by Michael Buffalo Smith
There's major excitement in the air surrounding The Allman Brothers Band camp this week. Monday will find them starting out on their annual Beacon run in New York City, celebrating 40 years as a band and 20 years of Beacon Theatre appearances. The band has also chosen this year as the perfect time to pay tribute to the group's founding father, the late Duane Allman.
This year's Beacon run will be the biggest ever, with a massive list of super special guests, including Eric Clapton, Bonnie Bramlett, Levon Helm, Boz Scaggs and many more great surprises. One thing that makes it all the more exciting is the fact that any one of us who owns a computer will be able to view every single night, every single song, every single guest star, as it all unfolds, streaming live.
All it take is a subscription to Moogis, the new website founded by ABB drummer Butch Trucks. With a stereo connection and a TV connection hooked into your laptop, it will be the second best thing to actually being there.
We spoke with Trucks about Moogis, The Beacon and a little Allman Brothers Band history.
I'd like to begin with a few questions from beginning, if you don't mind. We have written in many interviews and Gritz articles over the years about the history of the band. Please tell us from the drum riser, so to speak, how you came to be a member of the Allman Brothers Band.
Duane, Gregg and I had played in a band together in 67-68. When that band fell apart Duane went to Muscle Shoals and did the session work that included Wilson Pickett’s Hey Jude, Aretha Franklin’s stuff and most of the other sessions he became known for. After about six months of the studio he got really bored and about that time Phil Walden signed him to management and recording contracts and sent Jaimoe to Muscle Shoals where they hit it off and Duane and Jaimoe eventually headed to Jacksonville to find more players for the new band that Duane was going to form.
At first he thought it might just be a trio so he took Jaimoe and Berry Oakley back to Muscle Shoals and recorded a few songs. After hearing himself singing on those recordings they all headed back to Jacksonville to grab some more players. We spent about a month or so getting together as often as possible and jamming. Finally after going through many combinations, we were at “The Second Coming’s” - Dickey and Berry’s band- house and six of us got into a jam that lasted about 2-3 hours. It was incredible. When we finished Duane walked to the door and said “anyone n here not gonna play in my band is gonna hafta fight his way outa here."
The group was Duane, Dickey, Berry, Jaimoe, me and Reese Wynans -he went on to play with Double Trouble. Duane knew that we had to have a singer and he knew who that needed to be so he called his brother, Gregg, who was struggling in LA and told him to get his butt to Jacksonville. Two days later we had our first rehearsal and learned "Trouble No More," "Don’t Want You Know More" and "Dreams". The rest, as they say is history.
Duane has truly become a legend. Tell me a little about Duane as a musician and a friend.
Duane is the most powerful human I have ever known. If not for him I would be a math teacher at some high school. He was the kind of person that, when he entered a room every one would stop and look- he had that kind of presence. He was a self taught intellectual. Few people know this but his line about “everytime I go south I eat a peach for peace" was taken from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The metaphor has to do with when you eat a peach you make a mess just like when you live a life full of experience.
He reminded me of Goethe’s, Faust, he wanted to experience everything life had to offer, good and bad. The great thing about him was when the bad experiences began to adversely affect his life he would stop them. Duane experimented with just about any drug there was. As soon as he realized that they were affecting his music he would stop and never use that drug again.
As for me, I was riddled with self doubt about my playing. Although I was very good drummer I lacked that confidence. Jaimoe had been telling Duane that I was the second drummer for the band. I think Duane knew on one level that was true, but there was no way that he could have me in the band with my lack of confidence. I think he reached a point where he decided that I was his man but not with the lack of confidence I had. One day we were jamming and things weren’t really going anywhere. I did my usual “oh shit everybody’s looking at me” thing and Duane whipped around locked eyes with me and play a screaming riff with a "come on you s.o.b." look. My first reaction was to back off even more. After about the third time he did this I got pissed and started hitting my drums like they were Duane’s head. Needless to say the jam just took off with all of the energy I was pouring into it and Duane back off, looked at me and smiled and said “there ya go.” I swear it was like he reached inside of me and flicked a switch. It was an epiphany. I have played from that moment to this with all off the power at my disposal. No more nervousness.
What are your memories of the concerts that made up everyone's favorite record, Fillmore East.
Those were the high points of that part of the band. We were really gelling as a group and Tom Dowd was able to catch it all. After every show we would head to the studio and listen to what we did and say "we got that one, we'd better do that one again," etc. We knew we were onto something very special.
What are your happiest memories from the original band with Berry and Duane?
