Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks shot himself in the head in his waterfront Florida condo in a horrific scene witnessed by his artist wife of 25 years
Butch Trucks, the gifted drummer who co-founded classic rock’s Allman Brothers Band, died after he shot himself in front of his wife of 25 years, according to police records obtained exclusively by Dailymail.com.
The 69-year-old rocker’s entourage and police in West Palm Beach, where Trucks died Tuesday night, have tried to keep the cause of his death hidden from the public and millions of fans.
But the transcript of a frantic call made to West Palm Beach Police about 6:00 p.m. Tuesday provides the awful details of the drummer’s death at home in the downtown waterfront Villa Del Lago complex.
A woman caller who is unidentified on the transcript but described as ‘hysterical’ dialed 911 at 6:02 p.m., the transcript shows.
Butch Trucks killed himself Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida at the age of 69 in front of his wife Melinda, both pictured here at the 2012 Grammy Awards
The police dispatcher reported an unidentified woman in the 911 call woman saying her ‘husband just shot himself’ with a pistol. From left, Jai Johanny ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson, Dickey Betts, Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks were members of the rock band founded by Duane and Gregg Allman
The transcript of a frantic call made to West Palm Beach Police about 6:00 p.m. Tuesday provides the awful details of the drummer’s death at home in the downtown waterfront Villa Del Lago complex
The police dispatcher reported the woman saying her ‘husband just shot himself’ with a pistol.
The caller used Trucks’ real first name, Claude, when she identified the victim.
As several squad cars rolled toward the apartment building, the caller continued talking to the dispatcher although she was so distraught she couldn’t speak in complete sentences.
Trucks suffered a gun shot wound to the head, the caller said. At that point, the caller wasn’t sure Trucks was still breathing.
The dispatcher then radioed the officers that Trucks’ wife, painter Melinda, and a son were waiting for police in the hallway outside the condo. Trucks had two adult children, a daughter and a son, Atlanta-based musician Vaylor Trucks.
The dispatcher noted Melinda witnessed Trucks pulling the trigger.
Although he was breathing when police arrived, the man considered by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 10 drummers in rock history expired seconds later as the dispatcher concluded the call by noting a ‘Signal 7,’ police code for a dead person.
Police refused to comment but put out a statement confirming that Trucks died in his condo, and investigators did not suspect foul play despite the fact the incident officially still is under investigation.
Although he was breathing when police arrived, the man considered by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 10 drummers in rock history expired seconds later. Above, Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, drummer Butch, Natalie Cole, and Graham Nash perform at the Beacon Theatre on July 27, 2011 in New York City.
The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy Wednesday, but the results won’t be known for weeks.
Kathleen Salata, a manager at Villa Del Lago, said Melinda was spotted by residents Wednesday but was ‘completely distraught.’
Several residents walking their dogs said they had no clue that the shooting occurred in their building and didn’t realize that a legendary rocker lived on the fifth floor.
Todd Brodginski, Trucks’ publicist, didn’t return repeated calls asking whether the musician appeared depressed as of late.
Palm Beach County court records, meanwhile, show Trucks appeared to be wrestling with financials problems as of late.
In 2011, Trucks had to sell his prized home in Palm Beach for $2 million when it was possibly worth twice as much to pay off a $800,000 mortgage that a bank was trying to foreclose on.
In 2014, Trucks and his wife spent $500,000 on the condo where he shot himself.
And he was hounded by the IRS, according to federal records.
Last year, the IRS filed two liens against the condo to force Trucks to pay additional taxes for 2013 and 2014 for a total of more than $540,000.
A consummate Floridian, Trucks was born in the Jacksonville area and by age 8 played drums with local bands.
He was playing a gig in Daytona in the late 60s when he was approached by Gregg and Duane Allman. Together, they formed The Allman Brothers Band, which became one of the 70s most popular concert bands.
