Moogis, The Beacon and The Name Game with Butch Trucks
“Medicine, though not one of the liberal arts, was analogous to Music because its object was the harmony of the human body.” – A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara W. Tuchman
The Allman Brothers Band return to their annual March run at the refurbished Beacon Theatre after a two-year break. In that time, the legendary 40-year-old group has seen the rejuvenation of Gregg Allman after a bout of Hepatitis C curtailed his daily activities, and placed the band on a temporary hiatus. With the virus and illness behind him, the ABB returns to full strength in more ways than one, as the reader will learn in this career-spanning, freewheeling interview with original member, Butch Trucks.
The drummer is a passionate speaker, and one of the primary architects of the modern improvisatory movement in rock music. In this feature, Trucks discusses the challenges of keeping the band intact over the years, his innovative Moogis site, objectivist philosophy and, of course, a few hints as to who may be appearing as a guest on this historic 15-night anniversary run at the Beacon, which also will serve as a tribute to the late guitarist and Brother, Duane Allman.
RR: 2009 is the 40th Anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band, and the 20th anniversary of the band’s first appearance at the Beacon Theatre, after you took last year off from a run at the venue.
BT: Right. You’ve got all of it. We had to take last year off because Gregg was sick. Gregg was in the middle of an Interferon program that made it impossible for him to work. The good news is that it worked. He’s completely free of the virus [Hepatitis C], and is healthier and more energetic and happier. I’ve never seen him like this. I worked with Gregg two or three years before the Allman Brothers so he and I have been working together for 42, 43 years now, and I’ve never seen him in this good of shape. Never.
RR: I noticed some of that in the Beacon run rehearsal video on your Moogis site. Gregg was definitely glowing.
BT: Yeah, I know. Did you see that? Quite often, it used to be in rehearsals, it was hard to get Gregg involved. As you can see, he was extremely involved. There was just a great deal of communication between everybody. In the past, Gregg and the Hep C as it becomes active, it just drains you. You just get tired, and you could tellhe was tired. And he’s not tired now. (laughs) It’s just amazing. I’m quite, quite happy. (laughs)
RR: Let’s discuss your site that I referenced. Moogis is playing a large role in the Beacon run, and one hopes it continues to expand the live experience in the home. What has been your experience with watching video of your own band on the site?
BT: The fact that I’m in the band and I’m doing Moogis? Well, it’s kind of difficult. Obviously, I have to wear two hats. There is no way I would do it if I thought I was hurting anyone. The Allman Brothers are making the lion’s share of any profits, or anything that we make from Moogis. As a member of the Allman Brothers, that’s what I would demand. For a startup company like Moogis, to be using the band that is established as the Allman Brothers, then that is fair.
Actually, the first person I called when I had the concept for doing this was our manager, and asked him what he thought, and he had actually been approached by several other companies wanting to do this type of thing. The terms that we were offering were much better than the terms that they were offering.
I’m using this for Moogis more as a proof of concept. I’ve spent several years now trying to raise the capital to build a web site. The original intent of Moogis was to be a web site that would run the gamut and basically be aimed at the entire jamband music scene. We had chosen six of the top jamband clubs around the country, and we would put up five hi-def cameras, and a mixing console in each of these clubs, and then every night of the week, you could log on to Moogis.com, and see a live concert of some band that you love, or some band that you’ve never heard of, or some band that you might get to know. Build up a web site that’s basically built around community, that’s aimed at jambands, and jamband fansa very, very, very specific genre-based community.
The one thing I know is that the Internet is where the communities of today are being formed. When I was a kid, I came home, went down the street, and played baseball. When kids come home from school now, they go on their computer, and they go and hang out with their friendsdepending on what they like, depends on where they go. There are a few places you can go if you’re a jamband fan, you can go to Jambands.com, but that’s more of an informational site if you want to know who is playing where, rather than a place where you can hang out and talk with your friends.
The Allman Brothers Band has a really, really nice web site, and a lot of people go there, but it’s not so immediate. You can get on the guest book, and talk to each othergo on now and read what everybody said, post what you have to say, and come back later and check it out. It’s not so much a place where you can go and get any immediate feedback.
