“Crossroads, will you ever let him go?
Will you hide the dead man’s ghost?
Or will he lie beneath the clay?
Will his spirit float away?
lord, I know that he won’t stay…“
– from Melissa (by the Allman Brothers Band)
The irreverently demanding and chewing-on-styrofoam-like annoyance of my phone’s alarm song filled my eighth-floor room on the corner of Bourbon and Canal in good ol’ New Orleans, the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the greatest city in (but never really a conforming part of) the United States.
I’ve been here for a few days now, and will be taking my leave tomorrow before stopping over in Nashville to see some of my all-time favorite songwriters at the Ryman Auditorium. Then I will point my car northeast for another four days of travel, live music, sharing of stories, and as much as I can muster – writing.
For now, I repeat the routine.
Slap off the alarm (“dismiss,” not “snooze!”)
Assess my location. The room looks familiar, and these seem to be my belongings strewn about. Good.
Weigh my desire for nicotine against annoyance of having to dress, walk, and fend off spare change-seeking zombies. Desire loses (again).
Scratch what itches.
Clear what’s clogged.
Find my phone. It’s actually charged? Way to go, past-me! Can’t see shit, though.
Find my glasses. Still can’t see shit.
Clean my glasses. Still can’t see shit.
Clean the screen.
Begin my daily (and increasingly violent) love/hate relationship with Facebook.
Not one minute into the daily dance, I vehemently hate Facebook again.
Perhaps, at least in this particular instance, the hatred is misguided. Facebook is after all simply the deliverer of bad news, not the cause of it (or so conventional wisdom leads us to believe). I can fully admit that I have a bit of a short fuse in the temperamental sense when it comes to receiving bad news like this, but c’mon man… 2016 was relentless in it’s insistence on plucking our beloved artists from this plane of existence and pulling them to the next. The fact that so many of them were taken without warning only served to add insult to injury. Babies are born, people die, and the whole wide world keeps spinning around – yeah, I get it – but we lost an unprecedented number of important artists last year, and some quite simply much too early.
I had hoped 2017 would provide some sort of tourniquet to the pulsing and gushing, artery-slashed, critical condition-like flow of unwelcome news 2016.
Donald Trump is President. Is this not enough? Did this not balance the universal scales, or at least tip it so far in the direction of darkness that we could usher in 2017 in no other way than with some balance-restoring stories of great goods being done?
Nope. It’s on me I guess.
Today’s gift from Facebook, posted mere minutes earlier…
Upon reflection, I remembered the last time I spoke the name “Butch Trucks.”
It stood out because it was actually fewer than twelve hours prior, somewhere in the time/space vicinity of 1:15 a.m. New Orleans time and the general geographic coordinates of Royal and Dumaine. My location in both aspects was changing each millisecond. Time, due to the very essence of what it is, and location, due to the movement of the vehicle that I found myself in, both driver and passenger predestined to meet, ride, and part ways (optimistically taking a small piece of each other with us for our future journeys).
My fellow intrepid travelers and live music enthusiasts chatted in the back seat, and they started to include the cab driver in their interests.
“That’s not fair!” I shot back in unison with one of my backseat brothers in response to my backseat sister’s question, leveled at the driver, with no sensitivity of the situation or the unfairness of the question. She essentially leveled the Sophie’s Choice question at our driver, like a gun to the temple. Answer now! Di di mau!
The driver sweated and stuttered and vocally agreed. Man… that’s no fair…
…but the horse was out of the barn now, and there’s no bringing it back. She said “Beetleguise” thrice, and now we had to deal with the monster in the room (or Lincoln Continental as the case may be) or it would taunt and torture us relentlessly.
I only under this pressure rephrased the question for her, directly and succinctly to the driver:
“If you’re on a desert island, with access to only one musical artist or band, for the eternity of your lonely shipwrecked existence, who would it be?”
