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The Day When Butch Trucks Saved The Slip Show

Dean Budnick | April 11, 2017
Next week's Wanee Festival will offer a number of performances in honor of the late Butch Trucks. Here we share Dean Budnick's Editor's Note from our March issue, which offers his memories of the Allman Brothers band drummer. We've also posted the audio from Butch's performance with The Slip at the Theatre of Living Arts on June 2, 1999 which is described below...


Butch Trucks & The Freight Train Band at B.B. King’s, 8/1/16 (photo by Dino Perrucci)


Butch Trucks and Oteil Burbridge with The Slip, Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA, 6/2/99 (photo by Dean Budnick)

***

“Doctor Dean…”

Whenever I answered the phone and heard those two words, I knew that Butch Trucks had something in mind for me and that the game was afoot.

Butch was a true original. There are many who aspire to such a tag, but he earned it with his words and deeds—both onstage and off. He was a dynamic player who could stake a claim for his role in one of rock’s most enduring and influential drumming tandems.

Beyond that, though, he was a Southern raconteur, an avid reader, an active gamer, a serial entrepreneur and a family enthusiast.

I first spent extended time with him back in June 1999, when he joined me on the first half of our Jambands.com tour. He had just founded his Flying Frog Records label and took to the road with us so he could scout for bands alongside Oteil Burbridge. I will forever treasure that very first night in Philadelphia, when we sat down and shared a bottle of red wine. He was free with his wisdom and wit (and also his opinions, as anyone who ever spent time with him can attest). Beyond that, though, I recall how welcoming he was, drawing me in and inviting me to join his special cabal of fellow improvisational-rock disciples. I know many other folks who enjoyed similar experiences with him over the years.

Before lauding some of his other achievements, I should point out that Butch was a very physical drummer, and that this style took its toll on his body (as he would tell you, if you pressed him on it). I mention this because, since Butch was also a social progressive, I think it’s worth reminding folks that health care remains an issue for many of our musical heroes and future musical heroes. (To be clear, I am not suggesting that deficient medical coverage played a role in his life, but rather as a mitzvah in his memory, I am reminding all of us that this concern plagues many of his fellow musicians and it is something that merits our attention.)

What else?

He was forward-thinking, perhaps a bit too much so, in certain respects. He created the Moogis livestreaming service a few years before most ISPs were ready or willing to offer the requisite bandwidth. His Flying Frog label was home to groups such as The Slip and Schleigho, who could be somewhat abstruse for certain folks’ tastes (although both acts remain beloved to many). He created Frogwings as a way to perform some shows with his nephew Derek (before Derek joined the Allman Brothers Band), enlisting a stellar lineup that only continues to gain renown: John Popper, Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge and Kofi urbridge. We were able to get them to reunite for a swan song at the 2000 Jammys (with Susan Tedeschi on vocals) and, for many years thereafter, a number of us held out hope that Butch would thread the scheduling needle for an additional go-round.

He had wide-ranging musical tastes. Anyone who would ever derisively dismiss him as a Southern-rock archetype (whatever that even is) should know that he cited a Mahavishnu Orchestra show as his favorite live experience in Relix’s 40th anniversary issue (and he continued to turn on folks to their debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame).

He appreciated the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band and remained a staunch advocate for Duane Allman. One of my many future disappointments is that I’ll never be able to read the book he was going to write about Duane.

He resented petty tyrants or anyone who exercised their power arbitrarily (which gives you some idea about what he thought of our current president). Back to that opening night of the Jambands.com tour in June 1999, we were at the TLA in Philadelphia, and The Slip (who were still many months away from signing with Flying Frog) found themselves lost in transit. When the trio showed up for their load-in a half-hour late (in this era before everyone toted cell phones), but still nearly five hours before showtime, the production manager refused to let them place their gear onstage. He explained that Paul Simon had kowtowed to his bidding the previous night and that The Slip were, by no means, as famous as Paul Simon. Butch politely expressed his dismay at this. (Really, I was there. He was quite restrained seething but restrained.) Then he made a call to Larry Magid, so that sanity and good vibes could prevail. This underscored a lesson I was still grasping: The one true capital within the music industry may well be relationships. A few hours later, The Slip took the stage and welcomed Butch and Oteil out for a song to put a glorious exclamation point on the evening.

While Butch Trucks has passed, I believe that the musical circle remains unbroken because he shared so much of himself for so long with so many of us, and not just with his accomplished nephews. He was everybody’s Uncle Butch.

***

Butch Trucks, Caroline Barrett Budnick (who will graduate from high school this spring) and Leanne Barrett at the TLA on 6/2/99, after Butch cleared the way for The Slip to perform. (Photo by Dean Budnick)