What Moogis is all about is creating a community that’s based around music. The immediacy is that you’re all involved in watching a live concert. Everybody would get together before the concert and talk about what’s going to happen, how much they like the band, or don’t like the band, or what they like about it, or don’t like about it. One of the really good things about these kind of things is that we’re doing the Moogis now during the Beacon run. We’ve got just Allman Brothers fans showing up. But let’s say it was the Allman Brothers one night, and the Dead the next night. Then, it would be a hell of a lot of fun with the Dead Heads and the Peach Heads yelling at each other about who is better and why. (laughter) You knowthat’s good, that’s fun. People have a lot of fun
flaming each other on the Internet. You can say nasty things and you don’t have to worry about any kind of repercussions. It doesn’t matter if that guy is three times as big as you are, he can’t touch you. (laughter)
RR: Have you been able to put your other hat on to objectively watch some of the Allman Brothers videos on Moogis?BT: Oh, yeah. I’ve watched just about everything. In fact, it’s very strange, but all of the videos that are on the site came from my collection. What I’m upset about and I have been going crazy about is that all of those that are on the site came from DVDs, and for the most part, most of those that came from the venues like Charlotte and Raleigh and places like that, were shot on 480i or less-decent quality equipment. That’s the quality and that’s about as good as we’re going to get. But the Piedmont Park show was shot in hi-def16×9 format, high definitionand the only access, the only thing that I had to send up to there for them to encode on to their servers was a DVD. I know, and we have been trying to get a hold of the original format that’s in full high-definition that we can send to the guys that are encoding these things, that the quality of the stream would improve drastically, even with what we are doing now. And that would be more on a par with what you are going to get at the Beacon.
If you watched any of this stuff on Moogis now, the quality is decentit’s good, you can see everything, and if it gets really big, it gets a little pixilated, but still, it’s like watching television before hi-definition came along. The color saturation is decent, but still, I know that what we’re going to be feeding everyone from the type of equipment that we’re going to be using at the Beacon, and using the company that we’re using, and with the Adobe Flash player and everything else, that the quality that you’re going to be getting from the Beacon is going to be considerably better than what you’re seeing there now. I’ve been going nuts trying to get that Piedmont Park master, and all we get back from the people that have those masters is “Well, we’re waiting for legal to tell us this, that, and the other,” and I’m really getting frustrated with them. You do the best that you can do.
RR: It’s been a couple of years since the Allman Brothers had their last Beacon run, and the theatre has since been renovated. Over the years, how has the band made the venue their home while maximizing on the atmosphere and environment?
BT: I don’t know. It’s like the old Fillmore, you know? It just became like The Place. We got there, and there were all our friends. (laughter) We went, “Hey!” And they went, “Hey!” And we went, “Here we go!” And we played some of the best music of our lives.
Now, it’s happening at the Beacon, but now, rather than just doing three nights, we stick around for fifteen nights. It just gets to be so comfortable. You get to start feeling so at home. It’s O.K. to take chances. It’s O.K. to try something you’ve never tried before in your life. It’s O.K. to just let it go. More and more, I’m getting Derek [Trucks], Warren [Haynes], and the younger members in the band to understand what we used to do back in those first couple of years. When we jam, sometimes, just let it go. Just let it go. Just turn loose of it and let it go, and then just see what happens. Somebody will start playing something, and then everybody will jump on to that, and take it somewhere. It may fall flat on its face, but eventually somebody else will pick it up, take it somewhere else, and eventually, it will start going, and it will go to places that it has never been before.
It’s been very hard for me. They grew up listening to “Mountain Jam.” And the only version of “Mountain Jam” that they’ve ever heard is the one that is on Eat A Peach. But, we never played it that way but once, and that’s the one that’s on that record. Every other time that we played it, it was totally different. We had somewhat of a structure to it, but it was just completely loose, and there were always places in that song where we just left it open for Dickey [Betts] or Duane [Allman] or Berry [Oakley] or even me and Jaimoe, sometimes. Just start playin’ something, and then everybody join in. We would go somewhere with it. And the problem is that Warren and Derek grew up listening to that version of “Mountain Jam,” so when we play “Mountain Jam,” they think that’s the way it supposed to be played every time.
