Multi talented musician Vaylor Trucks talks about his projects, Allman Brothers, Jazz and Butch Trucks

"If you love the community that music engenders, then the jam band scene is a natural fit."

Vaylor Trucks: Fusion Echoes & Fringes

Vaylor Trucks is a multi-instrumentalist and composer with a taste for complicated music. Non-professionally, a maker, skeptic, blogger, and podcaster. He is well know as member of Bonobos Convergence and The Yeti Trio. The Atlanta/Athens, GA based Bonobos Convergence creates an evolution of sound, with roots in the fertile ground between jazz, funk, and pure jam. This immensely talented trio evokes the sound of a full band with their powerfully infectious grooves: a unique sound that compels their audience to dance all night. Both organic and psychedelic, the interchange of energy produced by them will move both your mind and your behind.

Joined by Todd Smallie on occasion this band is tons of fun. They perform a wide range of fusion, pop, rock and jazz. Great melodies and catchy hooks provide the listener with a mental landscape to explore their own musical whims. Every show brings something different and exciting. The band are: Pete Orenstein on keys & vocals, Frank Registrato on drums & vocals and Vaylor Trucks on guitar, bass & vocals. Vaylor is son of drummer Butch Trucks of Allman Brothers and the blonde child on front album cover “Brothers & Sisters” (Capricorn 1973) of Allman Brothers. Vaylor Trucks brings his musical genetics to the stage, although with a style that is all his own. Incredible leads, soaring solos and great rhythm guitar - all while sharing the bass notes with Pete Orenstein and Frank Registrato. The Yeti Trio was born in 1999 when drummer Eric Sanders and multi-instrumentalist Brooks Smith were introduced to guitarist Vaylor Trucks. From 1999 to 2002 The Yeti Trio played some of the most energetic fusion in the country. Originally, everything that The Yeti Trio played was improvised. One of the trio would play some idea - frightening or silly or quiet or difficult - and the others would join in, adding their own ideas. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Vaylor Trucks sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

It’s hard for me to answer this question without naming the musicians that have inspired me – people like John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, Ralph Towner, Frank Zappa, and John Scofield. Certainly if you have heard me play at all, you can hear echoes of my heroes come through at times. In a more general sense, though, I love playing with the edges and fringes and in-between spaces of music. I like finding the part that isn’t being played. I am always searching for the correct wrong note.

From the musical point of view what are the differences between: Bonobos Convergence and The Yeti Trio?

The Yeti Trio is completely instrumental, mostly improvised, and heavily influenced by the fusion greats of the 70s (The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, and Return to Forever, for example.) Its real personality comes from the three of us. Eric Sanders (drums) is, without exception, the most dedicated musician I have ever met, and Brooks Smith (keyboards) improvises with structure and form the way most people improvise with single notes.

Bonobos Convergence is more influenced by the melodic end of the progressive spectrum and draws much of its inspiration from artists like Genesis, Yes, and ELP. It was such a pleasure for me to be a part of this band. Pete Orenstein is a monster on the Hammond B-3, and Frank Registrato has such a natural relationship with his drums. I miss playing with those guys, for sure.

"I would love to spend a weekend going to the music clubs of Harlem in the 1940’s right at the beginning of bebop, and to get a chance to see Dizzy Gilespie, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Bud Powell, on and on – what an incredible time that was." 

Why did you think that the Jam Rock music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The short answer is that there is such a low barrier to entry for both fans and performers. If you have something to say, you’re welcome to express yourself. If you love the community that music engenders, then the jam band scene is a natural fit. Better still, as a band’s music evolves and the musicians experiment with new directions and sounds, the fans welcome that enthusiastically. It’s a great breeding ground for improvisers. There’s a reason why jazz folks like John Scofield, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner have looked to the jam band scene for collaborators – they understand intuitively the communal and improvisational nature of music which is at the heart of jazz.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

Many years ago I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and was part of a small but thriving music scene there in the late 80’s and early 90’s. At the time, there were two clubs right on the main drag which had regular jams – The Grand Finale – which had a blues night every Monday and a singer / songwriter/acoustic night every Tuesday – and The Main Event – which had an open house-band jam every Wednesday. I hosted the Wednesday night jam, which gained a reputation among the musicians as the more horn / jazz friendly of the jams. One night we had most of the band “Work For Higher” - an extraordinarily talented local funk / soul band – come and join us for a jam at the Main Event, and we started on a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” which absolutely flattened the place.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had amazing times playing with Derek and Warren and Oteil, with Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller and Rick Musallem, with Butch and Kofi Burbidge, and Jimmy Herring, with Yonrico Scott and Todd Smallie, and with my own bands – I consider myself to be an extremely fortunate person to have had the opportunity to make music with so many amazing musicians – but I guess the moral of the story is that there are amazing musicians everywhere! Check out your local scene and I’ll bet you’d be surprised.

"I kind of like where I am right now. I have an amazing family and I get to play music I love with people I sincerely admire – and so I like to think that my highlight moment is yet to come." Photo by Emilee Baum Trucks, Vaylor with The Yeti Trio)

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

In March of 2001, we travelled to New York to play at the Wetlands Preserve. That in and of itself is memorable enough, but there was this colossal nor’easter that was dumping rain on us as we loaded in – plus the power to the instruments completely went out right in the middle of our set. Despite it all, though, it was a great night and a great trip.

