Editor’s note: Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks died of unspecified causes in West Palm Beach on Tuesday night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had lived throughout Palm Beach County, from the island to north county, and had a condo on Flagler Drive at the time of his death. He was 69. Here is a 2011 interview with Trucks about drugs, rock ‘n’roll and finding sobriety: “My message is life can get better.”
In 1969, Butch Trucks was ready to give up his rock and roll dreams and head back to Florida State University. “I was going to be a math teacher,” said Trucks.
Then, Duane and Gregg Allman and three other friends dropped by his Jacksonville house to jam.
Five hours later, the six musicians had gelled as the Allman Brothers Band, which would become one of rock’s most influential groups.
Instead of teaching calculus, Trucks helped add Southern blues to rock and jazz plus R&B, then multiplied it by jam band improvisation to create a new equation of rock.
And it almost killed him.
“The worst of all things possible happened: We became big and famous,” said Trucks. “After a while, the music took a back seat to the partying.”
He told his story at his art-and-antiques-filled home in Palm Beach, where he and his artist wife, Melinda, have lived since 1999.
The band’s 10 gold records line the walls of his small office. The statue from the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sits on a filing cabinet. Cindy, Trucks’ little Yorkshire terrier, is yapping up a storm.
But don’t look for a drum kit. There isn’t one.
“I don’t need to play every day anymore. We get together and practice before a tour and it all comes back,” Trucks said.
But there was a time, Trucks said, when band members were so addled by drugs and alcohol that they couldn’t remember the songs they’d written.
Trucks’ own whipping post was alcohol.
By 1974, he “was on the tail end of a three- or four-year drunk. When I woke up every day, the first thing I did was go get beer or wine.”
By then, the band had endured the 1971 motorcycle death of Duane, in Macon, Ga. Forty years later, he’s still revered as a guitar genius. A year after Duane’s death, bassist Berry Oakley died under similar circumstances a few blocks away.
Trucks and other band members tried to dull the pain.
“I would snort a little coke so I could drink some more,” said Trucks.
By 1976, the band had disintegrated and Trucks moved his family to Tallahassee.
“We were all such a mess from (drugs and alcohol) that we had to get away from it all. We couldn’t control it,” he said.
Trucks managed to quit the hard liquor but filled the gap with wine.
Meanwhile, Tallahassee was a great place to raise their two kids, said Butch (who also has two children from an earlier marriage). Melinda got a master’s degree in art from Florida State University and Trucks took classes in FSU’s School of Music.
“The first term, I got a ‘C’ in percussion. The next term, I made a ‘B.’ Here I was, one of the best drummers in the world, and I couldn’t get an ‘A’ in percussion,” he said, ruefully.
After their children left home, Butch and Melinda moved to Admiral’s Cove in Jupiter, then purchased a $1.3 million home in Palm Beach. Melinda’s reputation as an artist grew, while the couple entered the island’s whirl of charity balls and society luncheons.
But wine was becoming an increasing problem for Butch.
“I promised myself no more than three glasses and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”
He quit in October 2001, he said, without rehab or even Alcoholics Anonymous. He’d simply had one too many morning afters.
“You have to make the commitment deep down inside that this is enough. That you care more for the people around you than the booze. My message is ‘life can get better.’”
Trucks and Melinda are selling their Palm Beach house to move to a renovated French mas (farmhouse) in southwest France, where Butch plans to write a memoir about the band and his mentor, Duane Allman.
In Palm Beach, Trucks spends much of his time on his computer, fine-tuning Moogis.com, his live concert streaming website.
Currently, the site has about 20 ABB concerts and 20 from other bands, but if he can get financing, Trucks’ goal is to upload a new concert every day, on portals devoted to rock, jam bands, country, jazz, even contemporary Christian music.
These days, it’s a blue sky for a refreshed ABB as the band begins its annual 10-day run at the Beacon Theatre in New York with three younger members, including slide guitar god Derek Trucks, Butch’s nephew. Even Gregg Allman, who underwent a liver transplant last year, is newly energized.
“He’s like a new person,” said Trucks, who understands as well as anyone what that regeneration is like.
“Living sober,” Trucks said, “is absolutely wonderful.”