Take all the stereotypical images of the rock ‘n’ roll drummer instilled through the decades – especially the ones that stressed bravado and Spinal Tap-level theatrics over taste, timing and talent – and then flip them. Among the artists you are likely to find on the other side is Butch Trucks.
For 45 years, Trucks occupied one of the two drum chairs in the Allman Brothers Band. From its inception in 1969 to its final dispersal in 2014, he was a deceptively quiet partner in a tight knit pack of mavericks that meshed Southern blues, rock, swing, country and jazz into a sound that spawned successive generations of imitators. The headlines always went to the figurehead players – namely, singer Gregg Allman or the succession of remarkable guitarists passing through the ranks that included founder Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes and the drummer’s heralded nephew, Derek Trucks. Aside from brother Gregg, the elder Trucks was the only player to serve in every incarnation of the band.
But listen to the Allmans’ studio or numerous live recordings and what you heard was a remarkable contrast to the machismo beats and grooves that dominated mainstream rock then and now. Trucks’ playing, like that of longtime Allmans co-hort Jaimoe, fell into an easier stride. It seemed more jazz-rooted than anything, pinpointing a shuffle or bit of swing and then leading it more by instinct than technique.
Wonderful cases in point: the light but relentless percussive groove that glides along with “Dreams” on the Allmans’ self-titled 1969 debut album, the subtle acceleration that pumps into action during 1972’s “Les Brer in A Minor” and the seemingly docile rhythm that whips itself into a slide-savvy frenzy during the crescendo of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (especially the 1973 live version, a decidedly jazzy revision with Chuck Leavell on keyboards).
Sure, Trucks got plenty of room to solo during the increasingly long jams that became prevalent throughout the band’s later years. But like all truly great drummers, regardless of genre or generation, he was at his best when others were at the helm. A star he wasn’t. Trucks was instead the engine driver, an unassuming but assertive percussive force within a legendary band and sound.