come from Georgia, thats just where we moved to. We actually put the band together in Jacksonville, Florida. We moved everything up to Georgia because thats where our record company was, where our manager was, all that kind of stuff. Back then, the general consensus was, if you wanted to make it, you had to go to L.A. or New York, and we had friends, one good example was (Blues Image), they were friends of ours out of Miami, lost all their Southern roots and turned into this California band that was a one-hit wonder.
We had all been in bands, I think this is the most important thing, is that wed all been in bands where wed had record companies or producers or people telling us play this music. One of my favorite lines was I had this record producer told us this one time Do all this stuff right here and in six months Ill have you fartin through silk. We hated the music, it just really sucked. We just really didnt like the stuff. Not only were we not farting through silk, we wouldnt even play the stuff live, it was embarrassing. It was just terrible stuff. Once we started the Allman Brothers the music was just so profound, it was so moving. We knew that we had found something really special. The music became absolutely the focal point of our lives. Success, money, all of that stuff, that just, all of a sudden, big deal. Money aint gonna buy you those feelings.
We were in a real fight with Atlantic Records in the beginning because they wanted us to get Gregg out from behind the organ, and stick a salami down his pants and let him jump around the stage like Robert Plant. They made no bones about it. They said, You know if you guys just gonna stand there on the stage and play music youre not gonna be successful. And we said, We dont care. And were not going to change it, and this is what were going to do, and if you dont like it, dont put the record out. But were going to keep playing it this way. And thats what we did.
The success that came along surprised the hell out of everybody, most of all us. We never expected it. I think what happened, when we finally started falling apart, was when we got caught up in the success crap and stopped paying attention to the music. In the mid-70s, 73-75, we were the number one band in the country and got caught up in that damn rock and roll fantasy of everybody telling you how great you are. We kind of lost our sense of ourselves, our sense of what it was all about.
When we split up in 1976 we were the number one band in the country, but it was just miserable. We were having a miserable time, we didnt like each other, we didnt like the music, nothing. We had lost our focus. The focus was the music. When we put this thing together back in 1989 it was with the caveat that this is about music, and as soon as we get away from that its time to quit. What we just did at the Beacon was absolute proof that were still focused on the music.
Were lucky enough to make a good living at it were not making anywhere near the money we did in the 70s. We were doing stadium tours back then, selling out MSG five nights in a row, that kind of crap. But most of that wound up going up somebodys nose, or wound up going upwell, never mind. Thats another story. But anyway, it is the music. I dont think that well ever be able to touch that original band with Duane and Berry for originality. That was the band that created it all. But as far as musicality, as far as being able to play, finding new vistas and new places to go, Ive never been in a band like this one. Its just awesome. Im having the time of my life.
We were just at the Beacon and you get onstage three hours a night, and I feel like a 20-year-old, and its 3:00 A.M. before I can calm down enough to get to sleep, and those 21 hours in between the shows, Im aching from head to foot because of arthritis in my right knee from 37 years of playing, and arthritis in my right elbow from 37 years of playing, but, some reason after the first song you dont feel it. Everything is so much fun. And you just put up with the pain in between the shows.
TH: What did it mean to form an interracial band in the Deep South in 1969?
BT: You know something, its not something anybody even thought of. The only thing I can say, the only time it was brought to our attention, was one time in South Alabama and we stopped for breakfast. The sheriff was there, and the sheriffs wife happened to be our waitress, and we spent the next three days in jail. Thats what triggered it. The sheriffs wife refused to serve us, and I was watching it go down, she just kept going to her husband and saying You got to do something about this. I aint gonna serve no nigger. Its not something that we ever thought about. Its people tell us. It was us. It was just guys, you know. We had to deal with some of that kind of bullshit, but we just dealt with it. I dont know, its just part of our history now. As far as what it meant, I guess it meant that we had to put up with that kind of stupidity on occasion. But it was rare, and as far as we were concerned, it wasnt part of our thinking. We werent an interracial band. We were just six guys playing music. *TH: In previous interviews, youve referred to the magic years of touring as 20-year-olds going out with this religion. What did you mean by that? *
BT: That was exactly it. Duane Allman was very much like a messianic type of character. I can still remember the day if I hadnt met Duane Allman Id probably be a damn math teacher in high school somewhere. Im not kidding. I can still remember the day that he reached down inside of me and flicked a switch and got me to stop apologizing and start playing. The music, for me it was a great deal like going to church. I grew up a Southern Baptist and bought all that dogma and all that crap for the first eighteen years of my life. They talk about religious experiences, I have them all the time as a musician, and I never had one as a Southern Baptist. This experience of being above yourself or out of yourself. At least you get your mind out of the way and just let yourself go. I see a lot of people doing it in churches, dancing, singing, clapping, and you can tell that theyre completely in the moment, not thinking about their problems, or paying bills, or whatever. I think you can call that a religious experience. I have mine playing music. *TH: How would you explain the Allman Brothers Band to someone who has never heard your music before? *
BT: I dont. I quit trying a long time ago. All I can say is, if you like music, you got to come hear it, I cant explain it to you. How do you explain love? How do you explainthere are some things that are just inexplicable. You just have to experience them. When the Allman Brothers are really clicking, I mean, you just got to be there. Not only do you have to be there, but you have to be open enough to get it, to understand. Ive had people come to concerts, be Rolling Stones fans, and that kind of thing, and they dont understand what were doing. They dont get it. And thats fine, but a lot of people luckily do get it. And we had a room full of em 14 nights at the Beacon. *TH: I know youve probably been asked 10,000 times, but whats the story behind the mushroom tattoos and what does it mean to you? *
BT: Well, what it means is that I have been and am a member of the Allman Brothers. When we first started the band, we moved up to Macon and somebody showed up with this bag full of psilocybin, and, uh, we used to go rehearse all day long and then come back and take some psilocybin and play cork ball at four oclock in the morning in our apartment. Somehow, rather than calling the police on us, everybody in that apartment building just moved out. It was very weird. Every day wed come home from rehearsal and it was really funny we would line up as they were moving their furniture out and wed give them applause. Theyd get really pissed. That happened several times.
If they had just called the cops on us, wed have been absolutely shit out of luck. In 1969, in Macon, Georgia, with all the crap that we kept around there, theyd have thrown us under the jail! Theyd have probably lynched us. Somehow or another, I dont know, maybe they were afraid of us, and rather than calling the police, they just moved out. So, little by little, we just kind of took over. It was a large, old three-story house that had been turned into a bunch of apartments. Little by little we took over the apartments, either us or friends of ours. We called it the Hippie Crash Pad.
The mushroom came several years later when Dickey Betts was out getting himself tattooed by Lyle Tuttle, this internationally renowned tattoo artist. They would drop acid, both, and sit there and Lyle would just do free-form work on Dickeys body. We were just sitting around and everyone started talking about Hey guys, weve got to get a tattoo. And I just said No. Uh-uh. Aint happening. I mean no. I aint interested in getting myself tattooed. But they kept it up and kept it up and kept it up and finally, I said Ok. Tell you what, guys. If you can come up with something thats small and out-of-the-way, then Ill get a tattoo, but Im not getting anything on our arms or chest, or something like that. We came up with the idea of the mushroom, and putting it down on our calf out of the way, and from that time on, anytime somebody joined the band, wed send them out to Lyle and Lyle would tattoo em. Thats it. Thats the story.