Interview with Butch Trucks from the Allman Brothers Band: Don’t Think

Sometimes you just need someone to believe in you before you can believe in yourself. For drummer Butch Trucks that person was Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman.

“I was lucky enough to meet Duane Allman,” says Trucks. “Until I met him I was very introverted and insecure. I mean, I could play drums but I didn’t know it. And then Duane, in a moment—I’ll never forget that moment. I think Duane knew I was a good enough drummer to be in his band, but he also knew that I didn’t have what it took to be in his band. I had played with Duane before and Duane, I think, understood the level of my insecurity, but Jaimoe (drums/percussion) kept telling him, ‘This is the guy you want.’ So Duane decided he was going to see what I was made of.”

“We’re jamming one day playing this shuffle and it’s not going anywhere and I started backing off thinking everybody was looking at me because I was sucking. It’s what insecure guys do. And he whipped around and stared me in the eye. And played this lick like, ‘Come on, you little prick, play.’ My first reaction was it scared me to death. Then he did it again. And again. Then I got mad… I started beating my drums like I was beating him upside the head. I forgot about being afraid. We kept it up and we kept going back and forth ‘AAARRRGGGHHH!’ I hadn’t noticed, but the music started soaring… He finally backed off and smiled and looked at me and said, ‘There you go.’…From that day to this, I have never once gotten up in front of a crowd of people and been afraid. I realized you can play and give it all you have and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem.”

Forty-two years later, Trucks still plays with fellow Allman Brothers Band founding members Gregg Allman (vocals and keyboards), Jaimoe (drums), and band mates Warren Haynes (vocals/guitar), Derek Trucks (guitar), Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Marc Quinones (congas and percussion).

“It’s just been getting better and better and better,” says Trucks. “I know a great deal of it has to do with we all like each other now. And everyone in the band now can actually remember the songs that they’re supposed to play from night to night. But it’s more than that. I’m 63 years old now. I know what’s going to happen. About the fourth or fifth night I will get to the Beacon and I will feel like a 110 year-old man and it will come time to play and I will look at those three steps going up to my drum riser and I’ll go, ‘How in the hell am I gonna get up those three steps?’ Then halfway through the first song I’m a seventeen-year-old superman. There is something magical about music that gives you this energy… At least the music we’re playing now. There was a time in the not so distant past where this didn’t happen.”

What makes the Allman Brothers Band special is that they just follow the music.

“Duane changed us all,” says Trucks. “He got us all to realize how important music was and that being in a band isn’t about money and isn’t about fame. It isn’t about success. It’s about playing music… After Duane died we lost that. I think that our best music, and when we were having the most fun, was up until Duane died. We lost that leader… After he died we released Brothers And Sisters and got really successful. Then everybody turned to drugs and the music became secondary. Now the last few years we’ve gotten back to what it was like the first few years. And it’s really magical.”

That magic keeps the band going.

“When we play music, there is a spirit that comes,” says Trucks. “[You’re] completely in the moment to where there’s no tomorrow, there’s no yesterday. You’re right there… It’s tapping into that spirituality that allows this beaten-up 63-year-old man to pour out the amount of energy that I do every night.”

It’s also what’s helped Trucks and Jaimoe drum together since the beginning.

“We never talked about it or worked it out or anything else. We just play. And it works… I think it has a lot to do with we both started out playing in the marching bands in high school so where we started is the same. But then I went in a rock n’ roll direction… Jaimoe went toward jazz… When Jaimoe and I get together, I play the rock pattern that drives the band and Jaimoe is the icing on the cake. He’s playing around what I’m playing… If it hadn’t been that way, we couldn’t do it.”

Playing with Gregg became just as natural.

“Well Gregg doesn’t jam much,” says Trucks. “I mean we put together the band and Gregg was the last one to come. We had me and Jaimoe and Duane and Dickey [Betts] and Berry Oakley… But we didn’t have a singer. So Duane said, ‘Hey I gotta call my brother…’ Gregg always had problems with what we did. When he wrote “Whipping Post,” he wrote it as a slow ballad. I’ll give that a minute to sink in. We took it and changed it from a slow ballad. Gregg almost quit the band because of what we did to it. He said, ‘You’re messing my song up.’ And Duane said, ‘Shut up’ (laughs). So Gregg sings and I think he really appreciates and loves what we do now. Gregg’s contribution to the jams is Gregg has a way of playing the Hammond B-3 where he gets the best tone and basically gives us this background that allows us to jam. It fills the sound out so that we can do that. It’s really great.”

The band’s ability to improvise has also helped them weather music industry changes. Their answer to reaching fans today is, a genre-specific community where live shows are streamed via a subscription service.

“You can sit there wherever you are and watch,” says Trucks. “You can hook your computer up to your widescreen TV and to your surround sound stereo and invite all your friends over and get in a real tight group in your living room and spill beer all over yourself just like you’re at the Beacon… But there’s one cool thing you can do watching Moogis that you can’t do at the Beacon. We have a chat room.”

Trucks wants Moogis to become the Facebook of music.

“There’s no place for new bands to be heard,” says Trucks. “That’s what I want Moogis to be… I’m just trying to prove to people that it can work. Once I do, we’ll get the capital that we need to wire up clubs and to get the cost down to where we can get 50-200,000 people subscribing. Then we’re the Facebook of music.”

Whether it’s Moogis or the band’s annual Beacon Theatre residency, Trucks remembers Duane’s lesson.

“You don’t think,” says Trucks about music. “You let go. And you just get completely in the moment. You can’t make a mistake.”

The Allman Brothers Band with be performing at the Beacon Theatre now through March 26.