I’m finally getting it through to them. I think what happened is that Oteil [Burbridge] went out and did some touring with Bill Kreutzmann. Kreutzmann would get loaded up on acid every night, you know, (laughter) and he would just start playin’. And Oteil would just start playin’ with him, and you never knew what the hell was going to happen. I think Oteil finally started understanding what I had been telling him. He’s trying and he’s started to get it across to everybody else, more and more and more, especially at the Beacon, we’re starting to go back to like we did in those early days, and really just turn loose and let it go and not be worried about strugglingwe’ve got to go here, we’ve got to go there, we’ve got to have structure to this thing.
What made us special was that we were able to be spontaneous and surprise you. Every time you heard the song, it’s not going to sound the same way twice. The Beacon is just the place, more than any other place we’ve played, where we can do this. When you’re going out, and you’re playing 10, 20,000 people, one-nighters, you kind of have that feeling that you better give them your greatest hits because they’re only going to be there one night. You don’t feel like it’s fair for them to listen to you stand up there and take a bunch of chances. Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know, it’s just the way it is, and the Beacon is a place where we do, and it’s magical every night.
The last two or three times we played the Beacon, we haven’t had a bad night at all. We used to be lucky if we got one decent night out of four or five, and I won’t go into the reasons why, but the last couple of runs at the Beacon, we haven’t had a bad night yet. It’s just a question of some being better than others, but they’re all incredible. I just can’t wait until next week because to be honest with you, right now, I am really starting to feel sympathy for all those poor guys out there that actually have to work for a living because this last month or two, I’ve been working my ass off. (laughter) And I’m tired, and I’m ready to go play some music. As you know, this year’s shows are dedicated to Duane.
RR: Yes, and obviously there have been a lot of musicians connected with Duane that I assume are going to be out there, as well, on some of the nights at the Beacon?
BT: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Believe meif you’ve been to the Beacon, you know we like surprises. We like to tell people: “Oh, and by the way, here’s so and so,” and out they walk. Well, this year, the level of surprise has taken a quantum leap. Every night, it’s going to be somebody else, and I would tell the people that refurbished the Beacon, that I think they’re going to have to put the roof back on when we finish.
RR: Sure. Do you mind if I throw out a few names?
BT: You can throw out all you want to. I’m not saying anything. (laughter)
RR: Eric Clapton.
BT: Yeah, that’s a good name.
RR: Bonnie Bramlett.
BT: Bonnie Bramlett? Of course you know she’s coming. If you’ve been to the Moogis web site, you saw that we worked up “Only You Know and I Know.” O.K.? So that one, I’m not going to sit and pretend that Bonnie’s not comin’. O.K.? That would be bullshit. You can find that out for yourself.
RR: Aretha Franklin. She worked with Duane in the late 60s.
BT: She did. Aretha’s the greatest, but Aretha’s somewhat of a diva, and I doubt seriously that she even knows who that white kid was who played on that record.
RR: Boz Scaggs.
BT: That’s a good name, too. Yeah. (laughs)
RR: Peers and inheritors: Members of the Grateful Dead and Trey Anastasio.
BT: Yeah, it’s possible.
RR: I will finish with Dickey Betts. Is it true that he was asked?
RR: And it is still in limbo at this point?
RR: Fair enough.
BT: The last that I heard was there is still a possibility that he will come. I hope he does. We have many, many long years of shared experiences, regardless of what happened. We’re doing this for Duane, and Duane and Dickey were friends. Dickey even named his son after Duane so his feelings for Duane are like ours, so we definitely invited him, It’s possible, and I hope he can, and I hope that we can not let our personal feelings get in the way, and that we can just play some music to the memory of Duane and leave it at that.
RR: You mentioned some of the younger players in the Allman Brothers Band who have inherited some of Duane’s legacy. The band has always had a unique chemistry, going back to its origins in 1969, a debut year, which it shared with another band with the right elements, Led Zeppelin. However, the Allman Brothers have been able to shift members in and out of their lineup, often retaining much of that chemistry. Can you define what that specific element is that the band has which has been passed down to these younger musicians?
BT: I don’t know. I don’t know. I can say that there have been a couple of times in our history when it didn’t work like in 1978 when the chemistry just didn’t work. I guess in many ways, we’re just very fortunate that this time it did.
