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.
On a March morning in 1969, Duane Allman knocked on the door of the Jacksonville, Florida residence of Butch Trucks to present “my old drummer to my new drummer.” Trucks occupied the former role, having recently performed and recorded with Duane and his brother Gregg on the 31st of February. Jaimoe had traveled south with Duane from Muscle Shoals, Alabama where the two had been wood shedding as a duo for several weeks, joined occasionally by bassist Berry Oakley Jr., who subsequently returned to Jacksonville for his steady gig with guitarist Dickey Betts in the group Second Coming. After introducing Trucks and Jaimoe, Allman soon departed in search of Oakley, yielding an awkward silence that eventually blossomed into a 40-year working relationship and friendship.
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.
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