Now in its 45th year, the Allman Brothers Band is gearing up for its final performance at Wanee -- a three-day annual music festival that the group's so proudly organized for the fans over the past decade.
The band's current roster includes founding members Gregg Allman on the organ, piano, and vocals, Butch Trucks on drums and tympani, and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson on drums and percussion. Over the years, the original group has welcomed members Warren Haynes on guitar and slide guitar, Marc Quiñones on drums and percussion, Oteil Burbridge on bass, and Derek Trucks on guitar and slide guitar.
Although Allman, Trucks, Johanson, and crew have taken several breaks from the performing spotlight in the past, 2014 could very well be their last hoorah as The Allman Brothers Band.
Photo by Derek McCabe
But as this final year of touring continues, the seven-piece outfit isn't looking to lament or begin saying goodbye.
"I'm not going to sit around worrying about what the future is going to bring. I heard something not long ago: 'You can sit around and worry about the future, but that has absolutely no effect on the future, all it does is screw up the moment,'" drummer Butch Trucks quotes.
Last week, Crossfade caught up with Butch to get some history behind Wanee's advent, some feedback on the band's decision to quit touring, and insight on what the future holds for the drummer.
Crossfade: How did Wanee get started back in 2005?
Butch Trucks: Well, this is actually an idea I had about 15 years ago because I knew at some point that Derek would want to be doing more and more on his own, so I was just trying to think of ways where we could go out for a minimum amount of shows while maximizing exposure, fun, and profitability. My idea was to do a festival in the Southeast, one in the Northeast, one in the Midwest, and one on the West Coast but at the time one of the members of the band said, 'Well you guys do it but I won't be there.' Then once he was no longer a member of the band we started doing it and we've been doing it for nine or ten years now. How many years have we done this?
This is Wanee's tenth anniversary.
Yeah, that sounds right to me. Then about five years ago we added the The Peach Festival up in Scranton [Pennsylvania] so two of the four festivals have worked out; Wanee has worked out beyond anybody's wildest dreams. It's just great; most of everyone that plays there says it's the best festival in the country almost every year. When you go there it's just beautiful, we've only had one year where we had some rain and it wasn't that bad so we're just hoping it's not going to rain and that we have another beautiful weekend. We have another great lineup once again and as usual we'll have 18,000 or 19,000 people there raging from [ages] 70 to 13 and having a party.
Does the band having anything special lined up for your final performances this year?
I'm a little perturbed because at Lockn' and Mountain Jam they've got us locked in. At Mountain Jam we're supposed to be playing the first two albums in sequence and at Lockn' we're supposed to be playing At Fillmore East in sequence. I don't know; it just doesn't seem right to me. This is our last year touring and we have to go out with Warren and Derek and play songs that they weren't even around for but I'd like to play a lot more of the stuff that they have been a part of. We'll see what happens; I don't like being tied down like that. If you've been following us you know that we'll get up every night and you'll never know what we're going do. I never know what we're going to do [laughs] and that's one of the things that keeps it fun and interesting and keeps you on your toes because we might pull something out of the bag that we haven't played in a long time and you might have to actually stop to think about it.
That's interesting that they've requested that but I'm sure fans will enjoy it either way.
Yeah. Well, "Black Hearted Woman," off of the first album, what we play now is quite a hell of a lot more than what "Black Hearted Woman" was. It started as a three-minute song and what we do now is a 15-minute jam. On the first album when "Black Hearted Woman" ends we kind of start at jam and it just fades out, but what we're doing now is picking up where we left off and we've added a jam to the end of that track that's really fun. Like I said, it's one of those things where every night you're not really sure where it's going to go. That's what I like; I like playing songs like that.
So you prefer playing jams to your recorded material?
Absolutely. I don't understand how bands like The Eagles can go out night after night and play the same songs note for note exactly like the record because that would blow my brains out; that would absolutely bore me stiff. There are a lot of bands that do that because they think that reproducing their record is the hype of musicianship, I find it tedious.
Especially for as long as you guys have been around, I'm sure you appreciate having some authenticity to switch things up at each show.
They call it jam bands and I don't like labels; I kind of like Gregg's thing, he says, 'We're not a jam band we're a band that jams.' If you're familiar with us you know that.