One thing is that we are very careful in selecting the people. When I saw Marc Quis play with Spro Gyra, I could tell a musician when I saw one. I went back and told him. We were just about to go into the studio, and I told him that I was stealing him from that band, and he said, “Who do you play with?” I told him “The Allman Brothers,” and he said, “Great,” and he gave him his card. I walked out of the dressing room and he said, “Who the fuck’s the Allman Brothers?” (laughter) Marc grew up on Tito Puente. He had never even heard of the Allman Brothers. (laughter) He really didn’t know who we were. And within a few weeks, he was recording an album with us in Memphis, and that was 18 years ago, and he hasn’t left yet. As a young kid, if someone had been told him he’d be singing “Ramblin’ Man,” I think he would have died laughing.
Warren’s a special guy. Dickey brought him into the band when we reformed in ’89, and then he took off to do the Mule for a while. When things changed like they did, Warren came back, and we knew the chemistry worked there. In a lot of ways, he pulls the band together. He’s a good songwriter, a good singer, and a great guitar player.
My nephewI don’t know where he came from. Jesus Christ. Clapton and Santanaboth of them, recently in different places, when you talk about the best of the next generation, about passing the torch on, they both said, “Derek Trucks is the guy. He’s the one.” He just amazes me. He’s 29 years old. I’ve been playing with him now for 8 or 9 years, and I still don’t have any idea what he’s going to do. Every time he plays something it is brand new. What it says about the depth of his musical knowledge is scary. It’s really scary.
Oteil. God, man, what can you say about Oteil? Oteil is one of the best there is in the world. He’s got to be in the Top 5 bass players in the world, and he’s playing in a rock band. He can play in any jazz band he wanted to. He’s just amazing. It’s just great.
You get people out there that have that level of musicianship that listen to each other, communicate with each other, respect each other, and talk with each otherwe have to live together, and we have to get along. For the longest time, we got into the habit of just being afraid to talk to each other. Small problems build into huge, huge problems where you were just ready to kill each other, and the last thing you wanted to do was get on stage and play music.
There was a problem that emerged four or five years ago, and I got a call from one of the guys and he said, “Well, I don’t know,” and I said, “Man, how old are you?” (laughs) He said, “What?” I said, “Come onyou’ve got an issue with so and so? Pick up the phone, and call him and tell him.” He was ready to quit already. I said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? The band falls apart? You’re about ready to quit already so just tell him how you feel.” And it so happened that a couple of other members of the band felt the same way. I called them and said, “I hear that you’re feeling so and so, and they said, “Yeah,” and I said, “Well, call him! Talk to him.” They did. There was some back and forth, you know“Well, I say this” and “well, I say this,” but it all got out in the open.
And it took about six months or so, you could still feel a little lingering tension, but eventually everyone started feeling very comfortable with where they were. The issue was settled. It got out in the open, everyone learned to live with that compromise, and things have just never been the same since. Everybody really did start enjoying being with each other, and smiling at each other. Now, when we have a problem, and soon as the simplest thing comes up, we just call a meeting, and we all sit down and talk about it, get it out in the open, and move on.
It’s amazing that it took 40 years to grow up. That’s really what the key is right now, and for the last several years. The musical ability and the talent is all there, but the tension is gone. That black cloud that used to hang over the stage most of the time is gone. Every night we get up there to play, we’re having fun now. If somebody fucks it up, we just look at each other and laugh like hell. (laughter) “Hey, you fucked up.”
RR: Marc has been with you in the percussion area for almost two decades. You’ve also had Jaimoe with you for 40 years in the engine room. Has that relationship evolved over time, or have the two of you been like brothers since day one?
BT: We’ve been like brothers since the first day that I met him, and I still have no idea where he’s coming from. Jaimoe is living in a totally different reality than the rest of us, and I love him to death. He is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. But, boy he’ll start talkin’ some time and I’ll have no idea what he’s sayin’. (laughter) Then, other times, he starts talkin’ and he sounds like the wisest man on the face of the earth. (laughs) You just never know with Jaimoe.
RR: I recently interviewed Susan Tedeschi for the site, and I am still amazed at the talent in that family, including her own music and her husband, Derek Trucks.
