As Butch Trucks waited to go onstage for a free concert at Glassboro State College, it was less than two years after he and the Allman Brothers Band had performed for 100,000 fans across the Delaware River at the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Yet, the powerhouse drummer was as approachable as a member of any bar band playing covers in New Jersey.
I had the gumption of a rookie reporter, the knowledge of where the musicians were waiting at my alma mater and the benefit of being friends with the student in charge of the concert as I walked into a dorm lounge that was serving as the dressing room for the Betts, Hall, Leavell & Trucks band. Seeking some star power in order to sell a story later to an editor, I asked where Dickey Betts was (he was en route). Nevertheless, the gregarious and friendly Trucks ambled over and we struck up a conversation. It was Glassboro’s Spring Weekend, 1983.
Later, after the band’s outdoor set, Trucks joined a pickup softball game that was in progress nearby on a field at what now is known as Rowan University.
That’s the kind of down-to-earth guy Trucks was — in addition to being a key part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. And for those reasons, it’s why he will be missed in the rock world and the jam band scene.
Claude Hudson “Butch” Trucks died Jan. 24 at home in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to The Associated Press. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed. He would have turned 70 in May.
In a statement Wednesday, Gregg Allman said: “I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost another brother and it hurts beyond words. Butch and I knew each other since we were teenagers … . He was a great man and a great drummer.”
Trucks was known as “The Freight Train” for his driving rhythms as part of the Allman Brothers’ potent concoction of blues, jazz, swing and country — the musical brew that became known as Southern Rock. He and fellow drummer Jaimoe constituted a yin/yang beat for the Brothers, with the latter adding jazzy work and finesse to the straight-ahead rock beat Trucks brought to the stage. Gregg Allman and Trucks were the only members to be in the band for its entire 35 years of performing and recording: from the start in 1969 through its final performance in 2014. (The Allmans were inactive for about 10 years, mostly in the 1980s).
And when Trucks stepped out from behind his kit at the end of a jam to play on a pair of timpani drums, it was like hearing controlled thunder from the heavens. (Jump ahead to the 13-minute mark on the video below — from a show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic — for a sample of the power Trucks put forth.)
When not playing with the Allman Brothers, Trucks remained largely active throughout a 50-year career. In addition to BHL&T, he formed Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band after the Allmans stopped playing for good. Also, with several ABB alumni, he played in Les Brers — a nod to the 1972 ABB song “Les Brers in A Minor.” With that ensemble, he made his last New Jersey appearance in October at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair.
Years after our encounter in Glassboro, the conversation resumed over the phone as I was preparing a preview of the Allman Brothers’ 1995 run at Radio City Music Hall in New York. As instructed by management, I had called a hotel in the Southeast and asked for Hamilton Burger — the never-win attorney in the “Perry Mason” TV series and the pseudonym Trucks was registered under.
Butch apologized for calling back a bit later than the scheduled time, and explained that he had been out playing golf. I asked if he had played nine holes; he said no, 18. I was stunned: The man was going to pound the skins for a set of 2½ to three hours that night and had just played a full round of golf.
Nearly 48 at the time, Trucks shrugged off my reaction, and said that kind of day and night was not unusual for him.
Yes, the Freight Train had that kind of energy and drive — on stage and off.
Rest in peace, Butch Trucks. You earned it.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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