Trucks moved to the Palm Beach area in the early 1990s. He and Melinda had become stalwarts on the local charity circuit and often made appearances at high-profile dinners to benefit non-profit groups.
He was one of the Allman Brother’s Bands two drummers. Through the years, the band broke up and reunited three times and Trucks was there for every reunion.
During their most recent stretch, from 1999 to 2014, Trucks’ own nephew Derek was brought into the band to play guitar.
After the band’s most recent break-up two years ago, Trucks started a new group called Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band. Trucks played his last show on January 6, and the group was scheduled for more shows this spring.
Trucks had been very open about his demons, including the drug and alcohol problem he developed in his early years in the band.
Trucks told the Palm Beach Post that by 1974, the first thing he did in the morning was drink a beer or wine. He got into cocaine as a way to prolong the night.
When the band first broke up in 1974, he says he tried to quit both by moving his family to Tallahassee and going back to school to finish college.
While he was able to kick hard alcohol and drugs, he kept drinking wine.
After his kids left the house, Trucks and his wife moved to Palm Beach where his alcohol demons came back to bite him.
‘I promised myself no more than three glasses and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it,’ he said.
In October 2001, he quit alcohol completely, without going to rehab of Alcoholics Anonymous.
‘You have to make the commitment deep down inside that this is enough. That you care more for the people around you than the booze. My message is ‘life can get better,” he said
Just this year, Rolling Stone named Trucks and bandmate Jai Johanny ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson among the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.
Having two drummers remains rare for bands, but Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dicky Betts said that the two brought different qualities to the sound.
‘Jaimoe was a real good drummer, but more of a pocket guy … he wasn’t really able to handle the power,’ Betts said in the Allman Brothers biography. ‘We needed Butch, who had that drive and strength, freight train, meat-and-potatoes thing. It set Jaimoe up perfectly.’
Following Trucks’ death on Tuesday, friends and family members started posting memorials on Facebook.
‘My cousin Butch Trucks died. Great drummer. Good person,’ Trucks’ cousin Lee posted at 8am on Wednesday.
Then came the tribute posts from his peers and fellow musicians.
‘Just got work that original Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks has passed away. Condolences to family and band mates,’ country musician Charlie Daniels, best known for ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, tweeted Wednesday.
Here the transcript of his last interview
Here’s a transcript of the call:
LEHIGH VALLEY MUSIC: Hi Butch. Do you mind if I put my phone on speak to record our conversation?
BUTCH TRUCKS: “We can try and see if I can hear. My hearing after 50 years of playing music sometimes isn’t too great.”
My hearing after listening to music for 50 years isn’t too great, either.
“Yeah, but you weren’t playing just feet in front of stacks of amps.”
That’s true. Can you hear me? Where are you?
“Ohhh. I’m sitting in my office in West Palm Beach, Florida, staring out at the water and the sun and the wind. It’s a gorgeous day in Florida. But after what happened three days ago [A severe storm that brought destructive tornadoes with it killed at least 19 people over the weekend as it moved south from Georgia and Mississippi into the Florida Panhandle.].
“My wife and I bought a 12th Century farmhouse … right in the middle of Southern France, way out in the country, and it’s been about five or six years renovating it. And that’s where we spend most of our time these days.
“And I bought that house just in case something like what happened four days ago happened, and boy, I am so glad I have that place now [Laughs].”
“I have an eight-meter-by-10-meter garden that I put in. We spent most of 2015 over there. That was before I got [his new band] The Freight Train up and going and [his other band] Les Brers. And I just took some time off after we [Allman Brothers Band] did that last show at The Beacon in October 2014 and spent it over there.
“And yeah, I grew a great garden – I mean, God, I had zucchini the size of watermelons and discovered all kinds of new things. You ever eat squash blossoms?”
No, can’t say I have.