BT: Derek got married and had children so young. I remember I got married at about that age, too, and then the Allman Brothers hit it big, and that marriage was doomed. (laughs) I mean, you know, forget about it, man. I was 20-year-old kid in the Allman Brothers in the early 70s. I’m sorry, but, the groupies back then were everywhere, they were gorgeous, and it just wasn’t a time to be married. It just couldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. I hadn’t sowed my wild oats yet, and I spent several years doing so.
Then, just about the time I was about to self-destruct from the drinking and the partyingeverything was good up to a point, and then it started to become very destructiveit’s strangethe three or four years when we were probably the number one band in the country and it was probably the most miserable time in my life. It was. You had nothin’ but a bunch of sycophants sitting around tellin’ ya how great you are, no matter how bad you fucked up. And I finally met this girl that told me just what an asshole I was. (laughs) We split up, and afterwards, it started nagging at me, you know? Because I had a good upbringing. I was taught well by some very good parents, and all that started coming out, and I started thinking, “You knowthat girl’s right.” We just celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. She saved my life.
At the time, I was drunk 24 hours a day. If I was awake, I was drunk. They go on and on about the horrors of marijuana, and all of these other illegal drugs, but there’s no doubt about it, the worst drug out there is alcohol. I’ve lived it. I’ve watched it almost kill Gregg, and it’s a bad thing.
RR: However, Derek and Susan do not have these same issues at this time.
BT: (laughter) I’m pretty good at changing the subject. No. No. Derek is just wise above his years. He’s a great father, a great husband, a great human being, and they just really seem to have a wonderful, wonderful thing going. They have a beautiful house on the river, gorgeous kids, their own recording studio, and I guess he’s my role model, huh?
RR: Yep. There you go. How much longer do you think you can keep playing?
BT: I don’t know. I don’t know.
RR: A question for The Fates That Be’?
BT: We put this thing back together in ’89, and I figured if it lasted five years, it would be a miracle. Here we are 20 years later. I’m thinking three to five years just because of the wear and tear on my body. It’s just getting harder and harder, but I’m having so much fun playing that I don’t know. I just don’t know. I can’t imagine being 71ten years from nowand walking out and playing with the power that I play with now. If I can’t play with the power that I play with now, I just can’t keep playing. Once I feel it going to where I can’t keep it up anymore, I’ve got to stop. We have a legacy that I’m just not going to lessen under any circumstances. Right now, I feel like I’m playing as strong as I ever have, and with as much passion and intensity that I’ve ever played with. When that feeling is gone, then I have to quit. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you.
RR: Indeed, and why should I spoil the mood? Everyone appears excited and playing at a peak level, so things look fantastic in 2009 for the Allman Brothers.
BT: I know. Now, rather than worrying about how much longer it’s going to last, I’m just going to take each night, and enjoy it for what it’s worth, milk every moment out of it. That’s the wonderful thing about music. It is something that I’ve been able to do more with this band lately than I have since before Duane died. We are able to get into the moment, completely into the moment, to where there is no thought of tomorrow, or yesterday, or anything else, and that’s what is magical about it. It’s rare that people canwhat is it? Some writer, Voltaire, or Eliot, or John Lennon: “Life is that thing that happens while you’re making plans.” Somewhere along those lines. You’re always thinking about what is going to happen next week, and your life is slipping by, while you’re doing that, so there’s that magic about music that really makes you live the moment. If you’re going to really be playing music than everything you have has to be in the moment. Your brain shuts off, your body takes over, and there’s really no thought. Are you familiar with Ayn Rand?
RR: I am.
BT: She wrote this grand philosophy about objectivism, and everything fit, and it all sounds wonderful when you think about it. Of course, it all falls apart when human nature and greed comes into play. We just got through proving that. We’re in the middle of what happens when Ayn Rand and objectivism takes over and completely unfettered capitalism takes over. We’re suffering the consequences right now. The one thing that she talked about a lot is that music is the only thing that she could not make fit into her worldview because in her worldview, everything had to be thought out. You weren’t a complete person if you didn’t fully rationally understand why you were doing everything you do. She even admitted it. Music is the one thing that bypasses the brain. It goes straight into your emotions. There is no other art form that does that. You can’t view a work of art without thinking about it. You can’t view any kind of visual art without thinking about it. You have to take it apart. Musicas soon as you start thinking about it, then the art is gone. You’ve got to feel it. I’m very lucky.