Today would have been Butch Trucks‘ 70th birthday. The legendary drummer and original member of the Allman Brothers Band tragically died earlier this year, a reality I haven’t been able to stop thinking about — especially after experiencing the loss of Col. Bruce Hampton last week. Butch was my “godfather,” while Col. Bruce Hampton my dear friend. Two of rock and roll’s greatest influences have passed on, but their stories and legacies will always endure. The key to grieving has been to celebrate life — to share memories, music, and all the people that connect them together.
When people tell me they’re sorry for my loss, I often respond that it’s a greater loss for rock and roll and everyone that is a part of that world. It’s occurred to me more recently how instrumental Butch and Bruce were to our community, to our scene. The outpour of stories from fans and musicians alike prove just how accessible, how meaningful they both were to our circle. The relationship between Butch and Bruce goes back as far as the beginning of the Allman Brothers Band; without one or the other, it seems as though each would not be the same.
As a tribute to Butch’s birthday, the big 7-0, I’d like to share the speech that I delivered at his memorial service in Macon, Georgia on February 20, 2017 at the Cox Capitol Theatre. It was an honor to share my portion of his story amongst the many greats in the room, though I’ll admit a little intimidating to speak alongside Warren Haynes, Johnny Podell, Oteil Burbridge, Jaimoe, Kirk West, and the familial relatives that helped color Butch’s life.
But I knew it had to be done. My story wasn’t like any of theirs.
When Vaylor asked me to speak today, I was honored — but slightly disoriented. I’m not a blood relative, I never played music with him. I don’t have any stories from the road. He’s just a man who demanded I call him “Uncle Butch” for the last twenty years of my life. I guess that’s pretty special.
I met the Trucks family when I was seven years old after they moved to my hometown of Palm Beach. It never really made sense to me why they lived there. I don’t think he made sense of it either, but it brought Butch together with my Dad who became one of his closest friends and mentors. That seemed to be a life-changing friendship for all of us.
As my Dad’s been there to help the Trucks family through all this, it’s given me a chance to see how great of an impact that relationship has had on my personal life. Sure, it’s pretty cool that my first concert ever was Frogwings [a band made up of Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, Kofi Burbridge, Edwin McCain, Marc Quiñones, and Butch Trucks] and that I’ve seen the Allman Brothers play more times than I can count, but all those experiences came with great life lessons.
Growing up backstage with the Allman Brothers Band provided me with a lifetime of unteachable moments. Where to sit, where to stand, when to hustle; who to ask, who not to ask, when to know your place. Thanks to people like Bert [Holman] and Stacey [Maranz], I learned the etiquette of the industry surrounded by legends. With respect being the overarching theme, I learned very quickly how to act around others.
What Butch taught me most, though, was how to act on my own. Every gift he gave me was signed “Eat A Peach” and it wasn’t until my college poetry class that I truly understood what that meant, at least, in theory, according to Butch: it was inspired by a quote from Duane Allman that perhaps came from a line of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
After going back and forth in his own mind about making a decision inspired by love, the narrator asks: “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” In this context, the peach — whatever the thinker chooses to let it represent — becomes a metaphor for life, for risk. It is something one must experience before growing old.
To eat a peach is a choice. While the fruit is inevitably messy, it is equally delectable. It gets stuck in your teeth, drips down your shirt, and sticks to your hands, but we still choose to eat them for the satisfaction that we crave. If you dare to eat a peach, you are willing to accept the outcome. Dichotomously, a peach is both sweet and sour, soft and hard, smooth and fuzzy. It’s delicious, but you must eat it with full willingness to get messy – because, you know, you can always change your shirt.
Whatever the peach might represent to you, it’s worth taking the first bite.
The quote that supposedly inspired the album name came from an interview question about helping the revolution, to which Duane responded: “There ain’t no revolution, only evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I ‘eat a peach’ for peace.”
I know Butch evolved in a profound way after Duane died. A conversation doesn’t go by without citing a reference or telling a story that’s Skydog-related. I may only have been around for the last two decades, but I still reaped the benefits of the wisdom from a man I never knew — and so did all of my friends and family who ever met or spoke with Butch.
That’s one of the things that made him so special; he might act like he knows far more than everyone on the planet, but Duane Allman was the exception.
Those two shared a mind, and I’m honored to have tapped into it as much as I have.
Keeping with the rhythms of life, Butch’s influence on me is never-ending. He flicked a switch in me when I first saw him play. I quickly realized that music had the ingredients to change a life. As I grew older, I centered this passion to become part of my career.
My experience in the music industry truly began when Butch started his Roots Rock Revival camp in Big Indian, NY. With Oteil, Luther, Cody, and more of the extended rock and roll family, I found the light of what it means to bring people together — for the love of the music. That camp started almost four years ago, and I saw Butch grow brighter and brighter every summer because of it. He was the happiest I’d ever seen him, ever. And he changed so many lives by doing what he did.
It’s hard to think that a soul that loud could just disappear. I’ve never met a bigger character in my entire life, and I know that his voice will live on through each and every one that he’s ever met.
It is my life mission to spread his gospel, to eat a peach for peace, and to honor him in my decisions, both personally and professionally. I’m so grateful to have met all of you as a result of my incomparable relationship with this man.
After Butch’s service, I had dinner with Col. Bruce. He brought us to this odd, off-the-highway restaurant with fluorescent lights that served both Indian and Mediterranean food. They were about to close but stayed open for only us, and greated us all with an emphatic “Happy Birthday” upon entering. It was an establishment Bruce has faithfully dined at for several decades; it turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had, of course.
Instead of mourning the immensely difficult month we’d all experienced, Bruce showed us videos of a 90-something-year-old pianist that he’d found at a club somewhere and was excited to book shows with—he ended up being one of the many on stage at Hampton 70. There was more excitement than sadness in Bruce’s voice, something that confused me at the time. It’s more obvious to me now that he was the kind of spirit that lived just a few steps ahead of the present, and that inspired me to do the same. After all, losing is gaining, right?
Last week in New Orleans, a group of musicians came together to celebrate the lives of Butch Trucks and Col. Bruce Hampton for a show at One Eyed Jacks. Warren Haynes and Jeff Sipe unexpectedly joined Duane Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, Eric Krasno, Danny Louis, Scott Metzger, and several others as the Daze Between Band to honor the two influencers, and quite frankly, to play through the emotions of their loss.
In going through the stages of grief with Butch, the death of Col. Bruce Hampton cemented and suspended a feeling of reality. As difficult a thought it is to grasp, losing these two mentors has been a perspective-shifting experience for many. I frequently find myself searching for truth within the same dimensions of heartache, but have found solace in music and the celebration of life. This seems to be a communal sentiment, as the energy from the room catapulted into a marvelous gesture to the sky.
While “legends” in their own realm, Butch Trucks and Col. Bruce Hampton were staple spirits to the community. They provided much more than music and are two of the few exceptions in rock and roll to ever willingly do so. Everyone who has had the delight of their personal influence will say the same.
Happy Birthday, Butch, the world misses you so, so much.
[photos by Michael Bloom Photography]