RIP Butch Trucks

I was going to write about fishing today. I had an idea for a short piece for this blog, and it was there, formulating and percolating in my head. Then I read about the passing of Butch Trucks, the longtime drummer for and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.

My father was a professional musician, a trumpeter. I grew up with music as the fabric of my early family life. I remember distinctly a few special moments in my teenage years where my own tastes for music were born and evolved. There were the Beatles, and Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I really didn’t know too much about what blues music was, and I didn’t fully connect how much blues had influenced all of their music, and how much of it was at it’s simplest level white guys playing the black man’s blues. But what I did know was how much I liked what I was hearing.

In 1969 I was twelve. I remember laying in my hospital bed after I’d had my appendix removed. I had a little battery powered AM radio, and I passed much of the time listening to music. The Jackson Five were big and I liked their stuff, but the song that I looked forward to hearing most was The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King, which was being played a lot at that time. It was a Minor Blues, as far as where it fit into the blues genre, and King’s guitar cried in my heart as it cried out the speakers. I remember listeing to his guitar sing and cry: wow!

I wasn’t exposed to the Allman Brothers Band, a racially mixed southern blues and what was called afusion band, and who coincidentally were getting their start in Jacksonville, FL, at almost exactly that same time I lay listening to B.B. King, until 1973, when their album Brothers and Sisters was released. That album led me to listen to the previous three Allman Brothers albums, The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, and The Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East. The music spoke to me melodically in my ears as In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Jessica, and Blue Sky come to mind; intellectually in my mind, the way Don’t Want You No More and Little Martha contrasted in style but not in appeal; rhythmically in my feet Southbound, songs like Please Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ caused an involuntary shuffle; but most importantly, they moved something in my heart. The soulful crying of guitars, the long, emotionally expressive jams of Whipping Post and You Don’t Love Me, to name a couple, touched them all at the same time.

Behind, underneath, within, and driving every one of those songs was the drumbeating of two drummers: Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. I mentioned, the ‘Brothers’ were an integrated band. Initially Jaimoe was the only player with dark skin, but over the others there were others, too. I was always mesmerized with how Jaimoe and Butch worked together flawlessly to take the music to where it was going. I would learn later how much being an integrated band from the deep South impacted them socially, but I didn’t have to be told how amazing the interaction between that black drummer and that white one was. Their music changed my life. I decided it was what was at the core of ‘me’, and that I consciously chose them to play the soundtrack of my life.

The original founding six members were Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dickie Betts, Berry Oakley, Jaimoe, and Butch Trucks. Duane Allman, my guitar hero, passed away in 1971, two years before I got interested in his music, and in his band. And really, it was his band, let there be no doubt about that. He was the leader and the visionary behind them and the musical genius out there in front of them. Berry Oakley was the bassist. He died in a motorcycle crash in 1972. The first time I remember seeing the Allman Brothers on television, Berry was still alive and playing bass. Until yesterday, all of the other founding members were still alive, if not older, like everyone else who played in those days. Now Butch is gone. I had been hopeful that the remaining founding members would have some kind of reunion. If it’s going to happen now, it can only be three of the six, not four.

So today I have the blues. Butch Trucks is up there jamming in heaven. I have a remarkable amount of his work in my iPhone iTunes library. That will remain as a legacy for listeners until long after all the Allman Brothers are gone, and long after I’m gone, too. Butch won’t be a part of any reunion here on Earth now, but I’ll wager he’ll be part of the big one they will have in Heaven when they’re all reunited up there again forever. And in the meantime all I can do is to say publicly here how much his music meant to me, how deeply moved and touched I have been to hear them play, and how thankful I am that despite his passing, the soundtrack to my life’s score is already recorded, and Butch Trucks is there, pounding out the beat.

Rest in Peace, Butch Trucks. Rest in Peace. Thank you. Thank you for it all.

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