Butch Trucks: The Freight Train’s Freight Train
For 45 years drummer Butch Trucks was known as the Freight Train as he drove the powerful and pioneering Allman Brothers Band. The ABB’s unparalleled improvisation and melding of jazz and blues into a unique and widely influential brand of rock and roll would yield both hits and history, eventually earning the Brothers an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. The Allman Brothers Band may have reached the end of the road in 2014, but Trucks continues to carry the spirit forward in not one, but two groups: the Freight Train Band and Les Brers – the former including his son Vaylor and the latter featuring past members of the Allman Brothers including his longtime drum partner Jaimoe. Trucks spoke to us from his home in France, a few days ahead of returning to the States for a summer tour with Freight Train, and a fall run with Les Brers.
I was at the Lifetime Achievement Awards presented by the Grammys to The Allman Brothers Band in 2012.
You heard that sermon I gave?
Yes, and I thought that award embodied what so many of the fans, including myself, felt for so long; the gratitude for so many years of great music.
I appreciate it. I didn’t do it for you. I did it for me. (Laughs) Music is 100% selfish. You’re playing it for yourself; to feel all these emotions. You’re only able to do it if you were born with the talent, and then spent many, many, many years developing the skills. Then, you get into a situation where you can actually play music, where you can play something that’s new, that’s original, and not a regurgitation of what everybody else is doing.
Is the legacy of The Allman Brothers Band, a group that broke through with such originality, ever intimidating for you when you play with Freight Train or Les Brers?
No, not at all. I like playing music, and I like playing music with these people. One of the reasons I did this is because I love playing the music that we spent 45 years developing. I like that spontaneity, that improvisation, never knowing what’s going to happen next. In the early days of the Allman Brothers, that’s what we did; we’d just jump off the cliff and see where we’d land. Sometimes we’d splatter all over the ground, and just get right up and take off again, and wind up someplace we’d never thought of before. Other times, we dove off the cliff and soared with eagles. You just never knew. Once the Allman Brothers split up in October of 2014, there was not another band around that’s playing that kind of stuff. I know there are lots of young kids out there that want to hear music like that. And I still want to play music like that.
Have you been getting that feeling from Freight Train?
I’ll finish a two-and-a-half hour set with the Freight Train, and I think it took about 15 minutes. I look down (at the setlist) and say, What did we miss? It’s just fun. I’m having a ball playing with these people. It’s the next step in my life from the Allman Brothers, which quite honestly wasn’t so much fun anymore.
Why wasn’t it as fun?
Toward the end of the Allman Brothers it got a bit tedious, where people were more afraid of making a mistake than they were playing something different. I think because of that it was time to get away from it.
Do you feel you are starting again, in a way? People know you from the Allman Brothers, but a lot of the venues and places you’ll play on tour are not as much the big cities, but more the towns on the periphery.
It’s a brand new band. My name is on the poster, but as soon as we get the Freight Train going big enough, we’ve already decided my name and the word band will come off. I think a much better name is Freight Train. So, what we have to do is like any other band. We have to go out and work to develop that audience.
Is this opportunity to play in smaller venues where fans can have a more intimate experience part of the appeal?
Oh, yeah. All you have to do is take a look at the Allman Brothers and what we did at the Beacon Theatre. We made that decision over 25 years ago. In the early ‘90s, we were big enough to where we could’ve played two nights at Madison Square Garden; go in, do two nights, and go home. But, we played the Beacon Theatre and it was amazing. We sat down and had a big talk about it. 14 shows at the Beacon or two nights at Madison Square Garden? It was no contest. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. With Freight Train, we’ve got to pay our dues. On this tour we’re going back to several clubs that we played last year, and we’re already doing a whole lot better. Some are already completely sold-out. The word is spreading and it’s spreading pretty quick.