Brothers in Arms: Butch Trucks & Jaimoe
Tomorrow night the Allman Brothers Band will open their 2013 Beacon Theatre run. As the countdown approaches, we look back to our April-May 2009 cover story on the ABB for this piece on the group’s longstanding drumming tandem.
Shortly after rehearsals for The Allman Brothers Band’s upcoming 40th anniversary run at the Beacon Theatre, the drummers sat for separate interviews that touched on their musical dynamics, physical ailments and the undeniably epic scope of their journeys.
Comparing The Allman Brothers Band circa 1969 versus circa 2009
Jaimoe: Butch says this is the best band we’ve ever had and I’m sure it is because Butch, Gregory and I have sat there and developed this sound, which other people have studied. We have excellent musicians who are masters of their instruments and when people ask which is my favorite band to play with, I’d have to say this band.
But when I think of the band with Berry and Duane, I imagine John Coltrane’s band with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison. And I think about Miles Davis’ band when he had Wayne Shorter and George Coleman playing saxophones and Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. You listen to those records and you can hear the growth from week to week and, I would imagine, from night to night. Well, that’s the way it was in the band with Berry and Duane and I’ve got the tapes to prove it.
On the possibility of Eric Clapton appearing with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre [This would later happen on March 21, 2009]
Butch: We’ve tried and tried and the amazing thing is that in 40 years, we’ve never jammed, we’ve never played together and yet we’ve had all these connections. Duane obviously worshipped Clapton back to The Yardbirds days and what he did with Cream opened the door for all of us that followed – to be able to take rock and roll and get free-form and be able to improvise. They did it strictly from a blues point of view and we added a little Miles Davis and John Coltrane to the mix and made it a little more complex but if Cream hadn’t opened that door, it would have been hard for us to walk through it. Duane understood how important Eric was to music history and Eric was just head over heels with what Duane was doing with Robert Johnson and all these blues guys’ [music]. It was just like these two guys fell in love. So let’s say hypothetically if this were to happen, it would be an amazing event.
It’s like when Jimi Hendrix was alive. [Original ABB tour manager] Twiggs Lyndon and Jimi were best friends. Twiggs was the road manager of Little Richard during all those years that Jimi played with him. Well, after Jimi heard our record, he called Twiggs and told him that he was blown away by Duane and what we were doing. So we tried and tried and tried to get together and the only time we were ever in the same place at the same time was that Atlanta Pop Festival and Jimi was so fucked up he couldn’t even walk, he could barely play his set. We tried to get a jam together with him but he couldn’t even get up out of his trailer to come over. And that was the only time we were in the same place at the same time but we always felt like we had plenty of time…
Storming out of a Led Zeppelin show
Butch: It was during a week or so we had to hang out in Boston. We played the Boston Tea Party opening for Dr. John and everybody liked us so much that Don Law asked us to stick around and play before Delaney and Bonnie who were coming in two weeks later. We couldn’t afford to go back to Macon and we damn sure couldn’t afford hotel rooms, so Twiggs went looking and found some slumlord that agreed to rent us an apartment with no electricity and dirty, sagging floors for a couple hundred bucks under the table. Nobody knew we were there and we threw all the mattresses on the floor and hung out for a few weeks. Don Law would let us go to the Tea Party every day and practice.
While we were there Led Zeppelin were making their first tour of America and The Yardbirds had been instrumental in taking from the old rhythm and blues and applying it to what was currently being done by the British bands. So Duane was expecting Jimmy Page to come over and blow our brains out. We were really, really excited about this. Don Law let us in, I remember we were up on the balcony, and they started playing at Mach 45. The volume was so damn loud and then Robert Plant started running all over the stage with his velvet pants on and we were all looking at each other, “What the fuck is this?” It was as much about the ballet and the costumes as about the music, if not more so. And when Page finally pulled out that fiddle bow, Duane got up and said, “I’m either going to go up there and kick the shit out of that guy or we’re leaving.” And we all got up and left. It just really infuriated Duane. He was so let down by one of his gods.
A hero looks on…
Jaimoe: In ‘74 there were a number of drummers who were teaching at Frank Ippolito’s Percussion Center in New York City. Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Billy Cobham were all teaching there. So Butch and I had a drum lesson with Elvin, who saw us and said, “What do you guys want? I know who you are, what am I supposed to teach you?” So we just sat there talking and it turned into a great friendship. That night we were playing at Nassau Coliseum and we invited Elvin. He called it his first rock and roll gig and he sat on a chair about seven or eight feet from my drum riser. It was so funny because some people were saying, “Who’s that guy on the stage? Kick that guy off the stage!” And Joseph Campbell, Red Dog, he was our drum technician but preferred being called a roadie, stood there with his arms folded up and a big smile on his face as proud as he could be and said, “That’s Elvin Jones. If you want him off the stage, you can get him off the stage but he can sit anywhere he wants.” So Elvin really enjoyed himself and after the gig we went back to our hotel in New York City and we talked until the sun was coming up. It was one of the top five highlights of my life.
