Interview: Catching Up With Butch Trucks

The lowdown on Moogis, named for what Butch’s infant son said when he tried to say “music,” is thus: A subscription buy in of $125 – the price went up $25 after Feb. 15 – gets you video and audio of Beacon 2009 through Moogis, and also vault material from Beacons and other ABB events past, as well as a social networking platform with other subscribers.

It’s something Trucks has been working on with a passion for some time now, and as he joined us on the phone, he was happy to stir the pot on a number of levels.

HT: Good afternoon, I’m looking for Mr. Trucks.

BUTCH TRUCKS: [Laughs] This is Butch. Mr. Trucks is my daddy!

HT: Roger that, sir. Butch, thanks for giving us the opportunity today. By all accounts, this year’s 15-show Beacon Theater run is going to be a blowout.

BT: Ah, yup! It is going to be that. No question.

HT: How go rehearsals and other preparations?

BT: Everything is going fantastic. The only person I feel sorry for is our manager, because he’s got some major logistical coordination to do. Every single night is a different oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. In fact, we got a call three or four days ago.  Out of the blue these people called us – and these are people that we worship, that we listen to – and they called and they asked if they could come play. I can’t tell you who, but I’ll say it this way: there’s not a whole lot of people out there who we look up to. And they’re coming, oh yeah. We already had another night put together with a similar type of group.

HT: You can’t give us any indication?

BT: No, come on, no. But it’s some of the top jazz players. Who they are you can guess, but we’re trying to keep things a surprise. If you’ve been to any of the Beacon shows before, you know that every night means surprises. I think this year the surprise level is going to take a quantum leap. All I can tell the guys at the Beacon is that they’d better be ready to push the roof back on after we’re done, ’cause we’re going to blow it off.

HT: What do you think about the Beacon renovation? I was there last week for Leonard Cohen and it’s pretty stunning.

BT: I still haven’t seen it yet! I was there about a month or two ago and there was still no rug down and all the chairs were down and there were boxes on the stage and I was like oh shit. But there’s a video we posted to Moogis of us doing a walk through — take a look at what it looked like then. From what I hear, it’s just absolutely amazing. When I was there I did think, oh my god, they’re not going to be ready for this. But people have a way of getting to work and getting it done. And hey, what I’m most excited about is I have my own bathroom. If I want to take a shower, I don’t go into the bathroom and walk in on Marc in his underwear. [laughs]

HT: Now, these special guests. Without giving too much away, though you’re certainly invited to do so if you’d like, will you be playing primarily their songs, having them play Allman Brothers Band songs, or a little of both?

BT: We’re going to do both. We did a couple weeks of rehearsal and that time was spent doing 20 to 30 songs of the people we’re going to play with. What we’re trying to do with everyone that’s coming is play a couple of their songs and then have them sit in on a couple of our songs. We just got a DVD of a montage of photos of Duane, too. As you may know we’re dedicating all 15 shows to Duane – he put the fire into this and taught us a bit about life and how to live it, and we kept it going. But without Duane, this doesn’t happen. Without Duane, things like ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ doesn’t happen, and Clapton himself has said so. Duane walked into that session, took good music and stuff rolling around, and set fire to it. He had that ability.

So we thought about it and over the past year we realized the only thing we’ve ever done officially is dedicate ‘Eat a Peach’ to a brother. So it’s about damn time we do something like this – Duane was a very special part of the American musical scene and he made a huge impact. We’re going to celebrate that. And yes, we have invited a lot of the people that he knew and he played with, and a lot of the people that came later and were influenced by what Duane did. Some of those, too, were out of the jazz field, which blows us away because that’s kind of what he tried to do. If the Allman Brothers Band did anything unique, I think it’s that we took rock and roll and added a piece of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea and shoved things in their direction.

HT: Let’s talk about Moogis. I know you had tried to get this rolling back in 2007, but it didn’t come to pass. Why not?

BT: Money.

HT: That’s a good reason.

BT: Yeah, it was investors, and with good reason. I think too many young kids out there don’t feel like they have to pay for anything on the Internet – they think it ought to be free. If the investors are right – I think they’re a little bit leery of this – than the kids are stealing all this stuff on the Internet and not paying for it, and not too far from now they’re going to be facing a lack of music. What do I mean by that? Musicians have to eat, too. It’s the way we make our living – playing music.

We spend a lot of money going into the studio to make records, and why people think they have the right to have that record for free I have no idea. If you’re, oh, a chair maker, and I come in and lift your completed chair without paying for it…well, there really is no difference. The only difference is that our product – the thing that we make – is digitizable, and therefore able to be copied and stolen. If the trend continues, well, look, the record companies are dead and dying. The number one seller of music in the world is iTunes, and the number of tunes they’re selling isn’t even approaching what music was selling when CDs were popular.

We’re one of the lucky ones that we can make our living playing live music – people will come out to and pay for our shows. But we had to do that by selling records and getting know so that we could go out and play live concerts. There is no way for new bands to do that. They put their music out and if everyone’s going to just steal what they do, how do they make enough to be able to put on concerts? I think you understand what I’m saying.

