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Published: 2007/02/20
by Mike Greenhaus

Butch Trucks: Beacon Bound

In layman’s terms Butch Trucks is a busy man. Besides steering the group he co-founded almost forty years ago, the Allman Brothers Band drummer has spent the past four years developing a live music project known as Moogis and, even, finds time to maintain a level 70 Human Paladin at The World of Warcraft. With the Allman Brothers Band’s annual Beacon Theater residency around the bend, Trucks gives the scoop on the group’s latest batch of songs, favorite guests and his Wikipedia page.

MG- You’ve spent the last few years working on a live music internet project, Moogis. Do you still plan to launch Moogis in time for the Allman Brothers Band’s Beacon run?

BT- We were hoping that we could get the webcast of the Allman Brothers going as a kind of proof of concept cause that is what this is going to be: live music on the internet. And, I think, that few people would ague that the internet is where entertainment is headed. I’ve been working on this thing for about four years now and, I think, I’m lucky that I didn’t get it done when I first came up with the idea because the technology didn’t exist. There wasn’t enough bandwidth, so the quality would not have been good enough. But, now, basically if you have DSL we can send out a signal that will give you absolutely a full 9 × 6 wide screen. It’ll probably be another year before high definition, but right now it’s as good as watching television. But, unfortunately, I don’t think we will be ready by the Beacon.

MG- What is the current status of the project?

BT- I’ve been working on getting together an investment package to do the whole Moogis project which is going to be relatively expensive. We’re going into 6 different clubs and wiring them up with 5 cameras, video equipment, full 24 track audio, and basically when it’s over and done with, all of these bands can have their CD, DVD, whatever they want to do with it. We’re gonna record all 5 cameras to hard drives so you can go back and remix and make a DVD if you want to, re-edit, and then we’ll have 24 track audio and they can remix if they want to and make a CD out of it, and most of these bands could never afford to do any of this. We’re doing things backwards: in the old days, when we signed a record deal, we paid for everything and the record company owned it all. Well, we’re turning it around and we’re paying for everything and the bands are gonna own it all. All we want from the band is a limited license to be able to stream the concert we do over the internet, so, like I said, we’re going to wire 6 clubs. We’ve already wired Starr Hill, and the Charlotte Center, and we got that one up way back when, and luckily that financing fell apart and we didn’t keep going, but that equipment is still there. Starr Hill is a smaller place and we have other places like the Georgia Theatre in Athens, which is more like 2,000 people and there is a Theatre in Flagstaff, then another place in Denver, and basically you will pay a monthly subscription fee—-which is about the cost of seeing one movie—-and you can go online every single night and see a concert.

Then we’ll also have a mobile unit which we were gonna put together for the Beacon, that we could take around and do with bands like the Allman Brothers and Dave Matthews and Widespread and bands that don’t play these clubs. And a couple of times a month we’ll have concerts at some of the bigger venues. Then also I’m gonna send camera crews out to do documentaries of all these bands, interviews with the bands, and videos of every damn musician out there. The key element is it’s going to be all about music and it’s going to be aimed specifically at jambands. That’s what Moogis is and if Moogis is successful our plan is to build other platforms and sites with other types of music like jazz, country, or whatever. I am really a computer geek. I go back to before Windows. I bought a little 240 XL and just plugged everything up and threw away all the books and spent hours and hours talking to tech getting the thing to work. I spend a great deal of time on the computer.

MG- How has your love of the internet influenced the Allman Brothers Band musically?

BT- Actually, for a long time, I would go onto the Allman Brothers Band’s website and there was a forum with my name on it and I would answer questions and I got a nice dialogue going with a lot of the fans. And it really helped a lot 6 or 7 years ago when we’d do the same set every night on the whole tour. These kids go to a lot of shows and it was through me going on to the internet and listening to them that I started getting a lot of feedback about changing up the setlist. People would say things, for instance, like “Why not change the set up, or at least the order in which you play the songs, it gets a little boring, it’s a drag when you know exactly what’s going to be next.” We had a problem with one of the musicians who really had a hard time retaining songs unless he played them over and over, but we don’t have that problem anymore. So, now, we have between 60 and 80 songs in our repertoire that we could pull out. This group that we have right now hasn’t haven’t played since September, but we could get up on stage tomorrow night and play every damn song we now and not make a single mistake.

