Gary James' Interview With Butch Trucks of
The Allman Brothers
You would think that any band that's been around 27 years could afford to slow up a little bit, wouldn't you? Not The Allman Brothers. These guys have been together since 1969, and show no signs of fatigue. The Allman Brothers Band participated in the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, Woodstock '94, appeared on 5 'live' network television shows, and performed 90 concerts in just a one year period. In 1995, the group toured behind their CD "2nd Set" (Epic Records). Longtime, original member Butch Trucks, the man who pounds the skins for the group, talked with us about The Allman Brothers
Q - When The Allman Brothers were first starting out, the press tended to label your band along with Marshall Tucker and Lynyrd Skynyrd as being "Southern Rock." Obviously as time has passed, that novelty has worn off, and the group has gone beyond that term. What then keeps the people coming back for more? What makes the Allman Brothers Band so unique?
A - I don't know. I mean, yeah I do. I can give you my perspective. When we first started this, we'd all been in bands playing this music that we weren't too excited about. I was in a band, and we had this producer. His real line was "Record these songs and in six months you'll be farting through silk." There were songs we didn't like. It was commercial kind of crap. We got together in Jacksonville, (Florida) and started jamming. Just experimenting, going in all these directions, just stretching the limits of what we'd learned. We got together the best players we could find in the area, people that could get out and stretch the limits a bit. We started having fun with it. As the band fell together, Jaimoe (Allman's other drummer) turned us on to people like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I'd kind of grown up with a classical background and Duane and Gregg with the Blues. Plus, my background was Gospel. But then with Dickey with the Blues and the Country background, it all kind of melted. That first year or two, all we listened to was Miles and Trane and people like that in the jazz idiom. We started tryin' to bring that element into what we were doing, putting more of the jazz spontaneity in structure, or lack of structure into what we were doing. I think that's the unique element we added, that, with that passion we had for playing. I think that's why it's picking up again. These kids are comin' along and hearing it. You can't get up and fake what we're doing. It's not a show. If we're not playing, it's not any good. (Laughs) I think that honestly, and that element of jazz and the intensity we can throw into it, plus 25 years of learning how to do it, it what's communicating.
Q - Have you been in bands your whole life?
A - Yeah.
Q - Have you ever had a "straight" job?
A - I had a "straight" job for two weeks at one time.
Q - Really, what did you do?
A - Well, I left Florida State College with a couple of friends in '67 and went to Daytona to make it big playing music. We went to college to stay out of Vietnam, is all we were doing. They finally kicked us out of college for not coming to class. We left Tallahassee and headed to Daytona to strike it big. We had a band that was good, but you couldn't dance to it, so we couldn't get work. But, we ran into Duane and Gregg Allman and got to know them. Anyway, we couldn't find any work, so I went back to Jacksonville and got a job working in this warehouse for this department store. About a week into that job, Duane and Gregg were in town playing with the Allman Joys and I got a call from 'em saying their drummer had just quit, and they wanted me to come fill in, so I did. I filled in for a couple of nights. After a couple of nights they said, "Hey, your band is great. You guys like Bob Dylan? This club owner loves Bob Dylan. You played Dylan, Byrds, and that kind of thing. Why don't you guys audition and you can all just take over our gig for us." So we did and the club owner loved us, and we wound up working there for the next 2 years. It was a steady gig. But, I stayed on at that warehouse for 5 days, getting about 3 hours of sleep. After the fifth day, the alarm clock went off about seven, after I'd been working 'til 2 or 3 in the morning and I threw the alarm clock against the wall, and never went back (Laughs). I did a few years ago, during the break with The Allman Brothers, build recording studio. The raising of the capita and putting the business plan together... about 7 or 8 years of that, I guess you would call that a "straight" gig. But, it was still in the music business.
Q - As the drummer for The Allman Brothers how do you make money? Isn't the money in songwriting credit?
A - No. We go out and tour. Four of us own this company. We're the kind of band that makes more touring than we do off records.
Q - So you actually make money off 'live' gigs?
A - Oh God, yes. We do quite well out there. Our focus is on the music. It's not on huge stage set ups, or laser lights or anything like that. We run with 3 semis and three tour buses, as opposed to a lot of these shows that are out there with up to 20 or 30 semis just to move the stage. So, we don't have these outlandish production costs. We do quite well touring and we work a good deal of the year, and things are looking up. Dickey and Gregg make as much as I do by their publishing and songwriting. But, it's still a significant income.
Q - What's the hardest thing about being a drummer in The Allman Brothers Band?