HT: How does Moogis fit in here, and how has the launch gone?

BT: Things are going well – Moogis has been online for about a month. I was hoping things would be going a little better [with subscriptions] but I was willing to accept a little worse than where we are now, too. If Moogis is profitable enough, we will go to stage two and broaden Moogis to support the whole jamband scene – create a community for the top 200 to 300 jambands in the country so that fans can subscribe to Moogis.com and see a live concert by a great band every night of the week if they want, as well as interviews, videos, and anything else you can do with a band. It’s a community, and the fun thing to do is flame everyone else, right? I’d love to be able to do a show with the Dead, put it up on the internet, and then let the Deadheads have at the Peacheaters. Great back-and-forth! [Laughs]

HT: The Allman Brothers Band has for about six years now been offering its summer tour through Instant Live. Why haven’t you been able to do that with the Beacon shows?

BT: Well, that’s just because Instant Live is able to go out and do it in the summer shows and really make it work. For them, the audience at the Beacon is just too small to make it profitable – I’m pretty sure that’s the reason. But for the Beacon shows, you know, we have people that come from all over the world. I’ve been doing interviews with people in France, Sweden, Germany, Spain, you name it. And it’s worked. We’re getting a lot of European subscribers to Moogis.

One other thing I wanted to mention, and you’ll be one of the first to know, is that we ran many different tests and we want to have as many people able to see it and watch it with good quality without buffering and lagging and problems. We were going to run the stream at 500 k, and in a 16 x 9 format, which is your basic widescreen HD format. Until Mr. Obama makes good on his promise to get more bandwidth out there, most Americans can’t handle a high definition stream — they’d be sitting there watching it buffer all night long and not see much of anything. What we decided, though, is that there are enough people out there who can handle 1 meg. That puts us only 1/4 of a meg away from high def. So it won’t be high def, but it will be very high quality.

Camera-wise, we’re trying very very carefully to position these cameras at the Beacon so they’re not in the face of everyone. The crowd being all over the stage and on each side of is part of what makes the Beacon special. We did a DVD there several years ago [in 2003], and they came in with this camera crew and a crane and wouldn’t allow anyone on stage and turned on the lights in the audience and it was like we were in some studio. The crowd was subdued. So I’ve bought seats for the cameramen this time, and we’ll also have two handheld cameras moving around the stage and that will be the most visual thing people can say. There will be no cranes flying around the room; we want people to feel like they’re there, and cranes are distracting as hell and they’re intimidating. We will still have eight or nine cameras without being in everybody’s face.

HT: How did you settle on the pricing structure for Moogis?

BT: We picked out a bunch of prices and threw a dart on the wall [laughs]. Nah, we wanted to keep it as low at possible, and it’s still $25 higher than we’d like because to date the cost of bandwidth is significant. We’re leaving all 15 of the Beacon shows up for six months after – through Sept. 30 you can watch them as many times as you want. If anybody out there watches any show 20 times, we lose money, so we had to kind of guess at what the average person is going to do. Our biggest expense is bandwidth. Hopefully Mr. Obama will come through, too, and increase it.

But whether or not it’s priced low enough, it’s also can be profitable enough to move onto the next stage. The legacy I want to leave behind is a place where young bands can go and get that national exposure that FM radio gave us – it makes it possible for them to get heard. There’s no radio anymore, it’s tough, and a young band just can’t make it. If a place like Moogis catches on to where we can have thousands of people online, we share with those bands the money we make and they could make in one night what they’d otherwise make in a year. The Beacon is our proof of concept — if it works, we’ll move to the next step. If it doesn’t, we’ll say good try.

HT: Jumping back to the band for a second, does the Allman Brothers Band have plans to unveil new songs at the Beacon, or record a new material?

BT: Absolutely. Whether or not we go into the studio is another question. Personally, I hate the studio, always have. We would have had some more music for this run but we spent all our rehearsal time with the songs from these other people. We did put the finishing touches on an Oteil instrumental that’s been around a few years [“Egypt”], and there’s also a new instrumental that Derek and Warren put together. I think what will happen after this run is that we’ll have more time for rehearsal. We’ll put out new music, yes.

HT: There’s been a lot of speculation that this 40th anniversary tour is actually the beginning of a scale-back for the band, but it sounds from you like there’s no plans to slow down. Is talk of a scale-back inaccurate?

BT: It’s inaccurate for this year. This year will be the biggest summer tour in a long time — we’re going to do twice as many shows this year than we have in the summer for the last 10 to 15 years. But this is the last year we’re going to do that. Derek and Warren both have their projects and we promised them that if they would give us a lot of time this year, we will back off and not tour as much in the future. I mean, I’m 61 years old and that’s OK with me. We will still do the Beacon every year, and we’ll probably do 12 to 15 venues, the major places, in the summer. That’s our plans going forward.

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6 Responses

  1. Hey man I think it’s an record of Having anchored the Allman Brothers Band’s drum assault for 40 years now; I really want congrats all for that first.
    Thanks for this online blog about this interview, and giving the complete detail of that interview, I am actually don’t know more about them but my some friends are crazy about it,I will definitely tell them about this blog and they will surely like it.

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