“Ohh, my God, people don’t know! You have all kinds of squashes – zucchini, any kind of squash you can think of, they all have these big, beautiful, golden flowers on ‘em. And when the flower comes out in the morning – every morning the flowers pop up, once the fruits starts blooming. And if the stem has a bump on it, you leave it alone, ‘cause that’s gonna grow into a squash. But if it’s a straight stem, that’s a male flower and you pick it.
“In 2015, I was getting, like, 12, 15 flowers a day and you take them in the house and while they’re still fully open, you shove them full of goat cheese – real top-quality goat cheese – and right around where we there are some old women there that have been making goat cheese, their families have been passing down the recipes, for hundreds of years. It’s just amazing. And you take some of that cheese and shove it in there and put some herbs on it and fold the flower over the cheese and dip it in French bread crumbs, And then dip that into eggs and dip that back into French bread crumbs and then sautee them in olive oil, and they are to die for! They are so good.
“I’m hoping that this year I can get over … we’ve got some dates in March and April, but you kind of have to get the squashes planted before the end of April if you’re going to get anything to grow. So I’m hoping I can get over there this year and get a good garden planted. “
I’m jealous. So let’s jump into this: How did you get the Freight Train Band together? How did you get the idea, and how did you pull it together?
“Well, the idea was plain and simple. It was after taking pretty close to I guess about seven or eight months off and going to France and, you know, growing my garden. And there were many times I was thinking, ‘cause I was enjoying it so much.
“You ever read Voltaire? Um …. [struggles to remember a title] oh, what’s wrong with me? Um ugh! I can’t remember the name now! O, ‘Candide.’ ”
No, I haven’t.
“Uh, well, it’s not a long book, and it’s one that Voltaire’s most famous for. Bu Candide was this rich little kid who had this teacher who taught him that, no matter what happens in life, this has to be the best thing that can happen, ‘cause this is the best of all possible worlds. It has to be, because God created it that way. And so Candide took a trip around the world with his professor – his name’s Pangloss, and he gets screwed over by everybody that you can imagine. I mean, everything from thrown in jail to being raped to you name it.
“And Pangloss is telling him the whole time, ‘No, no, this is the best of all possible worlds. Best thing that could have happened, you know? Then finally by the end of the book, Candide gets back home after going through every trial and tribulation you can think of, and he got rid of Pangloss, and he just decided – and it’s a very, very famous line, it’s the last line of ‘Candide’: ‘I think I will just stay at home and tend my own garden.’ ”
“And I thought seriously – ‘cause it was so peaceful – but I don’t know; I guess I’m not ready to be that peaceful yet. And I’ve got a set of drums over there, so I was playing them. But beating on a set of drums all by yourself is just not quite as much fun as getting up and playing in front of an audience with a bunch of people who can really play, you know?
“So I came back over here and went to work putting together The Freight Train. And it was really fun, ‘cause the first couple of tours, you know the little kid on the cover of [The Allman Brothers album] ‘Brothers and Sisters’? “
“Yeah, the very cute little blond kid? Well that’s my oldest son. And he’s not quite so cute now.”
“And he’s 45 years old and he’s head of IT for a big insurance company up in Atlanta. But he is one hell of a guitar player – I mean just amazing. He’s big influences are Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin, and he plays … he just tears it up. And I always wanted to play with him.
“So the first two tours that I did with freight Train, Vaylor – that’s his name – Vaylor played with me. But I knew that it couldn’t last long – he only had so many days off and then he had to go back to work. And no matter how hard I tried – I kept telling him, I said, ‘Vaylor, you know you want to go on the road! Why don’t you quit that damned job? And finally he just stared laughing; he said, ‘I gotta be the only kid in the world whose dad wants him to quit a six-figure job for a start-up rock ‘n’ roll band.’
“And I said, ‘Yeah, and you know you want to do it!’ He said, ‘Yeah, I do. But I’m not going to [laughs].
“So anyway, I did the first couple of tours with him and Berry Oakley Jr. [son of the late Allman Brothers Band founding bassist Berry Oakley] and Bruce Katz, the keyboard player who is as good as there is and played with the Gregg Allman Band for quite a long time. And I think that first run – yeah, that first run, that was it.
