The new album from The Allman Betts Band, Bless Your Heart, is out today. The group comprised of Devon Allman, Duane Betts, Berry Oakley Jr., John Stachela, John Ginty, R. Scott Bryan, and John Lum has found early success in forging their own path and finding their collective voice, while also giving reverence to the path forged by Devon, Duane, and Berry’s fathers with The Allman Brothers Band.
In addition to the new album, the band, like so many others, has been forced to find new avenues for connecting with their fans in the unprecedented music industry landscape of 2020, from Devon’s We Are Still Together live stream series, to a recent full band concert at the Belly Up in front of an empty crowd.
Devon Allman recently sat down with Live For Live Music to talk about where the band’s been, where they’re headed, and where Bless Your Heart fits into that roadmap in an exclusive interview. Listen to The Allman Betts Band’s sophomore album, Bless Your Heart, and read our interview with Devon Allman about the new release below.
The Allman Betts Band – Bless Your Heart – Full Album
Live For Live Music: So, how are things going?
Devon Allman: Man, real good. How are you doing?
Live For Live Music: Not too bad. How’s everything going with quarantine and coronavirus where you’re at?
Devon Allman: Well, Missouri’s been pretty responsible, thank the Lord. Everybody really stayed home mid-March to mid-May, so we were able to open up and you can go sit in a restaurant and you can go see live music in small, small venues, not the big ones, but it’s been okay.
Live For Live Music: Yeah. Just little seated-type things, like tables at concerts and everything like that? Are they doing, like, General Admission?
Devon Allman: Well, I’ve only been to support a couple local musician friends of mine and one was really at a pizza joint that kind of does live music in the back of a restaurant on weekends. And then another was a blues club that was seating people every other table. But yeah. You know, so far so good. I know it’s been quite a bit crazier in some other places, so I’m grateful that everybody really did do the right thing for a couple of months.
Live For Live Music: It looks like things are moving forward where you’re at then?
Devon Allman: So far, so good. Yeah.
Live For Live Music: Earlier this year, when we really couldn’t go out anywhere, you were doing your own We Are Still Together live stream series. What was that experience like and what’d you learn from that?
Devon Allman: Well, I mean, it’s when you get to a certain level, we have a pretty big band and road crew. And really, honestly, I just did it for them. I did it to raise capital for them while being off work. So it was really a necessity. It was also fun to still be able to connect with people. I really missed that. And although it, the dynamic of watching comments on a big screen TV with a delay as I quote unquote “performed,” at least it was still a way to connect with them. So I was grateful for that. And it really, it provided for the first three months or so of the COVID situation. It did provide everyone of the band and crew with a weekly paycheck, which I was really grateful for as well, to be able to provide that. I couldn’t have done it without our great fans. They were amazing.
And we did some cool exclusive merch and we did some giveaways. Gibson was incredible and sent me six acoustic guitars to give away over the air, as it were, so it was a cool experience and I learned that you don’t have to be on tour playing venues to still be able to connect with people. There’s always a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Live For Live Music: Did that feel like you’re playing a solo gig or was it more like ‘I’m just practicing at home?’
Devon Allman: It actually, surprisingly, it felt like a gig. And I got to say, I was more nervous for the live streams, than I was … I don’t get nervous at gigs anymore. That’s been a long time ago that I got nervous before playing a live concert. Thank the Lord [laughs]. I think when everybody starts, they’re nervous, but surprisingly, it did still feel like a gig. You knew that it was a one-shot deal. You couldn’t hit stop and try it again. It was going over live. So yeah, it still felt pretty good, but honestly after a while after doing it, I started to feel a bit handcuffed by it. And when something goes from a “want to” to a “have to,” then it kind of feels a bit stifling, and art should always be a “want to.” The day that it’s a “have to” is the day you should probably join the real world.
Live For Live Music: Then, that kind of led into you and the band recently getting together for a show for Belly Up without an audience.
Devon Allman: Yeah. So I thought it was really the next step to take with the live stream medium was to try and do it with the whole band. Luckily, we had been approached by CBS Saturday Morning to be featured on their show. And since we were all going to be together for that, it was a no brainer to stay an extra day and do a live stream show. So that was really great. It was such a good experience just to reconnect the band. It was exactly four months since our last show the night that we did the live stream, and [we] kind of gathered the guys up that weekend and said, “Hey, why don’t we try and do that right there once a month and have a completely different set list every time and connect with people and it’ll provide income for the band and crew.” And everybody was just like, “Hey man, if we can’t go out there and do it for real, then let’s at least do that.”
So it’s an exciting thing. And the platform we use, NoCap Shows, is really, I think, the ultimate platform for live streaming—the sound quality, the video quality of the five camera shoot, it’s the real deal. And it’s really user friendly. Tthey’re about to grow by leaps and bounds with some really big artists coming up and some tech that’s going to make it even easier to use, like apps on your Firestick and apps on your Apple TV. Couldn’t be happier with that platform.
Live For Live Music: When all this came about, and obviously kind of ruined a lot of things, one good thing I was hoping would come out of this was just a bigger emphasis on streaming video and audio quality, because a lot of times you’ll be watching webcasts and it will just cut out and it’s like, “Wow, that’s just the way it is.” So it’s cool that we’ve been seeing a big emphasis on stuff like that now.
Devon Allman: Well, I think there’s a curve to it. I mean, if you take television, when it was first starting to be in people’s homes—in 1952, I think, was kind of where it became pretty ubiquitous—and then how long it really took to get clean, crisp video, i.e. DirecTV, high-end cable. I mean, you’re really talking about right about 2000 where things got really super tight. So, that’s 45 years. I think, when we deal with the very genesis of the internet, I mean, you used to sign on and you’d go make a sandwich and you still weren’t signed in when you came and sat back down [laughs]. So I think, given that curve, I foresee that tech, within about two years, being just absolutely impenetrable and it excruciatingly fast. I think it’s going to be a great thing.
