Wow. It’s been three years since we lost Butch Trucks.
Below is a verbatim repost of what I wrote the next day in a haze of sadness, confusion, anger and exhaustion. There are some edits I would normally make, but I think it best to let the rawness stand. I was operating on no sleep because I had gotten a call confirming the awful news at midnight and spent all night staring at the ceiling in disbelief, tossing and turning in anguish, anger and self recrimination.
It was a shocking day and it remains shocking now if I pause to give it any depth of thought. I think of Butch sometimes in the middle of driving or walking and gasp at the realization of what happened. I still can’t fully accept it and I don’t think I ever will. The feeling has only been intensified this year by Neal Casal’s suicide. Another musician whose friendship I really valued and whose death left me reeling, and pondering about the despair I didn’t know about or understand.
As with all suicides of someone you knew and cared about, both of these deaths left me questioning my own actions or lack thereof. Could I have done anything? Should I have been aware of the depth of his sadness? Would any of it have mattered? I do feel certain that Butch had no idea about the breadth and depth of love and caring for him, a heartbreaking realization every time it enters my mind.
A month later, I organized a grand tribute to Butch at the since-closed American Beauty with help from my friends at Live for Live Music. Here’s my report on that event, which led directly to the formation of Friends of the Brothers. Each and every show we play is in part a tribute to Butch and Gregg, who died just five months later.
Rest in Peace Butchy. You are missed more deeply by more people than you ever could have known.
If you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. Confidential help is available for free. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Claude Hudson “Butch” Trucks (b. May 11, 1947, d. January 24, 2017)
It’s with a very heavy heart that I report the death of Butch Trucks, drummer, founding member and bedrock of the Allman Brothers Band. I am stunned to be writing these words, having communicated with Butch several times in just the past few days. My fingers are frozen just looking at the top of this page and seeing the words pouring onto my screen
Butch was devastated and angry about Trump’s election and had vowed to live at his house in the South of France throughout the new president’s term, but I doubted his resolve because he loved his grandchildren too much; I watched him light up with joy holding his new grandson at last summer’s Peach Festival. He was also very excited about playing with two bands: his Freight Train Band and The Brothers, recently renamed from Les Brers, featuring his Allman Brothers backline mates Jaimoe and Marc Quinones, as well as former ABB members Jack Pearson and Oteil Burbridge, plus Pat Bergeson, Bruce Katz and Lamar Williams Jr.
To the end, Butch remained an incredibly powerful and melodic drummer whose parts defined the Allman Brothers’ classic songs as much as any guitar riff, bassline or vocal. I was on the road with Les Brers last fall and they put on excellent shows. I can barely find the words to describe my own joy at standing alongside Butch, Jaimoe and Marc again; it was like coming home to something very special and indescribable. It was a physical sensation as much as anything; something I felt deep in my bones and which gave me a feeling that I couldn’t have known I missed so much until I felt it again. I wish every one of you could have watched an Allman Brothers show from the side of this percussion powerhouse. It was an overwhelming experience and one that helped you understand the very deep, profound impact the drummers had on the greatness of the music.
Butch was irascible. He could be grumpy. He was also very bright, well versed in all manners of things. And he delighted in talking about it all. In March 2015 we spent a lot of time together over one weekend when he was doing some events in New Jersey and I drove him around while we talked in depth about anything and everything. I heard some wild Allman Brothers stories for the first time; maybe he figured they were safe to let out now that the book was done!
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, Dartmouth grad and retired judge, in an in-depth conversation about their shared passions for philosophy and physics. He was impressed that my then 17-year-old son Jacob knew his philosophers and that made me very proud. Later that afternoon, we did a talk together at Words, Maplewood’s bookstore and owner Jonah Zimiles was wowed. He later told me that Butch was his favorite guest ever – and the store has hosted a cavalcade of literary stars.
My relationship with Butch first deepened over a book – and it wasn’t One Way Out. He reached out to me in 2011 after reading about my memoir Big in China in Hittin the Note magazine. He was fascinated by my story about playing music in China and our relationship deepened. Throughout the writing of One Way Out, Butch answered my phone calls and emails consistently and quickly and was always ready to share an opinion or memory. He was, in short, an invaluable resource – and he immediately agreed to write a Foreword when I asked. Then he almost as quickly wrote it by himself, straight through, and it ran with very little editing. That’s not how celebrity Forewords and Afterwords usually happen.
Butch played with Duane and Gregg long before the Allman Brothers Band formed in March 1969. The brothers briefly hooked up with Butch’s folk rock band The 31st of February and recorded an albumin Miami that Vanguard Records rejected. It included the first properly recorded version of “Melissa” as well as “God Rest His Soul,” Gregg’s moving tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. Musical history may have been written differently if Gregg had not flown back to Los Angeles and learned that he was still contractually bound to Liberty Records. Duane moved on to Muscle Shoals and began establishing himself as a session musician.
Eventually, Duane would appear at Butch’s Jacksonville home. He wrote in his Foreword to One Way Out:
“…there came a knock on my door and there was Duane with an incredible-looking black man. Duane, in his usual way, introduced us to each other as Jaimoe, his new drummer, and Butch, his old drummer…. He left Jaimoe at my house and, for the first time in my middle class white life I had to get to know and deal with a black man. It changed me profoundly. Over forty four years later, Jaimoe and I still best of friends and I am very proud to call him my brother.”
Over the last four years, Butch established a wonderful, warm family vibe at his Roots, Rock Revival Camp near Woodstock. It was his baby, and Oteil as well as Luther and Cody Dickinson were the other core counselors Bruce Katz, Bill Evans, Roosevelt Collier and others also were involved. I attended the first two and they were fantastic. It’s hard to over-state what he created up there: a small but growing and fiercely loyal band of brothers and sisters.
Trucks is the third founding member of the Allman Brothers Band to leave this mortal coil and the first since Berry Oakley in 1972. Founder and guiding light Duane Allman died in 1971, of course. You either understand how I feel right now or you don’t. If you do, I offer a digital hug of brotherhood. I send my deepest condolences to Melinda, Elise, Seth, Vaylor, Chris, Duane, Derek, Melody and all other members of the bountiful and wonderful Trucks family. Condolences go out also to the entire extended Allman Brothers Band family. It’s a sad, sad day in our little world, friends.
Any media members are free to quote at will from the obituary as long as you promise to not say that Derek Trucks was Butch’s son. He is his nephew!