Anniversary of Butch Trucks’ death: Allman Bros. drummer on rock, drugs

Editor’s note: Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks died of an apparent suicide in West Palm Beach on Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. Today marks the anniversary of his death. 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.

> PHOTOS: Allman Brothers Butch Trucks through the years

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, 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.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Community

7 things to know about 'Sex in the City' star Cynthia Nixon, candidate for NY gov.
7 things to know about 'Sex in the City' star Cynthia Nixon, candidate for NY gov.

Former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon announced her run for New York Governor Monday after flirting with the idea for several months. >> Read more trending news  "I love New York, and today I'm announcing my candidacy for governor," she revealed on Twitter. According to her campaign press...
Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr knighted by Prince William in Buckingham Palace ceremony
Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr knighted by Prince William in Buckingham Palace ceremony

With a little help from a prince, Ringo Starr has a new title. After this week’s knighthood ceremony at Buckingham Palace, he will now officially be known as Sir Richard Starkey, NBC News reported. >> Read more trending news  Ringo, who used his real name for the honor, was knighted by Prince William during the ceremony Tuesday...
Caitlyn Jenner has ‘sun damage’ removed from nose, warns fans to practice sun safety
Caitlyn Jenner has ‘sun damage’ removed from nose, warns fans to practice sun safety

Years of being in the sun has taken a toll on Caitlyn Jenner’s skin. She recently posted on Instagram that she had what she called “sun damage” removed from her nose, US Magazine reported. Jenner also reminded her followers to wear sunblock. The warning accompanied a photo of Jenner with a red nose where skin had been removed...
Why Florida novelist Tim Dorsey returns to Riviera Beach every year
Why Florida novelist Tim Dorsey returns to Riviera Beach every year

Tim Dorsey hauls himself behind the wheel of an old, dirty, scratched-up Lincoln Town car that would look at home at a down-at-the-heels retirement village. The air conditioner has quit, a few none-too-clean tropical shirts hang precariously from hangers in the back while various papers and what look like rags populate the front seat. One is a filthy...
3 TO SEE: TurtleFest, Palm Beach Pride, Debussy concert
3 TO SEE: TurtleFest, Palm Beach Pride, Debussy concert

There’s always something to do in the Palm Beaches! That’s why every week, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County helps you with three ideas — one that’s free, one that’s affordable and one that’s a splurge. Your events curator is the Cultural Concierge, a free service that provides customized cultural recommendations...
More Stories