Backseat brother and I pontificated for him, leading by example, showing him how the game is played. We noted that ‘body of work’ is an important factor. You certainly don’t want to make a choice that limits you to only a handful of albums, regardless of quality. You’ll be there a long time, we reminded him.
Likewise the diversity of that body of work would be important, and we agreed that bands that reinvented themselves over the years and explored different sounds and genres would be a desired factor in the ideal answer to this question that has no real incorrect answer.
My least of all evils, of course… “The Grateful Dead.”
Backseat brother’s answer equally as generic and obvious: “The Beatles.”
Gears and teeth grinding.
Then I saw a look of resignation and compromise from the driver, which at first I thought might simply be a decision to quit driving Uber after this unexpected and unfair musical act of terrorism (I took this job because I like talking to interesting people, and I get this bullshit?!), but then recognizably forming into a look of, “Okay, I got this.” Resignation, if not a glimmer of confidence in his decision.
“Fuck yeah!”, “Great answer!”, “Well Played!” from this now-somehow-non-threatening gang of terrorists. The situation diffused into camaraderie so quickly that I’m sure he was somewhat skeptical that he was really off the hook, but he was. That was a gold-star answer, and this man worthy of respect. Well played, indeed.
I’m not sure what would have ensued if he arrived at an unacceptable, or outright baffling answer like “John Cougar Mellencamp” (no offense, John). The punishment would probably just be a very silent, awkward trudge through the rest of the French Quarter, if not a “Hey man, you know what? You can drop us off here. We just realized we have to stop somewhere on foot before the hotel,” story that he would know was bullshit. He’d have to live with the shame and guilt of that early morning in perpetuity. We would, too, because we were the ones that did it to him. This is a dangerous game we play, where bodies are often left in the road behind our callous and reckless musical sensibilities.
“Eric Clapton” was as perfect and welcome of an answer as anyone could possibly expect of a person under such pressure and scrutiny, and we recognized him for it.
We talked about his body of work, and the diversity of it. His solo works alone would keep you from getting burned out for many years on that fictional island (the island deserted, but with reliable electricity and AV equipment of course), and we of course allowed him the liberty of bringing along the other ancillary Clapton collections such as Derek and the Dominos, Cream, the Yardbirds, and Blind Faith, naming only a few of his extended choices.
We immediately turned to favorite Clapton songs and the driver mentioned a couple of Derek and the Dominos tracks, including “Keep on Growing.” This song had been in my regular playlist cycle for some months after re-discovering the power of this song back in November.
I asked a question to which I thought there was only one, obvious answer:
“You’re heard Tedeschi-Trucks doing ‘Keep on Growing’, right?”
“The Tedeschi-Trucks Band? Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks?”
“Hmmm. Nope. Haven’t heard of ’em.”
Thought one: The fuck?!
Thought two: Testify, brother.
I explained to him who Derek Trucks is, which for those of you similarily unenlightened, is the nephew of Butch Trucks (founding and still very active member of the Allman Brothers). Derek was raised on and in the Allman Brothers ecosystem, and his very name was derived from the “Derek and the Dominos” band moniker (which I leave unverified because sometimes the inconvenient truth gets in the way of a good story).
A guitar virtuoso by thirteen years old, Derek was a product both musically and spiritually aligned with the circle of musicians that made up his family, both of blood and spirit. He became an official part of the Allman Brothers Band in 1999. He’s played with everyone from Buddy Guy to Bob Dylan and has even toured with Eric Clapton. He married the gorgeous, soulful, and sweet-raspy voiced singer Susan Tedeschi and formed the Tedeschi Trucks Band with her, who tour currently and perform that greatly-inspiring version of “Keep on Growing” that I mentioned earlier, which has become somewhat of an anthem for me over the past several months of personal change and evolution.
I waxed vocally and philosophically for a few minutes on what it must be like to be the nephew of Butch Trucks, a legend of rock and roll and a constant, driving player throughout the decades of constant recording and tours. Derek must have grown up thinking the guitar work of Dicky Betts and Warren Haynes were “average,” a band like the Allman brothers of only nominal importance and stature.