Aside from the Wetlands – playing Wakarusa with Bonobos Convergence at 4am when each and every person in the crowd was drunk, high, or ready to collapse – and in the same tent where Buckethead had played earlier that night. That was fun. Playing with Yeti at Blind Willie’s in Statesboro, GA on a “Drinkin’ with Lincoln” night to a group of college kids who had no idea what was going on but loved it anyway was a real blast. And in September of 2009, playing with The Yeti Trio for the first time in seven years, and then getting a chance to play with Mike Keneally and Bryan Beller the same night – that was pretty magical (not to mention the fact that it was the day I got married.)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Sometime around 1998 or 1999, a local music store here in Atlanta hosted a drum clinic led by Butch, Jaimoe, and Marc Quinones. The three of them led the class through their collective approach to drums and percussion, ending with them breaking down the individual parts that they each contribute to their drum ensemble pieces (the “drum solos” they perform during Allman Brothers concerts). At the end of the clinic, they opened the floor to questions, and a young drummer asked them who their influences were.

Dad cited Elvin Jones and Joe Morello. Marc mentioned Tito Puente. Then when the mic was handed to Jaimoe he said “everybody. Every person I hear influences me – even if it’s just to say ‘I don’t want to sound like that.’ I am influenced by everyone I hear and everyone I meet.” That was the first time I’d ever heard anyone state anything like that, and it stuck with me. I aspire to be that open and that inclusive. Jaimoe is good like that.

You are also known as the cover child in famous Brothers & Sisters album. What is the story behind the photo?

What I can tell you is second hand. I have no direct memory of it, as I was only 3 years old at the time. From what I understand, I had a cold and was very mad about the fact that I was forced to take some foul-tasting medicine, and stormed out of the house to go pout. That’s when the picture was taken.

"Brothers and Sisters" (Capricorn 1973) front album cover with Vaylor

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I just finished reading Galadrielle Allman’s book about her father “Please Be With Me”. She writes about the first time the Allman Brothers played at the Fillmore East in New York, opening for The Velvet Underground. The NY hipsters there to see the Velvet Underground were not at all impressed by the Allman Brothers and the crowd was actively hostile to what they heard. At the end of the night, Bill Graham – the owner of the Fillmore East – approached them and asked who their favorite bands were – and the next time they played the Fillmore East they were on the same bill with B.B. King and the night was phenomenal. That kind of investment on the part of the club owners - that is not something that happens anymore.

If you play a club and don’t do well, the club owners, by and large, don’t care about excuses. There are exceptions of course, but that spirit of wanting to be a part of the collective music scene and contributing it by arranging for nights of music which would appeal to everyone – that seems to be missing these days.

That is not to say that I am pessimistic about the future, though. In fact, I feel just the opposite. There has never been a time when it has been easier for someone to make, record, and distribute their own music, and despite the fact that pop music has been homogenized to an almost uniform mediocrity, there is still tons of room for innovation and collaboration. I am very excited about the fact that I get to play music at this time and in this environment.

Do you remember anything funny from the Allman Brothers community and Butch Trucks?

I’ll tell you a story about fishing with Butch. He and I were spending a weekend with some friends on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in North Florida. Every day we would take a boat out to deep waters to try and catch grouper. We had what is called a “live well” on the side of the boat – a small cage that we would use to keep smaller bait fish. At one point, I caught a small pin fish and had just tossed it into the live well after pulling it off the hook. As soon as I did, there was a big commotion from the live well as the fish in it all splashed and thrashed around. I looked at my dad and he got this big grin on his face, looked at me and said “rival schools.”

"Certainly if you have heard me play at all, you can hear echoes of my heroes come through at times. In a more general sense, though, I love playing with the edges and fringes and in-between spaces of music. I like finding the part that isn’t being played. I am always searching for the correct wrong note." (Photo by Emilee Baum, Vaylor and Butch Trucks) 

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Psychedelic and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

There’s so much I could say about this; so many artists through the last 150 years that have gone unsung or unremembered.  I don’t know where to start. People smarter than I will ever be have done a better job at answering this question than I could.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

The last piece of music that made me laugh out loud was the song “What About Me?” by Snarky Puppy – just because of how amazing it is. I really like the community and collaborative ethos of that group – not to mention that they’re all absolute monsters.

A little over a year ago, my wife and I went to Spain and France for our honeymoon, and while we were there we saw Leonard Cohen perform live with his amazing band in Barcelona. It was an absolutely gorgeous night of music. The version of “Susanne” he played that night was the highlight for me – what an incredible songwriter that guy is.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and highlight moment of your career?

I kind of like where I am right now. I have an amazing family and I get to play music I love with people I sincerely admire – and so I like to think that my highlight moment is yet to come.

"I am very excited about the fact that I get to play music at this time and in this environment."

(Photo: Vaylor and Emilee Baum Trucks)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

So many places. I am interested by both history and geography, so there are so many times and places that fascinate me. But let’s limit it to music – I would love to spend a weekend going to the music clubs of Harlem in the 1940’s right at the beginning of bebop, and to get a chance to see Dizzy Gilespie, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Bud Powell, on and on – what an incredible time that was.

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