Friday night I caught up with Butch Trucks after his show with his Freight Train Band, at the Tarrytown Music Hall an hour north of the famed Beacon Theater. Butch and the band started the show, as he often does, with the Allman Brothers instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta,” and continued the two hour set with fan favorites including “Trouble No More,” “Jessica,” “Dreams,” and many others. The audience immediately recognized the rumbling bass line when the band returned for an encore that began with a thunderous “Whipping Post” before segueing into “Mountain Jam” and back to conclude the evening. Butch didn’t just play Allman Brothers material though, playing original material from keyboard player Bruce Katz, and treating the audience to a cover of “Highway 61 Revisited.” Butch isn’t known as a singer, but as he said “it’s a Bob Dylan song, so I don’t give a shit!” After playing “Statesboro Blues,” Butch took a minute out to quiz the audience on the authorship of the song (Blind Willie McTell) and making sure that the audience knew that Jesse Ed Davis (playing for Taj Mahal) was the first to play slide guitar on the song that became the Allman Brothers signature song.
I stopped backstage after the show for a quick “hello” while my wife waited outside.
In his dressing room, sipping a can of ginger ale (times have changed), Butch wanted to make clear that Jesse Ed Davis deserves the credit for the slide licks on the Allman Brothers’ rendition of Statesboro Blues:
“Duane learned to play slide on that song, and the version we play is a note for note copy of Taj Mahal’s. Duane was a genius man, and I’m not taking anything away from him, but he copied every lick on that song from Jesse. People think that because Ry Cooder played on that album, that Ry played slide, but that was Jesse Ed.”
(In an earlier interview Taj Mahal was also very clear on this same point.) Butch got to know Jesse several years after the Allman Brothers had incorporated Statesboro Blues into their repertoire and has fond memories: “Jesse Ed saved my ass man.” Explaining, Butch remembered stopping by the A&M studios in the early ‘70’s:
“I had this gorgeous blond girlfriend out in LA, and Jesse Ed and I were going to go out with our girlfriends for the evening. We stopped at the A&M studios where Phil Spector was recording, and pretty soon Phil started going on about how people shouldn’t be in the studio if they weren’t part of the recording.”
Butch quickly figured out who that was:
“After a few minutes, I looked around, and I knew he was talking about me. But he didn’t have the balls to just speak directly to me.”
Butch could have left, but Butch doesn’t back down easily:
“So I decided to see what the little runt would do. And he just kept getting louder and louder, and angrier and angrier, and so I walked down and stood right in front of him, and he was going on about how some people shouldn’t be down in front when he was trying to record, and I was the only one standing there.”
Jesse Ed Davis eventually pulled Butch out of the studio, pointing out to Butch that while Phil Spector was a little guy, there was “a guy in the corner who could have kicked my ass.”
Turning the conversation to that evening’s performance, Butch explained to me that Whipping Post didn’t start out the way we all know it today:
“When Gregg brought it to us, it was this slow, soft, ballad thing. But Berry (Oakley) got the idea to put that bass line on it” (Butch vocalizes the bass line.) “It was in 11/8 time, but I was the only one in the band who could read music, so when Jaimoe went to play it I just explained ‘play 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2’ and he got it.”
Gregg wasn’t happy with the changes though:
“Man, Gregg was pissed. ‘You’re messing with my songs’ he said, and he kept saying he was going to go back to LA. So his brother Duane just sat his ass down and told him ‘listen baby bro’, you were ready to quit music. This here band is going to make you famous, so you just stick around.’ And he did.”
By that time my 5 minute “hello” had turned into 30 minutes, so I let Butch go for the evening, thanked him for the great show and the interview, and headed outside to find my patient wife. More insights from Butch will be included in The Unbroken Circle.