Categorized | Arts

A Southern Jam to Sweeten Summer

Posted on 29 July 2011

Butch Trucks-Great Ceasar's Ghost

by Courtney M. Holbrook

Butch Trucks is stir-crazy. It’s a common summer attack, when the vacation extends too long and the creative juices feel ready to burst.

Ever since this summer began, Trucks’ bandmates have been touring with their own music, recording their own albums. Trucks declined to make his own album; he continues to spend his time in his home in Jacksonville, Fla.

The only problem is that the summer stir-craziness of Trucks is not that of the typical summer vacationer. Claude Hudson “Butch” Trucks is a drummer and a founding member of The Allman Brothers.

“All three of the other [Allman Brothers] are touring this summer and promoting their own albums,” Trucks said. “So I’m stir crazy enough to start a blog and play with another band.”

In order to combat the cabin fever of life without the band, Trucks will play a benefit concert at Guild Hall with The Allman Brothers’ cover band, Great Caesar’s Ghost, on August 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. Still, Trucks’ enthusiasm for playing with this band extends beyond a remembrance of life on the musical road. Trucks was drawn to Great Caesar’s Ghost when John Leonard, a friend from Sag Harbor, took him to a concert. He was immediately impressed by the intensity with which they embraced the difficult music.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to playing with these guys,” Trucks said. “I was so impressed when I saw them play the first time. They’re great, and I’m just flattered that they play our material.”

Trucks was thrilled to have a chance to play his music in a different format; however, he warned of the challenges to come. After all, this is a musician who has been called the “Freight Train” by friends. When Trucks wants things to get going, then “by God, I’ll get them going.”

Trucks’ career spans 42 years of playing with the Allman Brothers. He said that he is living a dream, where he gets to play drums for a living.

So, what keeps The Allman Brothers popular after 42 years? What keeps Trucks interested in the music when so much time has gone by?

“We’re popular to this day because we’re a band that evolves,” Trucks said. “Our whole style is very spontaneous. We may play the same songs — the old songs — but we never play them the same way. It’s based so much on improvisation.”

This knack for spontaneity was formed at the band’s beginning. The Allman Brothers took their own love of jazz, blues, classical and country and worked all their influences into a “jam” band format. These connections have allowed them to perform old songs in numerous ways over the years.

“I knew a guitarist who had to play the same guitar riff in the exact same way for so many years,” Trucks said. “He had to leave his band, or he would have gone crazy and shot the band members.”

For Trucks, the use of improvisational musical riffs in the Allman Brothers music differs from other bands. Their music is sophisticated, relying on the complex harmonies of jazz classics such as Coltrane and Miles Davis.

Sophisticated technique allows Trucks to “whittle a chord structure, not just thump the same chord for 15 minutes.” If The Allman Brothers had played “Elizabeth Reed” the same way every concert, Trucks insists he would have been “back in Florida selling used cars years ago.”

But in an age where many fans want the same thumping beat night after night, jam bands inspired by The Allman Brothers have a different struggle in the musical world.

“The new [jam] bands are never gonna be at the top of the charts,” Trucks said. “Unless you’re ready to put on a meat dress and flash the clothing over the music like Lady Gaga, it’s not going to happen.”

But Trucks insists a certain percentage of music fans will be drawn to the substance before the style. Those music lovers will always be drawn to good music and skilled musicians, not the current “flavor of the month singer that 13-year-old girls love,” according to Trucks.

Beyond performance and drums, Trucks spends his time preparing for a musical future in the Internet age and commenting on political activities in Washington, D.C. Though music is his first love, Trucks has a passion for activism and politics. He keeps a blog, “The World According to Butch Trucks,” where he critiques the political machinations of the Right, and discusses President Obama’s future.

This sense of public awareness is another reason why Trucks was eager to participate in the concert at Guild Hall. The proceeds from the concert go toward food pantries in the East End.

Trucks has also taken an interest in the rise of Internet music. Trucks considers the Internet a benefit in many ways, relieving the new musician from the authoritarian control of record producers and distributors. The problem, as Trucks sees it, is that the new musician does not have a place to garner an audience anymore.

“The radio is just gone; iTunes is a possibility, but it’s still not solid,” Trucks said. “I’m working on creating that place.”

Trucks is developing a music form called Moogis, where musicians can ensure their music is heard. He refused to comment further, but stated that he hoped this would “usher in the music business model of the future.”
As for his own passion for percussion, Trucks intends keep playing until “I can’t play anymore or [The Allman Brothers] breaks up.”

“I’m enjoying every minute of my life,” Trucks said. “Forty-two years of playing music — it don’t get no better than this.”

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