A - For me, it's just a physical challenge. It just wears me out. It's just the way I play. We play a little less than 2 1/2 to 3 hours a night, and I go at it with everything I have. After 2 or 3 weeks, it just physically starts wearing me down. When we take a break, what I traditionally do is go home. After going home for about 2 days, I get sick for about 3 or 4 days, rest up, and come back out again.
Q - What do you mean you get "sick"?
A - There's kind of a phenomenon I guess when you're on the road. You get yourself pumped up. You keep your energy level up. When I go home, I tend to let go and relax, and when I do, I'm usually so run down I'll just get a cough or a sore throat for a couple of days. Then, you know, heal up, and go back at it again. It's just a very physically challenging gig, and it does take it's toll.
Q - Would that be the reason why there are 2 drummers in the band?
A - No. Absolutely not. We have 2 drummers because it worked that way. In fact, we now have 3. We've added Mare Quinones. He's been with us for over 4 years now. It's just something that happened. The whole history of the band and what we stand for I guess is spontaneous. It's been very spontaneous since the very beginning. Duane came to Jacksonville looking for musicians and we just jammed. All the cats that were in Jacksonville at the time would just get together and jam. It just happened that this group got together and me and Jaimoe just clicked. It just worked. Nobody went after getting 2 drummers. We were 2 players that could play together and could work off of each other, and
inspire each other and push each other to higher planes. That's what happened. It's a very spontaneous kind of thing. There was very little thought given to it. We knew it was right. You could tell when we played. Thing's were clicking.
Q - Are you aware of this book out on The Allman Bros, called Midnight Riders by Scott Freeman, and have you read it?
A - Yes I have.
Q - Was it something that was authorized by the band?
A - Absolutely not.
Q - Does that mean it's not accurate?
A - I don't question the accuracy. There are some inaccuracies but nothing fundamentally important. My question has been from the beginning. He sent us a treatment, and I thought it was very shallow. I think the story that could be told of all of this is so much more than just a newspaper reporter's version of it. And, that's what Scott is - he's a very good newspaper reporter. He's not a novelist. You don't come away from the book with any insights at all. There's nothing. It doesn't tell you much about the times. It just tells you about a few people and some of the things they did. Very factual. I have no problem with the accuracy. If you enjoy reading a book that tells you about things that happened, then fine, it's a good book. I think the story and the things that were done, hell, just the times, so much that happened, that there are lessons to be learned. A good novelist could really do something with the story. That's what I was looking for from the beginning. This book is definitely not it.
Q - Did Scott Freemen get the cooperation of the band in writing this book?
A - Yes he did.
Q - You just didn't like the way he told your story then?
A - It had to be a qualitative judgements on our part. lt definitely was on my part. This is not the guy I want telling the story. If he's gonna do it anyway, then he's gonna do it without my cooperation.
Q - It looks like you'll just have to write your autobiography Butch.
A - I've thought about it. I just might.
Q - What's the biggest difference you've noticed in the crowds that come to see you?
A - Oh, that's hard to say. I mean, in many respects they've stayed pretty much the same. They're kind of, in the last few years, in most areas they seem to be younger than they've ever been. I'm sure it's partly because I'm older than I've ever been. (Laughs). It's amazing. It's like the last few years, they're high school kids. A good percentage of 'em.
Q - That is kind of strange. When you think about The Allman Brothers were probably the favourites of their parents.
A - No doubt about it. I've got a 16 year old daughter, and she and her friends were this way before they knew who she was. She's grown up listening to us, but they didn't. They were just turned on to us. The bands they're into are Dave Matthews, Phish, and us.
Q - And when the friends of your daughter find out that you're in The Allman Brothers Band, that must blow their minds!
A - Well, of course it does and it's one of the nice fringe benefits of this gig, that your daughter and her friends think you're cool. There's not too many daddies that can say that. (Laughs). It's been fantastic. It's been good for her and I like it. She brings all her friends to the gigs when we're playing in he area. She's the most popular one around. So, it's very nice.
Q - What's the difference between touring in the 90's versus touring in the 70's?
A - Well, for me, it's vastly different. You know, it's called sobriety, and my family's with me. I finish the show and I actually remember what I did. It's much more fun on some levels and it's more a job on other levels. It's evolved quite a bit. In the very early 70's, we were a bunch of kids with this religion we were toting around, and non-stop party and play anytime we could. If we didn't have a gig, we'd find a park somewhere and just set up and play. The atmosphere is much more business-like today. We couldn't set up and play in a park for now if we wanted to. We tried for years and years and years. Back then, it was a new thing and they didn't have insurance laws and liability laws and city ordinances and security checks and that kind of thing. So, it was fairly easy to do. You couldn't do it now, even if you wanted to.
