Butch Trucks, Allman Brothers Band co-founder, dies at 69

Butch Trucks, whose longtime drumming as co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band offered steady rhythm to such classics as “Rambin’ Man,” “Melissa” and “Whipping Post,” has died. 

The drummer, who was 69, died on Tuesday night in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to a statement from his representative. The official cause of death has not been disclosed.  

“The Trucks and Allman Brothers Band families request all of Butch's friends and fans to please respect our privacy at this time of sadness for our loss,” read the statement, in part. “Butch will play on in our hearts forever.”

A spokesman for the West Palm Beach police department told The Times that an investigation is under way and that the cause of death will be determined by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office.

The Miami Herald has reported that Trucks died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head and witnessed by his wife, Melinda Trucks, based on the transcript of a 911 call the news organization said it obtained. The policeman spokesman said he could not confirm that report.

As part of the dueling-drummer Southern rock rebels, Trucks’ work connected rock, old-school R&B, boogie-woogie and improvised jazz at a moment when the dominance of free-form FM radio afforded DJs the latitude to play extended, jam-heavy rock songs. The result propelled legions of stoned hippies — and straight-up players — to groove and dance.

Last year, Rolling Stone magazine named Trucks one of the 100 greatest drummers of all time, along with fellow Allman Brothers Band founder Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson. The two played drums side by side throughout the band’s nearly 50-year history.

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Formed in 1969 and steered by Duane and Gregg Allman, the group helped define the Southern rock sound.

Trucks inclusion in the band, however, almost didn’t happen. Born Claude Hudson Trucks in Jacksonville, Fla., by his teens Trucks was playing drums in area rock ‘n’ roll bands including the Vikings and the 31st of February.

He met the Allmans on the club circuit, and they started jamming together.  

Though a talented drummer, Trucks admitted to being tentative behind the kit as he was starting out. “I was riddled with self-doubt about my playing. Although I was very good drummer, I lacked that confidence,” he told the website Swampland in an undated interview.

That changed one day in the late 1960s during a rehearsal in which Trucks recalled feeling particularly self-conscious. “Duane whipped around, locked eyes with me and played a screaming riff with a ‘Come on, you s.o.b.’ look,” Trucks said. 

Trucks said his first reaction was to back off even more, but that after a few more glares he instead got angry “and started hitting my drums like they were Duane’s head. Needless to say the jam just took off with all of the energy I was pouring into it.” 

Said Trucks, “I swear it was like he reached inside of me and flicked a switch. It was an epiphany. I have played from that moment to this with all off the power at my disposal. No more nervousness.” 

The Allman Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Since the band’s retirement in 2014, Trucks played with his band Butch Trucks and the Freight Train, which included his son, Vaylor, on lead guitar.

Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band toured throughout 2016 — including a slot at Sunfest alongside Duran Duran and Alabama Shakes — and in an interview the musician said he felt like “Superman” while performing, even if his age reminded him otherwise.  

“I’m in the upper 60s now and after six or seven days, I was tired,” Trucks told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in 2015 about continuing to perform.

“I’d walk to the theater and there’s three steps up to the drum riser. Well, I’d look at those steps and they’d look like Mount Everest. But I’d crawl up there, get all hooked up and half way through the first song I’m an 18-year-old Superman.”

He added, “Something happens when the music starts, and all that tiredness just goes away. When it’s going like that, I’ll take on any 20-year-old hot-shot drummer who wants to try me. In those hours, I’m just soaring.”

Trucks, whose nephew Derek Trucks is an acclaimed guitarist, is the third founding member of the Allman Bros. to have died. Duane Allman died at age 24 following a motorcycle accident in 1971, and bassist Berry Oakley was killed at the same age in a similar accident a little more than a year later. The two are buried next to each other.

Trucks is survived by his wife, four children and four grandchildren. His family asks that donations and remembrances be made in his name to the Big House Museum in Macon, Ga. 

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UPDATES:

11:50 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details and background.

Jan. 27, 2:53 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the West Palm Beach police department and from the Miami Herald.

This article was originally published at 10:10 a.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

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