Big House becomes mecca for Allman Brothers fans
You might say that the peach doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The Allman Brothers Band formed in Jacksonville in 1969 and soon after became renowned for a progressive rock sound that was distinctly Southern. Songs such as “Ramblin’ Man,” “Whipping Post,” “Jessica” and “Midnight Rider” are permanently ingrained in the country’s musical consciousness.
Decades later, three sons of Allman Brothers Band members are also steeped in the family tradition of music-making.
Duane Betts, Devon Allman and Berry Duane Oakley (a.k.a. Berry Oakley Jr.) have led successful music careers with bands and solo projects of their own. Now, the time is ripe to collaborate, Betts says.
The idea has been on the back burner for years. A recent tour as a guest with the Devon Allman Project brought it to the forefront.
The new project, dubbed the Allman Betts Band, will combine the three musicians’ knack for Americana and rock sounds. Listeners might hear some Allman Brothers influence too, Betts says.
Duane Betts resides in Malibu, Calif., but often visits his hometown of Sarasota, where his father, Dickey Betts, resides and where the musicians of The Allman Brothers Band once spent their free time.
Betts recently spoke to the Bradenton Herald about how the new collaboration is unfolding and what listeners can expect to hear on the debut album. Since the interview, the recording process for the record has begun.
Hi Duane. Where are you now?
I’m in California. I haven’t been back here in quite a few months. I’ve been on tour, and I‘ve been spending the weeks that I’ve had off in Florida — in Sarasota.
How was the tour?
The tour has been great. It’s really been a pleasure working with Devon. We’ve done quite a few shows in the states and we did, I think, eight countries in Europe. The crowds have been great. I love playing with the musicians in the band and everybody has been great.
Do you have a preference, as a musician, for touring and playing versus writing music?
The writing is fun when you get a song that you know is good. It can be a real uphill battle sometimes, and you just have to let it go and realize that you either have to move on or come back to it later. But every now and then you just know you have one.
It’s funny you mention that because I’m actually at my friend’s house now and we’ve been writing all day. It’s really, really rewarding when you put in work and you get a good song.
You started out mainly playing guitar, correct?
I started out when I was really young as a drummer, and then I switched to guitar. I’ve always written in the bands I’ve been in. In my early 20s I was in bands out here in Malibu and Los Angeles. I wrote in those bands some, but I never sang in any of those bands.
So that’s kind of the main difference now. I did my EP and sang on the songs, and they’re all songs that I either wrote or co-wrote. So that’s a big step for me.
Congratulations on that. What’s the co-writing process like?
I write a lot with Stoll Vaughan, who is a good friend of mine. A mutual friend introduced us, and we struck up a good chemistry. We’ve been writing together ever since.
We also brought him in for the new project that Devon Allman and I are working on, as kind of a mediator and a third party. The three of us wrote the record that will be the Allman Betts Band record that we are starting in a few weeks.
When you started that tour with Devon Allman as a guest, did you think it would turn into a full-time project? Or was it spontaneous?
Well, we had it in mind. We had been talking about doing something together for years. Frankly, I’m glad we didn’t do it then, because it’s more special now. We were both really busy doing other stuff.
When we started this tour, we had that in mind and talked about it but didn’t know for sure that it would come to fruition. So, the fact that it was a natural progression and it felt right was not unexpected, but definitely a relief.
So there are three people in the new band who are descendants of original Allman Brothers. And you all happen to play music and you all happen to get on well enough to play together. That’s pretty cool.
Yeah. We’ve known each other for a while. We never lived in the same city. It was always kind of an in passing thing over the years. We spent some time together on the road, I was probably 12 and he was a few years older than me. But yeah, this is the most time we’ve ever spent together, day-in and day-out for months at a time. It’s been really nice.
What kind of sound is developing?
We’d like to make something that has a real classic, timeless quality. But also something current that would stand up to a lot of the Americana stuff that’s out. So something that is classic-sounding but it’s hip and it’s current. That’s kind of the idea.
It’s definitely not like a heavy blues rock record or anything like that. It’s songs. We want to tell a story. Everything about the music should be in line with that story. The songs, where we have chosen to record and who produces it, and that person knowing what the narrative is. It all has to be consistent.
So far we’ve been really lucky. We’re recording in Muscle Shoals (Ala.). We have Matt Ross-Spang, who is a young engineer and producer. He’s worked with Jason Isbell and he’s done a couple of Margo Price’s things. He’s hip. He’s from Memphis. He’s really good. So we’re really, really stoked.
What stage are you at in the album-making process?
Well, we’ve written enough for a record, definitely. We might have it. But we also have a few stray songs that we’re bringing in from years past. There’s a song called “Autumn Breeze” that I do in my set when I open up shows for Devon. My friend Chris Williams wrote that song, and he’s no longer with us, so it means a lot to me. But it’s a really cool song, and Devon loves it, and everybody really likes it. It adds a different color than the rest of the songs we’ve written. So I think we’ll bring that in.
Devon has a couple songs that maybe he hasn’t recorded. So there’s stuff on the table that isn’t newly crafted. But we have more than enough for a record. Now, will we write more? A lot of those really cool final parts come in the bottom of the ninth inning. So that’s what I’m looking at. I’m looking at it like we probably will need something more. You just go in and you get what you know is going to be on it and then build it off of that.
So, you’re looking at 2019 for a release?
It’s kind of undetermined as far as when the record will be finished because we haven’t even started the recording process yet. But we’re aiming for spring 2019, and then we’re going to be touring a lot.
So, you are all musicians in your right, and you have developed your own sounds. But would you say there is some influence from the Allman Brothers Band in your music?
Yeah. Definitely. There’s an influence. I’m totally influenced by my dad’s music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re going to do our thing. Some of the songs might remind people of that music, and that’s great because that’s great music.
What was it like playing with your dad recently when he came out of retirement?
It was really a lot of fun. He hadn’t played in a while, and it took a couple shows to get back up to that level that we’re used to, but once he got warmed up he was great, and we finished really really strong at The Peach Music Festival in Pennsylvania. We did a great set there. I was really happy with that whole experience.
Hopefully he can play again soon.
Certainly. I think he wants to play. He’s doing really well. We were really touched by the outpouring. The whole family was. He’s doing fantastic. Hopefully, if he wants to play again, I don’t see why that can’t happen.
That was a close call he had.
It was really scary. I was overseas and I had to fly back, I got on the first flight. It was critical. It was very, very scary, I think it scared him. But accidents happen. It was definitely a trying time, but also a time when the family came together and everybody showed love and support. That was really eye opening and heart warming.
What’s been interesting you musically lately?
I hear stuff all the time that I like. I’m listening to public radio and the university stations. I listen to soul music and blues music and jazz. I’ve been listening to Miles Davis a lot. I listen to some of the stuff on the radio, like the indie college stuff. War on Drugs is cool. All kinds of stuff.
I like Blake Mills a lot. Blake Mills is an amazing talent. He’s a really gifted guitar player. He’s a singer-songwriter, guitar player and producer. He produced the Alabama Shakes record, the last one that won all the Grammys. He grew up in Malibu and I’ve known him since he was like 12. We’re all kind of in awe of him when picks up the guitar.
Do you plan on releasing more solo music?
I want to do another record at some point. A full-length record. I’ve never done a full-length record under my name. I’ll just keep writing. I have a lot of songs stockpiled that I’ve written or I’ve written with Stoll. I Just want to keep working with different people.
But right now the focus is the recording process for the Allman Betts Band record. And touring, and working hard, and getting out there and making people feel good.
See tour dates at allmanbettsband.com.