Q - You said you had a drinking problem, was it serious?
A - I spent about 3 years drunk, yeah.
Q - This may sound rather cold, but, why then aren't you dead?
A - Well, 3 years won't kill anybody, or it didn't kill me anyway. It was like a 3 year party. Quite a few people spend their entire lives drinking.
Q - That's true and they're still around. You had your own group, "Trucks" for awhile. What happened to that group?
A - Well, The Allman Brothers happened to be that group. (Laughs). It was a local group that I put together that was good, that was happening. We decided to put the Allman Brothers back together. I actually told these guys in "Trucks," they were based in Jacksonville, that I would pay them a weekly salary, which was considerably more than what we were making out working, if they would just write and rehearse. I told them I'd like to keep it together. Then, when the Allman Brothers took breaks, we'd go out and do things. They decided the salary wasn't enough, so I told them to go make their own lives. So, that fell apart. But, it was good. It was fun.
Q - In 1976, there were some bad feelings in the group. Didn't the Allman Brothers actually spilt up then?
A - The thing with Gregg was so blown out of proportion. I was a mess at the time. Dickey was a mess. Jaimoe was a mess. Our business was a mess. We were management. It just wasn't any fun. We had just gotten caught up in the whirlwind of rock'n'roll fantasy. Everybody had just lost their sense of who they were and what they were doing. This stuff with Gregg was nothing but the last straw. We all needed to get away from rock. I went back to Florida State University. We just needed to get as far away from that as we could get for awhile. Get our heads back together. Get our feet on the ground. That thing with Gregg was just something that I made decisions on reading newspaper articles. It was years later I found out the truth about what was really going on. The newspaper stories for the most part were a hundred and eighty degrees wrong. They were caught up with the Gregg / Cher syndrome and all that crap. We all got angry and said things, but, that's what happened. As we got away from it, and settled down, and sobered up, and started realizing what our priorities were, and where we had lost it, then it made sense to come back out and do it again.
Q - How much money are you talking about when you say you were ripped off?
A - Millions.
Q - Did Capricorn Records rip you off?
A - Well, without getting into what I think happened, Dickey did go to arbitration against Capricorn Records. Just Dickey. He took the first step, and we were all coming behind him. But Dickey was awarded like $1.3 million dollars in arbitration and Capricorn bankrupted. Then I went through and sued Phil Walden (owner of Capricorn Records) personally. Had huge claims and in the same ballpark. This is just what we could find in audits.
Q - You know there's still a Capricorn Records today.
A - Oh of course I know that. Capricorn bankrupted and just reformed. That's the way the laws of this country work.
Q - Isn't that sad. One would've thought that the bands of the 70's would've been smarter than the bands of the 50's.
A - Well, we might have been. That was the whole point. One reason why we were victimized is we really never expected any success. We really didn't. We were told by Atlantic (Records) from the very beginning that a white band from the South, just standing there playing, you gotta be kidding. They told us to get Gregg out from behind the organ and let him jump around and then we'd have a chance. We really didn't care. We were playing music and that's all we wanted to do. We didn't expect a lot of success. So, we weren't very careful at all. We were out playing. First two years we averaged 265 shows a year. We just didn't stop. So we trusted this guy to take care of everything. We let one guy run the whole show. He owned Capricorn. He was our manager. He owned our booking agency. He owned our publishing. There were only 2 states in the Union you could do that back then. Obviously, if our manager owns your record company, you got conflict.
Q - Or at least it would seem so.
A - Oh, it just doesn't seem so; it is a blatant conflict of interest when one of your manager's main responsibilities is to watch over the record company. There's no checks and balances at all. We left it up to him and I don't know if it was his intent, but I think once the money started rolling in, and he noticed nobody was paying any attention, he did what he did.
Q - How different would The Allman Brothers Band be today if both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley had lived? Can you even begin to imagine?
A - Well yeah. It's not like I don't think about it. We all do. They were very important and very intense. There's no way to extrapolate that at all. Along with the music that was developing, there were also problems that were developing. You just don't know what would've taken the forefront. I don't even know if we would have done what we did. I can foresee scenarios going in both directions, from not lasting another year to creating a whole other life for us.
Q - Doesn't that just drive you crazy?
A - Well, it is what it is. That's reality, and that's what we have to deal with.