“But just before I went on that first run, I went up to Tallahassee, Florida – I was invited up to give a lecture to the School of Music at Florida State; I went to college there and we’re going to be number one next year, by the way.”
“And I decided – ‘cause there’s a very, very cool, old, old blues club just outside of Tallahassee – one of the last left. So I took a couple of buddies up there, figured I’d just play some music while I was there, and about halfway through the set, somebody comes up and taps me on the shoulder and said there’s this girl that wants to sit in.
“I said, ‘Sure!’ And up comes this drop-dead gorgeous girl with a sunburst Gibson Les Paul hanging around her neck. And my first reaction was, ‘Boy, this is gonna suck.’ I figured that guitar was a necklace. [Laughs] It had been my experience in life that girls that pretty don’t ever really take the time to work at anything, ‘cause they don’t have to. You know, it’s like being born Donald Trump: Why work? You know, you’re born a billionaire, you don’t have to work. You’re born beautiful, you don’t need to work. You can make it through life on your looks.
“But she got up and sang ‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,’ the Bill Withers song, and sang the hell out of it. And then proceeded to shred that Gibson, and boy – trust me, it was not a neckless, she knew what to do with it.
“And so I invited her to come it in with The Freight Train, and then it worked so well I just said, ‘Hey, you want a job?’ And she said, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ [Laughs] So she’s been around – her name is Heather Gillis.
“We’ve gone through some changes now. We brought in Damon Fowler – he’s a really, really excellent guitar player and singer-songwriter and human being. One thing I love about The Freight Train – everybody is nice people. Everybody’s got a good sense of humor – we all get along. And I’ve been through so much stress and tension and everything with The Allman Brothers – I just didn’t want to go through that again.
“And so now I’ve got Heather Gillis and Damon Fowler, and then for a little while, my song Vaylor was still playing with us, so we had three lead guitar players. And we took all those Allman Brothers songs, and we were doing, like, ‘Hotlanta’ and ‘Whipping Post’ and “Elizabeth Reed ‘ and ‘Jessica,’ especially. Jessica’s where it really, really worked.
“And with The Allman Brothers, you get two guitar harmonies – you get the melody, lead, and one harmony. Now, with three lead guitars, it’s a three-part harmony. So now we have the whole triad playing it. And it just sounds so much richer and fuller. Think about ‘Jessica’ with three guitar parts.
“Every night we save ‘Jessica’ until about three-quarters of the way through the set, and everybody really gets into the band, but boy, that’s when everything explodes. When we play that song, the place goes bananas every night. Every night.”
Do you do three solos?
“No, no. Basically what we’ve gotten to – and this is another thing that I really, really, really wanted to get back to – which we haven’t done since Duane Allman died – is getting to letting a guitar player just play like it happens, you know? We’re not all that structured.
“So what will happen is, say on ‘Jessica,’ of course coming out of the first verse, you go right into the keyboards. I let Bruce Katz just go have a ball, let him run with it. But then what we do is, after that [building melody], I let Heather have that. Then after she plays for a while, then she’s really gotten good at getting between Damon and our other guitar player, who is Chris Viterello now. Chris has been playing with Bruce Katz Band for years.
“And she’s really gotten good at getting between the two of them and just getting them to start throwing licks around – just letting things fly. Just let it go. It’s the kind of thing Duane and [former Allman Brothers member] Dickie [Betts] used to do back in the early days that we kind of stopping doing when Duane dies.
“After Duane died, for one thing there was only one guitar player, but then Dickie kind of took over and we quit playing so much in that jazz genre that we were playing in and started heading more toward country stuff. And then out came ‘Rambling Man,’ and if I never hear that song again it’ll be too soon.”
Oh man, you’re killing me. It’s a great song. But I understand.
“Yeah, well, you can have it [laughs]. We actually went to the studio to make a demo of that to send to Merle Haggard.”
