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Butch Trucks, Allman Brothers founder, dies in West Palm Beach

Drummer Butch Trucks, who set a muscular pace for some of the greatest marathon jams in rock history as a founding member of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Allman Brothers, died Tuesday night in West Palm Beach, where he was a part-time resident. He was 69.

Trucks, who spent much of his time in Sauve, France,  is survived by his wife, Melinda, four children and four grandchildren.

“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 a statement from Trucks’ representatives on Wednesday. “Butch will play on in our hearts forever.”

There were no details on the circumstances of his passing, nor any immediate word on funeral services. The statement said that donations in Trucks’ name may be made to the Big House Museum in Macon, Ga., dedicated to Allman Brothers music and history. More information can be found at TheBigHouseMuseum.com.

Trucks’ last local concert was Dec. 28 at his “home base” in South Florida, the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, where he performed with his new band, Butch Trucks and the Freight Train.

 “The Freight Train, family and crew are greatly saddened by the passing of our leader and friend Butch Trucks. He will be missed terribly,” said Trucks’ Parkland-based manager, Doug Isaac.  

Trucks told a New York newspaper in November that he and his wife, a painter, planned to leave the U.S. for good after the election of Donald Trump.

Born May 11, 1947, in Jacksonville, Claude Hudson "Butch" Trucks played in a series of local bands,  including the Vikings, which made one 7-inch record in 1964, before attending Florida State University.

Trucks joined the 31st of February, which would include Duane Allman and Gregg Allman, before the group broke up in 1968. In 1969, the three went on to form the group that introduced an ambitious blues-rock sound with a self-titled album featuring the now iconic classic-rock scorcher "Whipping Post."

The band’s reputation was ensured with the release of 1971's Tom Dowd-produced live double album “At Fillmore East.” Propelled by the twin guitars of Duane Allman and West Palm Beach native Dickey Betts and the dueling drum kits of Trucks and Jaimoe Johanny Johanson, the platinum-selling “At Fillmore East”  had just seven songs on its four sides, including a 23-minute version of “Whipping Post” and the song “You Don’t Love Me,” which ran more than 19 minutes.

“At Fillmore East” was followed by a series of top-10 albums over the next decade, including  “Eat a Peach,” “Brothers and Sisters,” “Win, Lose or Draw” and “Enlightened Rogues.”

The Allman Brothers would break up and reunite several times, officially retiring in 2014. Beginning in 1999, the band included Trucks' nephew Derek on guitar. Trucks’ recent set lists with his new band included some of his favorite Allman Brothers songs: “Whipping Post,” “Jessica,” “Dreams” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” 

Trucks’ nickname, “The Freight Train,” was a nod to his relentless drumming style, described by Betts in the Allman Brothers biography “One Way Out.”

“Jaimoe was a real good drummer, but more of a pocket guy … He wasn't really able to handle the power,” Betts said. “We needed Butch, who had that drive and strength, freight-train, meat-and-potatoes thing. It set Jaimoe up perfectly. He had the power thing we needed.”

Trucks told Rolling Stone magazine last year that his goal was to lead from behind.   

“For my entire career, from the moment Duane Allman reached inside me, flicked the switch and turned me on, to this day, I’ve always locked on whoever is playing lead, whether it was Duane, if it was Dickey, if it was Gregg or if it was Berry Oakley,” he said. “Quite often, I will see something they’re doing, even if I can’t hear it. I’m so comfortable in just feeling Jaimoe that I don’t have to listen to ’em. He’s just there. So if someone plays a lick or goes somewhere, I’m right on their ass, and it’s my job to stay on their ass and push them to higher places. I think it’s how I got the name ‘The Freight Train.’ ”

In an interview with Forbes magazine published last April, Trucks discussed his interests in philosophy, politics and literature. An avid gardener at his restored 15th century farmhouse in Sauve, where he was writing his memoirs, Trucks described an idyllic life away from the spotlight.

“My daughter had a baby a few weeks ago. Every night, I get to sit and rock my grandson to sleep,” Trucks said. “I sing [Antonin] Dvorak’s second movement from the New World Symphony. When he grows up, he will wonder, ‘Why in the hell does that sound so familiar?’ It's absolutely engrained into his little 3-week-old brain, you know? My heart goes down to about three beats per minute, and it's just glorious. I'm probably as calm as I've been in decades.”

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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