Alan Paul Remembers Butch Trucks: “The world feels a lot quieter, a lot smaller and a lot more boring”
by Alan Paul on March 08, 2017
You know Butch Trucks better than you think you do, even if you never met the man. His personality was in every bar of every song that the Allman Brothers Band ever played: hard charging, exuberant, soulful, intelligent, no-nonsense, cocky, determined, proud, earthy, cerebral and soulful.
Trucks could, as producer Tom Dowd once noted, simultaneously play rhythm, harmony and melody; his playing was incredibly musical. His fills and drum parts became signature parts of songs, as defining as any guitar riff, bassline or vocal.
Butch remained an incredibly powerful drummer until the end, as anyone who saw his Freight Train Band or Les Brers, which featured five former members of the Allman Brothers Band, can attest. I was on the road with Les Brers last fall, when they played several excellent shows. I experienced profound joy standing alongside the reunited Allman Brothers backline of Butch, Jaimoe and Marc Quiñones. It was like coming home to something very special—a physical sensation that I felt deep in my bones and couldn’t have known I missed so much until I felt it again. I wish everyone could have had the experience of watching an Allman Brothers show from side stage, next to this percussion powerhouse. It was an overwhelming experience that helped you understand the deep impact the drummers had on the music’s greatness.
I interviewed Butch quite a few times from 1990–2011, but our relationship was strictly professional until I received an email from him out of the blue. He had read an excerpt of my memoir, Big in China, and was so fascinated by my story about playing blues in Beijing and turning my Chinese bandmates onto the music of the Allman Brothers that he tracked me down. I was surprised and flattered and offered to send him a copy of the book, but he had already ordered one and said he’d call after he read it—and he actually followed through with his promise.
Our friendship quickly deepened and, suddenly, we were plotting ways to go to China together—a trip that sadly never happened. Butch was an indispensable resource throughout the writing of One Way Out: The Inside History of The Allman Brothers Band; he answered my phone calls and emails consistently and quickly and was always ready to share an opinion or memory. He also immediately agreed to write a foreword and, almost as quickly, wrote it by himself, and it ran with very little editing. That’s not how celebrity forewords usually happen, but little about Butch Trucks was usual.
Butch was irascible. He could be grumpy. Everyone who had an extended relationship with him, including me, eventually endured some big fight . They always passed, and most of them were driven by Butch’s passion, his honesty and his refusal to say the expedient or polite thing if it clashed with his actual opinion. Butch was particularly quick to push back against any perceived slight against the Allman Brothers Band’s legacy because he was truly the band’s biggest fan. He spent the 45 years between Duane Allman’s death and his own as his friend’s most passionate apostle, telling anyone who would listen how brilliant Duane was and how he changed the lives of everyone who came in contact with him. Some people rolled their eyes at Butch’s berating of the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and The Who, but I viewed it as proud defiance at the very concept that anyone else should claim the title of “World’s Greatest Rock Band.” He was fiercely loyal. When Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ed King criticized Tom Dowd, who produced both bands, Butch used his excellent blog to attack King and defend the man everyone always considered the seventh Allman Brother. You wanted Butch to have your back.
Butch was very bright, well versed in philosophy, astronomy, politics, history, college football, classical music, fishing and many other things—all of which he delighted in discussing. In March 2015, we spent a lot of time together one weekend as I drove him around to several events, while we talked in depth about anything and everything. He came to my house for breakfast with my family in great spirits and was extremely kind and gracious to my wife and children. He also engaged my uncle Ben, a Dartmouth grad and retired judge, in an in-depth conversation about their shared passions for philosophy and physics that left Ben a bit stunned. Later that afternoon, we sat for a talk together at my local bookstore and the store’s owner had a similar reaction, saying that Butch was his favorite guest ever—and the store has hosted dozens of literary stars.
Over the last four years, Butch established a wonderful, warm family vibe at his Roots Rock Revival Camp near Woodstock, N.Y. It was his baby, and his core counselors were Oteil Burbridge, Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson, supported by a rotating crop of guest musicians. Butch was at the center of an expanding, fiercely loyal band of brothers and sisters who attended each year and stayed in close touch. They will miss his magnetic presence tremendously, but I’m certain that his musical passion will continue to shine through them all for many years to come.
The world feels a lot quieter, a lot smaller and a lot more boring. It’s hard to believe that I’ll never see Butch again, that I’ll never hear his booming voice or hard-hitting, swinging drumming again—never again see him and Jaimoe playing together or whispering in one another’s ears. It’s hard to accept that the pipe dream of one more Allman Brothers Band reunion is over. It’s hard to accept a world without Butch.