Duane Betts. Now that’s a name that rings a bell, doesn’t it? Where have you heard it? Well, if you do know of the multi-talented guitarist/singer-songwriter and his many musical endeavors, congratulations. The musician deserves all of the adoration and appreciation out there. He’s dedicated, creative, and enamored with the creation of audible art. Although, if his name is still sounding the alarms, but you can’t place him, it’s probably because his name is simply bringing back memories of other people. Duane’s father—the incomparable co-founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts—named his son after the late, just as other-worldly-talented guitarist, Duane Allman.
Duane Betts is currently fronting the The Allman Betts Band alongside the late Gregg Allman’s son, Devon, and bringing a more modern version of the ABB to the world. It’s still old school, made with love, and authentic, goose-bump raising psychedelic rock and soul… just another generation later.
You’ve played on all kinds of stages, from bigger stages like the Peach Music festival to the smallest of stages like Jam In The Van. Do you have a preference for playing in smaller, more intimate settings or performing on larger stages in front of a throng of people?
There’s something really cool about playing in front of a small, attentive, and really intimate audience. You know, there’s something really exciting about playing on a big stage in front of a large crowd and that can be really, really fun and exhilarating. It just depends. I mean, there’s obviously certain venues that have a prestige and history, like the Beacon Theatre is obviously one of those places for us. A lot of it just has to do with the experience you’re having on stage. It depends who you’re playing with. So I don’t know. I like both, for sure.
You feed off the energy of each crowd and I bet every show feels different in that regard.
Yeah! There’s something about a nice theatre that I really like, I must say. Playing in front of a real enthusiastic audience in the nice theatre is really cool, because they usually sound great. I don’t really like playing in arenas as much–although it is exciting.
Right? The acoustics are definitely not up to par in that setting.
Oh, yeah. It’s just kind of boomy and…. It’s cool and it’s exciting, but as much as I like playing outdoors, I like playing sheds and stuff like that. Places that are kind of set in natural settings, and also theatres, and stuff like that.
That makes a lot of sense and surely fits your sound. Over the years you played with a lot of different bands with various styles. Have there been any shows or moments that have really stuck with you from the various bands and projects you’ve embarked on?
There have been a lot of great moments. I mean some of the stuff when I was playing with Dawes… some of that stuff was like really, really cool. We got to back up Elvis Costello at Newport Folk Fest. That was pretty awesome. That’s right up there. Yeah, I mean if you’re up on stage doing “[What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace, Love, and Understanding” with Elvis Costello, rocking out with him… that’s about as good as it gets.
Yeah, I can imagine. That’s really very cool. And they’re a fantastic band as well. Do you take experiences like those and implement them into other musical ventures?
You learn from everybody. I definitely learned stuff from playing with Dawes and I’m sure that they maybe learned something from playing with me. I just try to surround myself with people that I can learn from. If a kid that’s playing guitar asks me things, I just say try to surround yourself with people that you can learn from and listen to them, you know? So that’s what I do. Sometimes, even if you’re playing with really great players, you have got to just remember how you play and, for me, just play the way I do and be the best Duane Betts that I can be, while remembering to have fun. That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s just about a bunch of guys having fun—even different bands playing on the same bills, everybody should be having fun.
For sure. Music is definitely a personal experience, but then it could still be shared with everyone around you.
You mentioned that playing with Elvis Costello was something that you can’t really top, but are there any artists or bands that you have yet to collaborate with?
Oh man, there’s so many people that I respect. Elvis Costello was really great, too. I would love to play with… I know he’s gotten into a little bit of trouble lately, but Ryan Adams is one of my favorite songwriters. He’s really, really gifted, regardless of whatever else. Ryan Bingham, too, I would really like to do something with him. You know, singer-songwriters like that. I like Sturgill Simpson. I’m a fan of all those guys.
Oh, of course. And you know, speaking of the same line of people you’ve gotten to work with, this past December was the third annual Allman Family Revival, which featured some fantastic guests like Charlie Starr, Samantha Fish, and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. How did this idea for the celebration come about and why is it so special to you, as well as the people that do get to be guests on stage?