So you guys have been around for over 40 years now, what are some interesting ways you've adapted yourselves to changes in technology over the years?
This is our 45th anniversary but, you know, I don't think technology has really affected us that much. We're still playing the same guitars, the same drums through pretty much the same amplifiers that we played 45 years ago. Now, I don't know maybe the circuitry in some of those amps that Warren and Derek are playing through have had some improvements in it but basically they're two amps that are built pretty much like the Margules was that Duane and Dickey played back in 1969 and 1970. The leaps in technology have been in recording and if you haven't noticed we don't do a whole lot of recording; we don't go into recording studios that often [laughs] and when we do it's kind of strange. I'm kind of a believer in digital recording and the progress that has been made in technology in the studio but it's the younger guys, Warren and Derek, which still want to record on a Studer 16 track tape machine.
The last record we made, which was quite a while ago, we did all our tracks on two 24 track Studer tape machines. After we got the tracks done then we did dump it down to Pro Tools and finish the overdubs and mixing and everything else but the basic tracks were done on pretty much the same machinery that we used back when we first started. Gregg is still playing that Hammond B3 and I think they make them now just the way they did 60 years ago [laughs]. Now, he does have a company that beefs up his Leslie [guitar] but they've been doing that for thirty or forty years too; it's a company named Goff that takes Leslie and beefs up the amplifier and puts heavy duty speaker in them so they can take a lot more volume but that's nothing new, he's been doing that for as long as I remember. I guess the only new technology we have would be Gregg's keyboard that he sets up to sound like a piano. Other than that, we're not big into the new technology; we're still trying to play music.
In terms of you guys ending your touring, I know you've taken a couple breaks in the past. Is this the final one?
You know, I don't know. Like I said, this is our 45th anniversary and this may very well be our final year but we'll just have to wait and see. Right now, I'm just going to enjoy this year and enjoy every minute of it. I'm not going to sit around thinking about how this is the end; if it is the end, then I'm going to enjoy it. We've called it quits before and we're still around so I don't know; I wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point.
How did the idea come about then to take this break? Was it a group decision?
Well, actually Derek is the one. He's told us for several years and I've seen this coming; it's the reason that we started doing these festivals because I knew at some point that Derek would want to be more than just another guitar player in The Allman Brothers Band and that he would want to go out and establish his own legacy. He's good enough that he should. Derek has just finally reached the point where the band that he and his wife have, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, has started to take off and he feels that since this is our 45th anniversary that he's got to go on and pursue his career. That kind of triggered Warren to follow and say, 'Well if Derek is going to leave then it may not be as good so let's call it quits.' As soon as the two of them made the announcement then Gregg said, 'Okay, then this is the end of the line for The Allman Brothers,' which he really doesn't have the power to do but whatever.
We'll just have to wait and see. I'm going to enjoy every minute of this year, if it is the last year then I'm not going to waste time sitting around worrying about what's to come; I'm going to enjoy what I'm doing. It was sad that we had to cancel the last four shows at the Beacon because Gregg got very sick but the ten shows that we did play were some of the most fun shows I've ever played in my life. We're right at the top of our game right now so that argument goes both ways; if you're at the top of your game then why quit but then if it's time to quit then you may as well do it while you're at the top of the game. We don't want to turn into a nostalgia act, you know? There are enough of those out there. [Laughs]
What are your plans for after you finish touring? Do you have any music projects in line or are you just going to relax for a bit?
I don't really now yet, I've got several ideas but I'll develop them as the year goes by. My wife and I own a home in France and little by little we're going to be spending more and more time over there. It's an old 14th century farm house in the country that we've renovated and it's just beautiful and relaxing and stress free. My wife is a painter and we both just love it there so it might be that we may just move there and just become dual citizens, I really don't know right now. Right now, like I said, I'm in the middle of this year's Allman Brothers run and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.
As things develop then things will open up, they always have. I'm going to keep playing music in one form or another; with what group it is or what group of people it's with I don't know, I can't tell you but I've got an idea. I've got several ideas but I'm not going to discuss them now it's just way too early. I'm just going to develop those ideas and see which ones pan out.
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