All that aside, Derek is an insanely talented guitarist, and from what I’ve gathered with no personal connection to him, a solid, humble, loving guy. Derek is not silver spoon royalty. Sure, he was lucky to be born into that environment with the exposure and opportunity that likely comes with it, but as I reflect on Butch Trucks’ life and career I think I can confidently state that those who intersected Derek’s young life would say that they were the lucky ones, not Derek.
Derek is simply that good, that natural at his art.
I believe my last words to the Uber drive were prophetic and beautiful, something like “Spotify that shit! Seriously!”
As I write this and let the news of Butch’s passing sink in further, compiling these thoughts and words, I am easing back on my statements and unfair slander of the year 2017. This is anything but a tragedy.
My heart and condolences go out to Derek and the rest of the Trucks family, as well as the extended Allman Brothers Family, but I also want to share my thoughts of happiness and optimism, as little sense as that might make right now:
If one’s legacy can be measured by what he leaves behind…
the size and frequency of the ripples on the surface that echo and repeat from shore to shore of this small and murky pond we call “life,” then surely we can all be thankful for the surface impact and resounding disruption that Butch made.
Butch is our brother.
Butch is the Allman brother from the orginal mother.
Butch is a drummer that re-defined the very nature of a being a drummer.
Butch provided the always rock-steady, always pounding, always driving canvas that so many of our great musicians applied their brushes to.
We so revere those brush strokes, the pretty and demanding melodies at times inappropriately but understandably overshadowing the rhythms, fascinating us with the colors and textures that always stand out and call attention in our musical mind’s eye…
We bathed in that color and light many times, over many years.
…and countless other architects of our generation’s melodic masterpieces.
All too often we get caught in the cacophony of colors, forgetting the critical nature of the canvas necessary for their genius to take form.
That was Butch. The somewhat silent and often unrecognized (like most drummers) conductor of the band, making sure everything stays in time, and is always driving forward…never slowing down.
As a father I’ve thought to myself about the measure of success as a man. Over the course of my life I keep coming back to one undeniable and obvious answer…
“Success” as a father (or grandfather, or uncle, or any patriarch for that matter) means that I have shared with my progeny everything within my power, all of my accumulated knowledge (intellectual, emotional, and spiritual), including the identification of those things that still confound and remain a mystery to me, at a much younger age for them to learn than I was when I learned them.
I will have succeeded as a father by modeling the passion and behaviors I want to see my own child express. I strive to supply my child with every piece of information, every possible beneficial connection, exposure to every opportunity, and the confidence to reach for their dreams. I hope that my guidance helps them strive towards admirable passions, as ultimately, passions are what truly define people, and I want them chasing their dreams, not mine.
I will have succeeded by ensuring that the torch has been passed forward, knowing that my child will take the next human-conscious evolutionary step by growing wiser, more loving, more understanding of others, and happier than I could possibly have been in this existence.
Butch’s death is not a tragedy.
Butch WILL be missed.
Missed dearly, and for a long time, daily.
He is irreplaceable.
Butch brought us music, love, and inspiration.
And Butch brought us Derek, through his mentoring and family name.
While I can’t speak for Butch, I’ve read his blogs and have some sense of who he was as a man. I have some sense of his priorities and ideals.
I strongly suspect that Butch, on whatever distant shore he now sits, wears a smile and, beams satisfaction, knowing that:
his contributions to music, art, love, and life itself…
live on in all of us through the music,
and his continued and constant rhythm will drive our souls.
Butch’s work is still being done and his influence still resonating even as he looks back from that distant shore.
Butch leaves behind a piece of himself that we all hope we have the opportunity to… One that is very much us, but also evolved, strengthened of heart and mind, more perfect, and more refined.
Butch’s progeny, both of the blood and soul, live on to enlighten and inspire future generations…
…and that is anything but a tragedy.