They’ve been called the “new ABB,” but for Devon Allman—son of Gregg Allman—the Allman Betts Band is simply about the here and now.
“It’s a new band and a new transition for us to go from being brothers to being band mates,” says Allman about the new project, which sees him joining forces with guitarist Duane Betts, son of Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts. “We have natural organic chemistry that exists concurrently alongside our legacy and roots. This band stands on its own abilities. I’m so stoked to crank the amps and bring the music to the people.”
Fans will also be stoked, as the Allman Betts Band’s debut LP, Down to the River, will be released this summer, while a world tour will kick off on March 27 at Brooklyn Bowl. Recently, AQ had the opportunity to chat with Devon about the making of Down to the River, his relationship with Duane Betts, and how the “new” ABB went about paying tribute to the legacy of the old ABB.
You know, Devon, whenever I get a chance to talk to a band, I’m always curious about how they got together. But, I guess in this case, that’s a pretty silly question, huh?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a pretty obvious answer! But we met when we were kids on our dads’ 20th Anniversary tour in ’89.
And you guys just kept in touch from that point?
Yeah, well we were kids back then, so we’d go many years without seeing or talking to each other, but we’d always run into each other on the road. And then as we got older, we certainly would end up being in the same town a lot. Then you have texting and social media which came into our lives and that made it easier to stay in touch. So, we’ve kind of been doing this dance for a while.
Cool. What can you tell us about the new record that you’ve just made? I know there was a lot of specific things relating to the production that you really wanted to have shine through.
Yeah! So, first we went on tour together, and after we got a few months under our belt, it was like, ‘Well, hey man, why don’t we try to write some songs—and if we don’t have any chemistry, or we can’t really write together, it’s okay, because there’s no pressure… nobody’s really making us do this.’ So, we first spent a good amount of time over dinners, hanging out backstage or just on the bus, just talking about the kind of record we’d want to make. You know, one of the things that really became apparent was that we wanted to make a ‘classic’ sounding record. So, when we wrote the first few tunes, we realized a couple of things: Number one, they are classic sounding. Number two, we definitely have chemistry—and so then we became excited—the thing was starting to have an identity. We wrote the rest of it, and I had been wanting to make a record the old school way, which is no computers involved, just straight to a big-ass 2-inch analog tape deck which is about the size of a refrigerator, and the music really lent itself to that process. And you really want to stack the deck and make a cool story when you do a record, because anybody can go in their basement and make a killer sounding record these days, you know? So, when it came time to choose a physical location, Muscle Shoals—where “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar” and Bob Seeger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” were recorded—just made sense, and we really got the results that we wanted. When you hear this record, especially the vinyl, it sound like you just entered a portal into 1976. It really sonically sounds like a classic record.
Oh, wow, man—I’m so excited to hear it. Does it have a title yet?
The title is Down to the River. They say that the river over there by the studio is magical, you know… the Indians used to say that the river sings, and I just happened to have a song for the record called “Down to the River.” The crux of the message of the song is, you know… when you’re feeling down, and your mind’s cloudy and you’re feeling kinda restless, it’s a good idea to reconnect with nature. We as humans seem to clear the mind and hit the reset button if you go to the beach, or head into the mountains, so Down to the River is symbolic of that kind of call to arms. And it coincided with the thing that makes Muscle Shoals magical to a lot of people—that river.
Nice, man…. You’ve been making records for the last two decades or so, some of which have had a harder blues edge while others had a rock ‘n’ soul vibe. And Duane’s EP that he put out last year almost has a Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers sound to it.
Is this record that you guys made together a hybrid of those things, or did you find that within your chemistry there was something new for both of you?
Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a pretty solid blend. This record has a lot of classic rock leanings, it has an R&B angle, it has an Americana angle, for sure. It definitely can live within any jam band vibe. When we were talking about what kind of record we’d like to make, we set up a couple of blueprints—like templates—that we would love for it to sound sonically…. Records like Layla, and The Band’s The Last Waltz, and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. We wanted those kind of sounds in the drum kit, you know, with the Fender Rhoades and the Hammond B-3…. just that smoky, sepia-toned, classic, timeless sound. And I think we got it. But certainly, at the end of the day, it’s always going to be a blend. So, for sure, Duane’s Americana thing with my kind of classic rock-soul thing, certainly is really brought together.