Percussionist Marc Quinones joined the group in 1991, expanding the rhythm section and prompting some self-assessment.
Jaimoe: When Marc came into the band, at first I said, “This guy’s playing my parts, we don’t need double parts.” If you have two drummers playing the same parts, why not just get one drummer like Billy Cobham, someone who can play very forcefully, turn him up in your monitors and you should be fine. But after a little while I said I want to know how good I am, which came down to this: How long have I been playing music and what do I really know about my instrument and what I’m doing? The answer for me was to create different parts.
You see, just because you can play with freedom, you shouldn’t forget that you’re playing with four, five, six other people. Marc and I now play together a lot more than Butch plays with us. We’ll sit and listen to him and we’ll play stuff off of him or we’ll play stuff at him. And when I can trick Marc into playing certain kind of parts, man, the band sounds really good [laughs].
Butch: I’m tired of reading about how Dickey was fired by fax. He was never fired. We got home and decided that we couldn’t tour with him. He was sliding back into the bottle and I was not going to go through it again, period. We finished up a short tour that was really bad and I walked offstage, looked at my wife and said, “That’s it, I’m not going to do this anymore.” I got home and called Gregg and Jaimoe and they both agreed. It wasn’t a matter of getting rid of him, it was a matter of we can’t play with him in this shape and we knew what was going to happen, we’d been through it time and time and time again. He was headed down that road and he wasn’t going to sober up until something drastic happened.
So we wrote him a letter and sent him a fax because we knew that it would take several weeks for us to get together to have a face-to-face meeting and we knew if we didn’t get the message to him immediately, he’d hear about it through some other source and we didn’t want that to happen. So we wrote the letter and the letter basically said, “Dickey, you need some help. We’re going to do the summer tour with someone else. Get medical help and this fall we’ll get back together and talk about continuing this journey that we’ve been on for 30-some odd years.” But rather than getting medical help, he got a lawyer. It’s like Jaimoe said, “That was the day he quit.” Jamoie always said the only way to leave the Allman Brothers is to die or quit and the day he hired a lawyer rather than getting medical help was the day that he quit.
In 1976 the Allman Brothers Band helped to support the fledgling Jimmy Carter Presidential campaign with a celebrated benefit performance. Thirty-two years later, the ABB stepped up to aid Barack Obama in a similar manner.
Butch: Jimmy Carter was a friend. Before he decided to run for President we knew him. Jimmy took Gregg under his arm and was doing what he could to help him out. There were nights where Gregg would show up at two or three in the morning drunk as a skunk and Jimmy put on his jeans and came down to sit with him, just to calm him down. He was just a really good man.
In ‘76 this country was in bad shape. We’d just finished the whole damn Watergate thing and nobody had any faith in our leaders. At the time we were the biggest band in the country and we went to work for Jimmy. I still think he is the most underrated president of modern times, if not all time. He started the Department of Energy with some specific goals to mind, including that by the mid-‘80s all cars would average 35 miles per gallon and tons of money would be poured into alternative energy sources. If Reagan hasn’t come in and dismantled these programs, we would have been energy independent.
Now you have a situation where there are a few people with massive amounts of wealth and the vast majority of Americans are really hurting and we just felt one of the few glimmers of hope out there was Obama. You’ve got a man with intelligence who understands these things and seems to be willing to step up to the plate and do what needs to happen.
If you notice on my drumhead it says, “Wake the fuck up.” Somebody asked me, “What does that mean?” And I said, “What do you think it means? The fact that you have to ask me is self-explanatory.”
The past 40 years have taken a particular physical toll on Trucks, who has been defined by his vigorous style of play.
Butch: Playing the way I do with my leg constantly going, my knee has just taken a pounding over 40 years. And it finally got down to bone rubbing bone, so I had a total right knee replacement a year ago. I can’t get through a metal detector, I’ve got a metal knee. I had some spurs taken out of my left shoulder a couple of years ago and I have osteoarthritis in my right elbow. I also can’t straighten my right arm out because after moving and swinging so much and all that pounding, it’s just kind of getting worn out. I’ve got a huge lump on the inside of my right elbow from the fluid oozing out due to all the pressure. I have arthritis in the fourth toe on my right foot because when I play bass drum that’s the first toe to hit the ground and it has taken the full brunt of it over the years.
About halfway through the Beacon run I will be so damn exhausted, I won’t even know how I’m going to walk up those three stairs to get to my drums. But about halfway through the first song something happens and I’m an 18-year-old kid again. And for the next two or three hours I can tear the world up, I just feel like Superman and for about an hour after the show I’m riding that high. Then an hour or two later I crash and all I can do is lie around and moan and groan until the next night when we do it again.