By: Alexa James
A bunch of miles, a lot of heartache and a ton of rocking can drain the spirit from a band. And so it was with the Allman Brothers. But the Southern rock pioneers are happy to report that the magic is back.
Tonight, drummer Butch Trucks promises, the band will hit Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion with an energy the founding members haven’t felt since the beginning, way back around 1969.
Back then, the Allman Brothers were cranking out songs like “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider” and a legendary 1971 live session, At Fillmore East. But then the band lost guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley in separate motorcycle accidents. The other founding members, gravel-and-honey voiced Gregg Allman, guitarist Dickey Betts and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, carried on – and off – for better and worse.
There was a 20th-anniversary tour in 1989, and a revamped lineup that rekindled the band’s popularity, but “creative differences” continued. Before a 2000 summer tour, founding guitarist Betts was ousted.
Today’s lineup includes Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on guitar, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe on drums, Marc Quinones on percussion, Oteil Burbridge on bass and Gregg Allman out front.
Butch Trucks, in a phone interview earlier this week, discussed the band’s stormy break with Betts as well as the Allman Brothers’ new material and renewed chemistry.
How’s the tour going?
Fantastic. … It’s like it was the first couple of years. Just a lot of experimentation and adventuresomeness and trying new things and going new places. … There’s a whole lot of new material. We just finished doing 11 cuts in about 10 days, which, for the Allman Brothers – it used to take us about 10 days just to learn one song.
What are the best audiences that you find during the summer tours?
You just never really know. You get up there every night and it just happens to be the night and everything is clicking. You get that spark, and the audience gets in on it, and we start soaring with the angels. … We did three nights this year at the Chicago Theater, … and the second night was one of those. I would consider it one of the five best shows the Allman Brothers have ever played.
Any idea what the new record will be called?
I think we’re going to call it Victory Dance. It’s kind of a dark title. There’s a beautiful song that Gregg has been working on for years and kind of got bogged down on. He and Warren got together and finished it up, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous. It’s called “Old Before My Time.”
What’s the band’s relationship with Betts right now?
I’m afraid it’s all through lawyers now. Dickey is a self-professed alcoholic and started drinking. We just reached a point, the three of us [Trucks, Jaimoe and Allman], where we said, ‘Dickey, you need to go deal with this.’ … Rather than dealing with it, rather than getting help, he hired a bunch of lawyers. … Whether or not we can ever work together again? I don’t know.
You guys have gotten your second wind or third wind.
Well, maybe the 15th.
It’s just like being 19 all over again. … The juices are pouring and I’m really having a good time. Of course, about an hour after the show …
How did you first get involved with the band?
There was a knock on my door. I go to the door and there’s Duane, and he’s got this guy with him. He goes, ‘Butch, I’d like you to meet my new drummer, Jaimoe. Jaimoe, this is my old drummer, Butch.’ [Duane and Butch had played together before.] Over the course of the next few weeks there was a lot of jamming going on … we got into this jam – started this little shuffle that ended about three hours later. … Duane walks to the door and says ‘OK, anyone in this room that’s not going to play in my band, you’re going to have to fight your way out.’ And that pretty much locked it down.
People say the Allman Brothers invented Southern rock.
The band split up in ’76. A year later I was in the studio working with this band, and somebody mentioned the term Southern rock. I said ‘What the hell is that?’ And the guy looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘You oughta know – you invented it!’
Why do you think your music is drawing large college-age crowds?
There’s no way that [folks] my age go out to concerts. They came around once or twice when we first got back together just for old time’s sake. There’s no doubt, if it wasn’t for the young fans we wouldn’t be enjoying the success we have right now.
I was just talking about it with Oteil after we walked off stage just sky-high. I gave him a big old hug and I said, ‘Ain’t we lucky?’ He said, ‘You know, I thank God every day that I can do this and make a living at it.’