“Even Dickie figured it was much too country for the Allman Brothers. Then we got into the studio and got into that big long jam at the end with all those guitar parts and everything, and we forgot about how country the song was. And then wouldn’t you know it – it becomes out only hit single. ”
So what’s it like playing those songs with Jaimoe [Allman Brothers drummer Jai Johanny Johanson]?
“Well I’ve got a percussionist. For the first tour I took out another drummer, but you know, I’ve never, ever played with another set drummer that I could play with that I can play with Jaimoe. There’s just something about our styles that just works, you know? We don’t get in each other’s way. I think it has a lot to do with me playing hard, powerful , driving rock ‘n’ roll, and he’s a jazz drummer.
“So jazz rhythms tend to be very syncopated. So when I’m driving on the downbeat, then he’s playing on the offbeat. So we don’t get in each other’s way. And it’s very difficult to find a drummer that played in …And I think it’s because Jaimoe spent years playing with Otis Redding and Sam and Dave and Joe Tex, playing rhythm and blues, that he got enough power. Because your normal jazz drummer just wouldn’t be powerful enough to get up and play with The Allman Brothers.”
“But Jaimoe did. And when we play together, it just works. And we don’t practice it – we never have. And we just – we get up and jam. And what’s really great is that I can focus on whoever’s playing lead and not have to worry about Jaimoe, and he’s the same with me. We just work together.
“Now, I’m really having fun playing with this … [searches for a name] … oh, God, Butch [laughs]. I can never remember a name, but I can always forget a face [Laughs]. Oh, Gary Dawson – he’s the percussionist playing with me now. He’s just playing percussion. I tried it with a set player; it just didn’t work. And now he came in with his congas and timbales, and he’s very good, and he and I have a lot of fun together.
“So I’m just loving playing with these people. Everybody is loose, everybody just lets go. And like I say, we have a good time. There’s not a lot of tension and there’s no a lot of egos flying around. It’s just really fun to do. And there’s nothing – nothing – like the magic of playing music. I’m 69 years old now, and I’ll get up on stage so damned tired I feel like I can’t move. And about halfway through the first song, I’m a 25-year-old Superman.”
You mentioned your reaction, what you did, after the band broke up, after The Brothers broke up. But what was your reaction to the breakup? Did you see it coming? Did you expect it?
“Oh God – we had planned it for two or three years. We basically made up our mind that 2014 was going to be our last tour back in 2012. And one of my big disappointments is – and this is basically Derek [Trucks] and Warren [Haynes] and Gregg all wanting to go out and do things their way and they figured 45 years of the Allman Brothers was enough.
“And to a certain extent, I think it was. I think that particular version of The Allman Brothers had gotten stale, you know? You go listen to Derek and Warren’s guitar solos form 2004, then listen to the solos from 2014, and they’re pretty much the same thing. It just got very structured. We do Mountain Jam, and every stinkin’ time we played it, it was the same structure. The same version as what’s on [the album] ‘Eat a Peach.’
“And I kept telling them – I kept telling Derek and Warren, I said, ‘Damned, man – you know, that version that’s on ‘East a Peach’ may be one of the worst version of ‘Mountain jam’ we ever played. It just happened to be the only one we had a [recording] of after Duane died with Duane on it, so we had to put it out.
“But that’s the one and only time that band ever played that jam like that. It is a jam! And a jam means jam. A jam means it’s not structured – let it go. Let go here, let it go there. And I don’t know – it’s like … I started getting the feeling toward the end with The Allman Brothers is that, especially with Derek and Warren, they were more afraid of making a mistake than anything else.
“So I’m not denigrating their playing. I mean, God damned, they could play their butts off. But it got redundant. It got redundant. I mean, it was really great, but one you’ve heard great 50 times, it still gets redundant.”
Do you think there’ll ever be a reunion?
“Ah, it’s possible but right now I’d say very unlikely.“
And why is that?