Live For Live Music: Yeah. So, circling back to that Belly Up show, how did it feel being on that stage with no audience, but with the band again?
Devon Allman: Well, since we hadn’t played in four months, we had a rehearsal the day before, and I remember walking around and we started kind of dinking around on the instruments and about 10, 15 minutes in, we said, “All right, well, let’s dive in.” About a minute into that first song, it was just grins, just grins on every guy just across the room. It felt so good. We’re all very close, so it felt so good to be together again. By the time the cameras were on, it actually felt like a show. The only difference was at the end of the song, you didn’t get that audible energy exchange. And that was okay. I think we made the best of it.
Live For Live Music: I heard you say once in an interview that, “You’re only as good as your audience.” So how do you reconcile that notion with playing in an empty club?
Devon Allman: [Laughs] It takes a lot of imagination. I think [streaming] ticket sales help. I mean, if you sell a thousand tickets, then there’s really a thousand people in that room and if somebody is having a party and there’s 10 people over watching it, then you know it’s more than a thousand. And I think you try and keep in mind that people bought a ticket to it. That part didn’t change, so you don’t want to let them down, but true in a live-live setting, like the old days, you really are only as good as your audience. When they give you that energy, you can channel that into the music and it’s a great back-and-forth dynamic.
Live For Live Music: Definitely, especially when you get into some of the more improvisational parts of the Allman Betts Band’s music, where a lot of that it seems like really does come from the audience. So then, where does it come from if the audience isn’t there?
Devon Allman: [Laughs] This was a very good and very difficult question. Well, I think when you’ve been playing together long enough, riding those dynamics, it does start to become second nature. So there are a few songs where we might split the middle open or take the back end of the song and extend it and toy with the dynamics. It’s certainly more fun to bounce that off of people and wrap it around where the crowd is and where the crowd is going. And there’s that ebb and flow. When the crowd’s not there, you just, again, you have to have a good imagination and know your engine.
Live For Live Music: Yeah. Something that maybe even could make you more willing to take those risks, because they’re not right there. It’s on their computer screen.
Devon Allman: I don’t know. I mean, I think we’d probably take more risks with people there, because it’s like, you’re going, you’re with us and you’re going down with us if we go down [laughs].
Live For Live Music: Let’s talk about the new record, your second one as Allman Betts Band.
Devon Allman: Have you heard it?
Live For Live Music: Yeah, yeah, I got to listen to it. Really dig it, and I was curious how Bless Your Heart further expands this voice that you and Duane and the other guys have put together as The Allman Betts Band.
Devon Allman: Well, I just think it really kind of goes deeper down the rabbit hole. It’s a magnified version of where we were a year ago. A year ago, we were birthing a band in the studio to make the first record. This time around, we’d been a band all over the world and you learn where to let the song breathe, where to lean into the song, and where to lean back in the song. You learn to play to the song. The best thing you can ever do is to play the song, not the instrument. And I think that that’s pretty case-in-point on a record.
Feeling more confident with the identity of the band and just kind of getting to a place where you let the song unfold from the composition angle, instead of feeling like you have to follow some conventional intro verse, bridge, chorus, first bridge, chorus. We were really able to kind of trust what the song was screaming for and if that meant a double-long bridge or a really long back-end jam riding out the song, or if it meant, like on “Pale Horse Rider”, literally a wordless chorus with no words, no lyrics, then so be it. The music came first and we really just let the music itself lead the way.
Live For Live Music: Do you think that was something that was more prevalent on this record? Being able to trust the composition more so than on your debut album, when it was more of just finding that voice?
Devon Allman: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think … if Down to the River was opening your eyes when you wake up, then Bless Your Heart is sitting on the side of the bed, stretching, and standing up and getting your power back. That’s what I would kind of liken it to.
Live For Live Music: You and the rest of the band have been very clear on creating your own separate legacy from that Greg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, and the Allman Brothers Band. So, why all be in a band together at all when that’s only going to further provoke comparisons to your fathers’ music?
Devon Allman: Well, I mean, we are who we are. If Marlon Brando‘s son is an actor, he’s always going to have that, but … I think you’re only worth your weight in your body of work. So we set out more to just have a good body of work. And in our eyes, as the years pass us by, that body of work should find some balance because we are our own artists with our own songs, doing our own tours with our own fan base. And as much as we’re proud to have the lineage that we have, we also have our own stories to tell. And I think that it becomes more apparent as the band grows.
Live For Live Music: I think so, too, about this record. This definitely isn’t whatever people thought when you guys first got together, this isn’t just, “Oh, it’s their sons.” This is your guys’ voice. I was big into songs like “Savannah’s Dream”, because it’s just one of those good ,long jams, and then you can go right back into more of those conventional songs and structures.
Devon Allman: Yeah. Yeah. Like I said, I think that what will make people realize that this is really for real is having that confidence to stretch out. And I think that the more we do things like “Rivers Run”, “Much Obliged”, the trippy [stuff] … So, we have a guitar harmony in “Pale Horse Rider“, but it’s considerably more trippy than something that our dads would have done, not that it would have been impossible for them to do. Obviously, they were divine architects of music, but I think that we have our own differences, our own flavors and textures that are starting to just show themselves. We don’t need to beat our chest or anything like that. There’s no need for that. I think the record speaks for itself.
[Originally published 8/10/20]