Berry Oakley, Jr. is in the group with you, and Berry has worked with a ton of people, but when you and Duane were talking about putting together the group, was it immediately like, ‘Hey, we gotta go get Berry’—how did that come into play?
Well, we both know a lot of musicians. So, it was never an ‘Oh, we have to.’ Just like with starting this union of us working in one group together, everything has been a “want to”—which is a nice luxury to have. But I think we both knew, because we had talked about working with Berry for years—and not just because the fans were screamin’ for it, but because we love Berry, and we love his bass playing. That’s really it—I couldn’t give a shit about Berry’s name, or Duane’s name, for that matter. If I had the chance to make a record with any guitar player and any bass player, I’m gonna pick Duane Betts and Berry Oakley, Jr., because I’m a fan of the playing, and I’m a fan of what they’re about. That’s true across the board… I couldn’t give a shit (about their names). It just so happens that their dads were famous just like mine, it just so happens that they were all in the same band. It’s truly that way. Because at this point in our careers—and we know we’re not, like, John Mayer level—but we could just about play with anyone, and we chose each other for true, organic reasons. We respect each other’s playing, we respect each other’s background, and what each other brings to the table. So, it’s just an added bonus on top of all the legacy stuff, which of course we respect, and we honor, but there’s a balance there. We keep it to about three Allman Brothers songs a night, and we really went back and studied how those original versions were performed. We did our due diligence and our homework to get those songs sounding legit. But, more importantly to us, is that we also put our own stamp on music—which is our own sound and our own record. I think a lot of people are going to realize that, ‘Wow, these guys are the sons of one of the most respected bands in rock history, but they’re totally putting something out on their own merits that’s worthy.’
You know, I’m glad you mentioned the live show, and doing your homework on the songs that you do choose to play live. Last night, I was surfing through YouTube, and there is a video of you guys doing “Dreams” last month in Florida, and the caption for the video is simply one word: ‘Epic.’
(Laughs) Wow! That’s a very flattering word!
And you know what, man, if I can tell you the truth, it was epic! My favorite period of the Allman Brothers is that ’70 to ’71 period, and your version of “Dreams” reminded me of the version that’s on the Live at Ludlow Garage record. Is that kind of what you went back to in terms of doing your homework on these songs?
Well, so funny enough, I sat with Duane before last year’s tour, and I said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of different Allman Brothers.’
Yeah, that’s very true.
You know, there’s the very beginnings, there’s the heyday after Duane passed, there’s the ’90’s resurgence, and a lot of those songs in the ’90s—obviously it’s a consequence of time, it’s not anything pre-meditated—but those songs evolved and went to these other places. I said to Duane, ‘I really think we’d be smartest by learning the original studio recordings of “Midnight Rider,” and “Dreams,” and this and that, and use those as a basis.’ Those are the versions that people fell in love with on the radio, those are the versions that people fell in love with while listening to vinyl records. They’re not transient, they’re not versions you hear live once, and then never hear again. They’re the versions that you can always listen to. I said, ‘Man, I think it would be really cool to go back and learn the original studio versions—and then if we happen to make them spin out into their own space, I think that’s really where the gold is.’ So, if you hear our version of “Midnight Rider,” we wanted that spooky, slower tempo like the original version, and with “Dreams,” obviously over the course of a year it’s gonna twist and turn, and we’re happy with that. We did “Multi-Colored Lady” and we really tried to stay true to the original recording of that. So, never did we pull up Ludlow or Fillmore and say, ‘Well, we need to give it this angle, or this vibe.’ We really wanted to get that basis from the studio recordings, and then allow them a little room to meander and evolve.
One of the things I noticed in the video I mentioned was the light show—will you be taking that same light show out on tour again?
Last year, I hired the Brotherhood of Light. They were in charge of the Allman Brothers light show for 25 years, and I’ve hired them again for this year.
Oh, wow—that’s cool! That visual is really important to the music, I think.
Yeah, and it provides some continuity for the fans which I think is important. Just having them out there with us—I mean, we grew up watching their light show—it’s a very poignant addition for us.
Most definitely. Listen, brother—thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.
Hey, of course! Thank you!
No problem…. See you out there on the road, man.
Cheers, man! And thank you for the support, every little bit counts.
Be sure to catch the Allman Betts Band at Brooklyn Bowl on March 27, and again at the Hopewell Theatre on March 31, The Paramount on Long Island on April 4, and the Newton Theatre in newton NJ on April 12!!