“Um, Gregg’s health. I mean, Gregg is actually the one who started – sent out a text to everyone about doing a reunion tour. And everybody’s into it, but if you’ve been paying attention, pretty much every tour that Gregg has had for the past year or so, he’s had to cancel.”
Yup, he’s had a couple of cancelations around here, yeah.
“Yeah, so … he’s just not in good health and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to do it again. I hope he is. It would be kind of fun to go out and try it one more time. Because that last year, 2014 – I mean in 2012, when we agreed that was going to be the last tour, I said, ‘OK, but it that’s going to be our last year, we’re going to go out with a bang and not a whimper, and we’re going to do a big, coast-to-coast tour. We played 14 shows in 2014 – the least amount of shows that we’ve ever played in a year.
“And so I kind of … the last show, after the last show, I felt like, ‘Something’s left, still on the table. We’ve got to finish thing and do it right. We didn’t get anywhere near the Mid-West, West Coast. We just played our usual stuff in the Northeast and a couple of gigs in the Southeast, and that was it.”
Do you expect ever to record with Freight Train Band?
“Oh, we’re definitely going to record. I doubt if we’re going to record in a studio. I mean, basically the Internet and streaming and all of that has just made making a record completely – I mean, it’s just economically unfeasible. I mean, I started back when Napster came along, I was telling everybody, ‘Hey, you’re stealing this stuff. You’re stealing this music. [Laughs] You know? And if you keep it up, eventually all the really good musicians out there are going to quit making records. And that’s really what’s starting to happen.
“Now what we will probably do – and we’re already talking about it within the next couple of months – is recording a couple of live shows and mixing them and put out a DVD. Bring out some cameras, put in a real nice camera shoot, and put out a DVD and a CD, but do it live, ‘cause … if we did an Allman Brothers album, it would cost $200,000-$300,000. And right now, nobody can sell records. People steal them.”
Listen, Butch, you’ve been very kind with your time, but I have one more question. So looking at your legacy – Rolling Stone [magazine] says you’re one of the Top 100 Greatest Drummers of All time. How do you feel about your legacy in music?
“Ugh [Laughs] well, the first thing I’d do is look at about 50 or 60 of the drummers they have ahead of me and go, ‘Oh yeah, right!’ I mean, there’s a whole bunch of them that are behind me that can kick my butt, but there’s a whole bunch of ‘em up in front of me that I don’t think I’d have any problem with – like [the Rolling Stones’] Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr. I’ve never thought too much of Rolling Stone.
“But m legacy, I’m very, very, very proud of. Here’s one that really nailed it, is back in the early ‘70s, a new form of jazz came along called fusion – pretty much led by Return to Forever, Chick Correa’s band. Chick Correa, Lenny White, Stanley Clark – you know, that group. ‘Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy’ – just an incredible record.
“Well, one day at The Beacon, Lenny White was there sitting in with us, and Chick came with him. Chick didn’t sit in with us, but we were back stage talking. And I asked him, “Where’d you guys come up with that idea for ‘Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy’ and all that.
“And he just kind of looked at me funny and said, ‘We got it from you guys.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Hell yeah, we’re down in the Village in New York playing for 200 or 300 people and you guys are selling out Madison Square Garden four nights in a row. We could tell what you were doing, we could hear Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Charlie Parker and all that in what you were playing.
“ ’So we figured, what the hell? Why don’t we come from the other direction? Y’all came from rock ‘n’ roll and blues and added jazz to it. How ‘bout we come from jazz and add a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll to it?’ He said, ‘We never sold out Madison Square Garden four nights in a row, but we made a hell of a lot more money once we started doing that.’ [Laughs]
“Albums like ‘Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy’ or Mahavishnu Orchestra’s ‘Inner Mounting Flame,’ those ae some of the greatest records ever made. And to know that I had something do with that even being in existence – I mean, I’m very, very proud. That’s right at the top of what I’m most proud of with my legacy.”