MG- With such a large canon how does the band go about rehearsing for the Beacon run?

BT- Most of songs we don’t have to rehearse. We know the songs. We don’t have to rehearse them. We don’t have to rehearse “Statesboro Blues” or “Whipping Post.” I would say 70% of the songs we play, we don’t rehearse, we just know them so well. What we’re gonna do is get together next week for about 6 days and work up some new material. I hope that I heard correctly that Warren [Haynes] and Gregg [Allman] are getting together and writing some new songs. And I talked to Oteil [Burbridge] the other day and he said he’s got a couple of new instrumentals ready to go. And we’ve been having a lot of fun coming up with off the wall covers. We really got crazy with that Layla album. I think we played every song off that album. It started with a friend of mine saying, “You guys should do Layla,” and my first reaction was “No way,” then I got to thinking, “You know” Because at the time Eric [Clapton] wasn’t even playing and I remember Duane saying that back when he couldn’t play with the Dominos that they weren’t even playing “Layla,” because Eric couldn’t sing and play the guitar lick at the same time. So, I was thinking, we’re probably the only band in the world that can play the fucking thing. And the fact that Duane contributed so much to the song made it make even more sense. And I mentioned it to everybody else and they had the same initial reaction. Then, little by little, they started to say, “that’s not a bad idea.” So we did it and it worked and we were looking for another song for Oteil to sing, and he came up with “Anyday.” He sings the shit out of that one. There are a couple others, we’re doing like, “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?”

MG- Do you have any new covers in the works for this year?

BT- Now, I have an idea for this year and it is way out there. We’ve been really liking playing this progressive jazz stuff and we’re getting away from that damn country stuff that we were doing and getting back to the blues and jazz which is what we were all about. When we started the band it was that combination of blues-based jazz improvisation that made us original, and that I’m so damn proud of. We did something that no one had done before, and I’m quite proud of it. And, I’m very glad to be getting back to it. I’ve got an idea for a Miles Davis song this year. I’m hoping that I can get everyone to go along with it. My idea is this: we normally come out and we start the first song of the first night with something really bombastic, but I thought it would be a really cool idea to come out with something incredibly mellow. This track doesn’t even have any drums on it in the beginning, just nothing but guitars. It’s real smooth and real mellow to start it off—-set everything up and get everything really smooth and then kick in with the next song and I think it’d be much more powerful. But, we’ll see, it’s just an idea.

MG- One of the most surprisingly guests to emerge at the Beacon last year was Roy Haynes. Can you talk about that collaboration?

BT- He had a fucking ball. He had never been to a rock show in his life. He was expecting three-chords and he was sitting there, listening to us play, and he said, “God damn, these guys can play,” and then he started getting nervous, and then he came out and I just got up off my drums, and said, “it’s all yours.” I wasn’t about to try to play with Roy. Ain’t no way I could keep up with him! I just got off and we just told him to start playing. So, he just played for a while and then we started that “Afro Blue” song and it just blew the place apart and he had a ball. And, I guarantee that he’ll be back this year. What I love about the Beacon is that probably every single night it’s gonna be someone else.

MG- How did last year’s Beacon run compare with your previous residencies?

BT- I’ll also say that I have never been through an experience like last year. You play a group of shows and, normally, out of 10 or 12 shows maybe 3 or 4 click and just really hit the note—-everybody is right there. Last year we had 15 in a row, I’m talking every single one of them. For instance, one night we started with “Mountain Jam.” It was in such a powerful pocket that I was just playing my body was just doing it and I wasn’t thinking at all. And it was just right in the pocket. We finished a song, and I cut off the timpani and I just broke down and started crying, it was so powerful. And, I sat down my drum, with tears running down my cheeks, and I looked up at Marc [Quinones] and said, “Now what the fuck do we do?” It was the first song of the night. And he said, “I guess we go home.” And it was like that all 15 shows. Every single night was just, just hitting the note. I’ve never ever had a musical experience like that in my life.

