Devon Allman can look back on his music career and see he has always tended to have a band that goes for a few years, and then he’s been ready to shake things up and start something different.
During the early 2000s, he fronted Devon Allman’s Honeytribe, then in 2011, he joined up with Cyril Neville, Mike Zito, Yonrico Scott, and Charlie Wooten in the group the Royal Southern Brotherhood, releasing a pair of albums in 2012 and 2014 before forming a new band called the Devon Allman Project. But Allman believes he won’t feel the need to move on from his latest group, The Allman Betts Band, any time in the foreseeable future.
“I’ve always kind of changed up the kind of approach and the vehicles that I’ve made music inside of. I had Honeytribe, then the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, the Devon Allman Project, a six-piece band,” Allman said in a mid-March phone interview. “It kind of felt like I’ve been couch surfing my whole career and now I’ve bought a house. And I like this house. And I may step away and do a blues record or I may step away and do an acoustic solo record or I might step away and write a book, or I might step away and do some movie work,
but I can always come home.”
Part of what has Allman seeing a long future for The Allman Betts Band is how easily the band formed and how quickly the band has made progress both musically and in popularity.
The Betts in the band is guitarist/singer Duane Betts, the son of Allman Brothers founding member and guitarist/singer Dickey Betts. Allman, as one might have guessed, is the son of another founding member of that legendary group, keyboardist/singer Gregg Allman. The two had kicked around the notion of trying to write together for years, but collaborating wasn’t possible until more recently because both were busy with other projects.
Allman was under contract to do solo albums and also had the Royal Southern Brotherhood happening. Betts was playing in his father’s band and also did a stint playing in the band Dawes.
But by 2018 both Allman and Betts were free and clear, so a tour was put together where Betts opened for the Devon Allman Project and then sat in with that group each evening to play a few Allman Brothers Band songs and other cover tunes. Along the way, the pair tried writing together.
Betts, in a separate phone interview, remembered the first indication that he and Allman might have good chemistry as songwriters.
“Devon and I, the first song we worked on was “Long Gone”. That was in the back of the bus,” Betts said. “I know we were headed down to Texas. We were on a long drive and we just kind of started kicking around this idea, and an idea for a verse started and then he kind of switched it up a little bit and it really worked out and we took it from there.”
Things just kept coming together from there.
“[Songs] came so quickly and naturally, and we really kind of, one guy would start a song and the other guy would cheerlead him and go ‘Yeah, and let’s add this and let’s add that.’ And when you get into that working relationship, you find out pretty early on if it’s compatible or if it rubs each other the wrong way,” Allman said. “So you either work really great together and have a chemistry or you just don’t. And we did, we had it in spades. We thought ‘Oh wow, if we have some songs that we’ve written that easily, wouldn’t it be a joy to jam these out every
night on tour and do something truly together?’ And boom, the Allman Betts Band was formed!”
By early 2019, the Devon Allman Project/Duane Betts tour had morphed into an Allman Betts Band tour and the new group quickly found traction.
“It was a seamless transition, and then the growth was immediate, which was shocking, but also such a blessing,” Allman said of the Allman Betts Band’s formation and early period as a group. “We went from playing 400 or 500-seat rooms to 2,000-seat theaters in 12 months, or less, maybe eight months. So the word got out there quick, and the word got out there that this isn’t a tribute act. This is a throwback band that really can bring it. And it’s a seven-piece band and everyone in the band really holds their own and there’s a lot of great synergy and some
songs that have legs.”
The group’s self-titled debut arrived in 2019 and showed the group’s considerable promise with a strong set of original songs that drew from a variety of Southern-tinged and classic rock-era influences that included the Allman Brothers Band (of course), and just as prominently, the Rolling Stones, The Band, and Santana.
After touring the debut album for about a year, the Allman Betts Band (which includes bassist Berry Oakley Jr., the son of original Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley and a long-time friend of both Devon Allman and Duane Betts, slide guitar player Johnny Stachela– who played in Duane Betts’ solo band– keyboardist John Ginty, and drummers John Lum and R. Scott Bryan) went to work on the 2020 follow-up album, Bless Your Heart.
The growth of the group is very apparent on the excellent second effort with stronger, more diverse, and more ambitious songs. Naturally enough, there are moments that recall the Allman Brothers Band (especially the extended instrumental, “Savannah’s Dream”), but that’s not the dominant influence in the music. Songs like “King Crawler” (a crackling Stones-ish rocker with sassy saxophone and stinging slide guitar), “The Doctor’s Daughter” (a My Morning Jacket-ish epic ballad), and “Pale Horse Rider” (an expansive mid-tempo track with the unique twist of a wordless chorus), don’t sound like the Allman Brothers Band and instead point to an emerging more original sound from the band.
Fans will hear a half dozen or so of the new songs, several more from the first album, a couple of Allman Brothers Band songs, and a couple of other covers (the group has been playing Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” recently) when the Allman Betts Band plays June 9 at the Macon City Auditorium. It’s one of a number of concerts the group will play this summer that will abide by COVID guidelines. The group began playing drive-in shows and indoor socially distanced shows last year to comply with COVID safety regulations and Betts said the band has adjusted well to a live experience that’s considerably different than playing to a packed venue during normal times.
“When you’re playing a drive-in movie theater and the cars are spaced out, I guess there’s two things,” Betts said. “There’s the thing that’s the connection with the crowd and the flow of the energy, which frankly can be a little weird when you’re playing for a bunch of cars and they’re all spread out. But that’s part of the [deal], obviously, we want to play shows that are safe and are responsible and stuff. So we feel good about that, about playing shows like that. Most of the stuff we’ve done has been really well done. We’ve played some bigger venues at much less capacity. It’s been a lot of fun.”