There is no way I could give you one or two moments from that two years and a half. I’ll tell you that I still can’t believe that we did all of that living in that short time. I swear I lived more in that short time than all of the rest of my years combined. It was just a nonstop living at full speed experience. Duane would not allow anything less.
I remember hearing a tape of the band BHLT. What do you remember about that band?
That was a very good band. I had a lot of fun playing with those guys. Not a lot of stories because it was so short lived. Me and Dickey, Chuck Leavell and Jimmy Hall.
What was the real story behind Dickey leaving the ABB, and would you guys ever reunite with him?
Dickey is an alcoholic and addict. He ran the band like a tyrant, either my way or I quit or beat your ass or both. When he was sober this was tolerable. When he would start drinking it got very difficult. All I’ll say is that we reached a point to where we couldn’t do it anymore. He was beginning another slide into drinking and I decided that this time I would not go with him, so I called Gregg and Jaimoe and told them no more. They agreed and we decided to do the summer tour without him and give him time to get himself back together. That famous “fired by fax” said in essence that he had some serious problems that he needed to get help with. We were going to do the summer tour with another guitar player and in the fall we would get back with him and discuss continuing the journey that we had been on for all of these years. Rather than getting medical help, Dickey hired a lawyer and sued us. As Jaimoe said, “Dickey quit” that day.
I have been watching Derek Trucks play since he was 12. Give me your thoughts on this young man.
Derek blows me away. After all of the years we have been playing together I still have no idea what to expect from him. He continues to take us all into realms that w have never visited. And he’s only 29.
Same question, Warren Haynes.
Warren is one of the greatest guitar players alive today. He is also a great singer and song writer. He brings all of these elements to the band and a solid presence that gives us a real focal point when we play. He does take charge of the music when we play and I doubt if we could play the way we do if he didn’t. He does it in such a way that he pulls everyone together without stepping on anyone’s toes. It is a very tough thing to do and he does it very well.
You show up in lists all the time for greatest drummers. Who were your personal influences or favorite drummers?
I'd have to say Elvin Jones, Joe Morello, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, and Billy Cobham.
THREE AMIGOS - Backstage in Charlotte, Jaimoe, Paul T. Riddle and Butch. (Photo by Michael Buffalo Smith)
Speaking of drummers, we have at least one mutual friend in Paul T. Riddle of Marshall Tucker Band fame. Please share your thoughts on our old hometown boy.
Paul is one of my best buds. We’ve been touring together for decades and Paul has been one of the solid, feet on the ground, guys when all of the rest of us were losing touch with reality I am proud to call him my friend.
What have been some of your high points from the band's recent years, 2004 onward?
That’s really an easy and obvious answer. The Beacon shows. There isn’t any venue that comes close. The tour last year was fun, but we missed the best part of the year which is the Beacon.
What have been some of the most fun memories from past Beacon runs?
Once again, there have been far too many to try and grab one or two. It’s the main reason we love playing there as much as we do. There are always surprises. We either have very special guests show up to play with us - this year is gonna be through the roof- or we just have one of those nights where you just play in the moment all night long. It's as close to a religious experience as I have.
The Beacon run is off and running and you guys are sounding great. This is quite a special year. The 40th Anniversary of the ABB, and rumors are raging. What can you tell us about the run this year, special guests, songs? Is there anything that we can print?
We have many very special guests coming. As of today there is only one night that won’t include at least one guest and that is the 26th. March 26, 1969 was the day we started this journey so we have decided that we would do the night of the 40th anniversary without guests. As far as who is coming and when? It’s a surprise. We have invited Dickey but no word yet.
And there is the excitement surrounding your new project and website, Moogis. Folks who can't make it to New York can now subscribe and watch the entire run on their computer. How cool is that? Tell us all about Moogis.
The best thing to do is go to www.moogis.com and take a look. All of the info is there. We are web casting all 15 shows from the Beacon run. It is Thursday the 12th and we have already done two shows. They look and sound fantastic but don’t take my word for it look at the forum section on the Moogis social site (it’s free) or go to www.allmanbrothersband.com and check the guest book from Tuesday and get a lot of praise about what we are doing with Moogis. The real up side is that we are going to leave all 15 of the shows plus about 15 other shows going back to 2001 with full video as well as about 40 audio only shows from the past few years all on Moogis for six months after we finish the run (Sept 30). $125 gets you all 15 shows live and on demand as much as you like for another six months. Check it out. We’re having a ball here.
What are the immediate and future plans for the band?
We will do an extended tour this summer and next year we will begin pulling back. We’ll play in the range of 80 shows this year and next year we will do the Beacon and no more than 12-15 special shows after that. How many more years we will continue doing this is anybody’s guess.
Well, I for one hope it's many more years. Thanks Butch.