Well, it was Devon’s idea. It was something that started out initially as just a celebration. Well, it actually turned into the celebration of his dad’s birthday. It actually started out as just a gig for his band at the time, The Devon Allman Band–or The Devon Allman Project, I think it became at that point–and it was like his comeback gig, because he had taken time off after his father’s passing. He was kind of going to come out and have just a few special guests, you know, and I was going to be one of them. It was a place in Florida and then it turned into The Fillmore, since they had an open date and the date happened to be on Gregg’s birthday. So then it turned into a celebration of Gregg’s birthday. Then, of course, when you play at The Fillmore, you could go for more higher-profile guests and a lot of great people joined up on it that first year. And I actually opened the show with my band at the time with a little set. But, anyway, that’s how it started. Last year was the second one, then this year we did three shows. There were a bunch of great guests–slightly different guests in every city and then some of the same guests–and we had a lot of really cool people. Robin Zander from Cheap Trick was amazing. We truly had a bunch of really, really great people with us.
The event really did morph into this celebration–and one that fans, family, friends, and everyone alike could really get behind.
Yeah. It was just about having fun. When you play a gig like that with a bunch of moving parts, it can be kind of stressful. And then it’s at the Beacon and there’s that added pressure. But then, you know, it all comes back to having fun. ‘It’s going to be fun. We’re having fun here, we’re having fun.’ You just need to remind yourself of that, and then before you know it, you’re halfway through the show having a great time. And you know, it really was a blast. It was so much fun and all the guests were amazing. We, The Allman Betts Band, came out and did about five or six tunes to start out the night, so it was a good group of nights.
Speaking of fun and good times, let’s talk about the ABB debut, Down to the River. Now, I have heard that a lot of the writing of the record was done in between touring and while on busses and in hotel rooms, but what really was that process of creating and piecing that record together?
Well, it’s basically Devon, myself, and our partner, Stoll Vaughan, who I had worked with on my own EP. Devon liked the tunes and he was like, ‘Who are you writing with?’ And I was like ‘Stoll Vaughan, this cat from Kentucky that now lives in Los Angeles. I know him from L.A.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, man, maybe we can get him out.’ So those sessions just consisted of the three of us just sitting down. A lot of it was written backstage, some of it was written on the tour bus, and we just got a bunch of songs together. I think we put together the most cohesive group of songs that stood the best together. We recorded it in Muscle Shoals [Sound Studios] with Matt Ross-Spang. We pretty much recorded it live. You know, as far as performances go, they are pretty much live. There’s obviously the vocals—I think I went and redid all my vocals, but yeah. That was pretty much it. It was pretty old school and organic and we just kind of decided to just go in and capture that, and I think we did a good job.
I would surely say so. It’s a very cohesive album. I think it needs to be listened to cover to cover. I don’t think I could listen to it on shuffle, because it tells its story so well from start to finish. So really, kudos to you guys for putting together something that can be listened to perfectly straight through.
Oh, well thank you. That’s really important. That’s exactly what we wanted to do. We’re excited about the next one now, because of that. I mean we’re happy to have that one kind of under our belt and it was well-received and all that stuff, so we feel good about it…. But the next one, we are looking forward to taking it to the next level.
That is so exciting to hear! Well, thank you for letting me know that there is something in the future being thought about. That’s awesome.
It is. We’re excited, too.
So the Allman Betts Band is just one project of yours. Although all of your musical endeavors are fantastic, how does making music and touring as The Allman Betts Band differ from the other things you have done?
Devon and I are partners in it and, while we’re all working together as partners, it’s basically just Devon and I who put the band together, so it’s different than if it was my solo band [where] I would basically be calling all the shots myself…. I mean, I’ve always liked to ask questions. I like to have people around me that I can ask constantly because I respect the opinions of the people that I’m with. If I didn’t respect their opinions, I wouldn’t want to play with them anyway! But yeah, I mean I always ask questions, but with this, Devon has great ideas and he has really solid intuition and instinct with what he’s doing. He’s very alpha. His personality is a bit different than mine, which I think makes it work really cool–and that kind of comes across on stage like that, too, because we complement each other really well, I think. We agree on just about everything, but he still has to run stuff by me, and I have to run stuff by him, if you know what I mean. You know, you want the other person to like what you’re doing! As far as the band, I mean, there’s seven guys in it and everybody is on the stage. We play really well together, and we have some great players in the band and it’s really just fun. The crowds have been good, too, which [we’re] looking forward to growing. It’s new and it’s exciting.
BE SURE TO CATH THE ALLMAN BETTS BAND AT THE COUNT BASIE CENTER FOR THE ARTS IN RED BANK, NJ ON FEBRUARY 18!