The fact of the matter is the way things are it is very, very seldom that you can get a bunch of shows in a row that click. No matter what you do, if you’re a painter, you can’t go in every day and paint and really get it no matter what you do. Some days it just comes easy and you don’t have to try, and other days you can’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle, and it’s just human nature. I don’t expect to do 15 shows in a row like last year, but who knows, it would be nice. Last year I was almost scared to get onstage because I thought we wouldn’t be able to do it again.

MG- A number of musicians and critics cited the Slip’s Eisenhower as among 2006’s best releases. You were an early support of the Slip and even released the group’s album Does on your Flying Frog records. How did you first find them?

BT- The first time I heard them I said, “that is the first band it have to sign right there.” Dean [Budnick] was doing the tour and I grabbed Oteil and we hit the road and got to know those Jambands very, very well. There were a few bands like the Slip and Schleigho that popped right out. We signed them and did quite well with them. We didn’t go into a recording studio with those bands. We said, “let us buy your recording equipment” because with today’s technology there is no need for a studio.

We also signed Deep Banana Blackout which at the time was a little bigger and drawing more people. But, for whatever reason, Deep Banana wouldn’t do it without a studio. So, I put them with Tom Dowd and the expenses were higher than I would have liked, but we did OK with them. But, eventually, I realized that the day of the old record company model is gone. I was going to shut the entire thing down and quit wasting my money. But, then, I got to thinking that records may not be selling, but the demand for music isn’t going away and it dawned on me that everything is heading to the internet and I started going to work on Moogis.

MG- Speaking of the internet have you visited your Wikipedia page?

BT- Oh, yeah, I have actually [laughs]. I’m actually, running around with my Warcraft Paladin right now killing aliens. So if you read the Wikipedia where is says I like the World of Warcraft game that is true. But it says I play at a level 60 Human Paladin, and I am actually up to 70 now [laughs]. It is something to when you are on the road. One of the toughest things to do is figure out what to do all day on the road [laughs]. That’s why I think there are so many drunks and drug addicts. It is tough if you don’t like soap operas or unless you like to fuck a whole lot [laughs]. But, I can’t stand watching television, so I will pass away hours at a time playing this incredibly engrossing online games. But when Moogis is up and running I will have other things to do [laughs].

MG- You have recently been suffering from some health problems. How are you feeling?

BT- My knee has decided that it doesn’t like me anymore, so I’m going to have what they call a “minimally invasive knee replacement.” Luckily it doesn’t hurt when I play, just when I walk—-it’s the arthritis. I’ve just wore the damn thing out, just pounding it. So, I was on the phone with the doctor’s office there’s a guy in Chicago who does this new technique and they say within a month you are absolutely perfect, so I’m gonna go ahead and do it this summer.

MG- I heard that Patti Smith is working on an Allman Brothers cover for her new album. Do you have any information on that?

BT- She is doing “Midnight Rider.” I got an e-mail about that the other day. She is doing a whole bunch of cover on her next album and chose “Midnight Rider” which should be cool.

MG- Finally, what is all this about you hanging out with artist R. Crumb in France?

BT- Well, my wife and I just bought a house in the south of France in an area called the Languedoc. It is way out in the country and the cloest village is this medieval sort of village. You have to drive 15 or 20 minutes to get to a grocery story. We are right in this little valley full of wine, grapes, and vineyards. The house actually has this roman cornerstone from at least seventh century. There are literally areas of this house no one has been in for literally over a 100 years. So, we are going to go in and completely renovate it. We are very near this village where R. and his wife live.

It is a very unique place and the people are just wonderful. It is the kind of place where people still have ethics. You can still make a deal on a handshake. People work hard and do the best job they can. I haven’t seen too many places like that left in this world. It is also well above sea level and I am a little bit concerned that my house in Palm Beach, FL will be underwater in the next decade. There are so many flashpoints in this country that if any one went off it would be riots in the streets. These fools we have running this damm country—-how this guy hasn’t been impeached 15 times over is beyond my comprehension.

Like Butch Trucks, senior editor Mike Greenhaus also really, really likes the internet. Visit his blog or download his podcast if you are not playing Warcraft.

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