After a year of insurmountable loss, Devon Allman, son of the late great Gregg Allman, is back in the saddle and currently gearing up for a world tour this spring with his new band The Devon Allman Project. Allman will share the bill with Duane Betts, a combination that is bound to hit home for Allman Brothers Band fans, as Duane is the son of Dickey Betts longtime guitarist for ABB.
The Devon Allman Project’s tour kick-off party will be held at The Fillmore in San Francisco on December 8th—the date of what would have been Gregg Allman’s seventieth birthday. Special guests will include Duane Betts, Brooklyn Allman, G. Love, Barry Oakley Jr., Cody and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars), Peter Levin (Greg Allman Band, Blind Boys of Alabama, CSN, Doobie’s etc.), Samantha Fish, Ben Sparaco, Alex Orbison, Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie, Jeff Beck, Hank Williams Jr.), and Bobby Whitlock (Derek and The Dominos, Dr. John, Rolling Stones) and Coco Carmel.
We talked to Devon Allman about his upcoming tour with Duane Betts, how it came about, and how this past year’s losses have shaped his sound. Read our interview with Devon Allman below!
Live For Live Music: When was the first time you picked up a guitar?
Devon Allman: I was thirteen when I started. My mom wanted me to play since I was like five, and I was just never into it. When I did get into it, she made me learn on this total piece-of-shit, five-dollar, bought-in-Mexico classical guitar, which is the hardest thing to play. I still have it actually, which is crazy. She was like, “Get good on this, and I will buy you an electric,” because I really wanted an electric.
She signed me up for lessons, and it was like, “Row row, row your boat.” It was just crap. In the store, I discovered these magazines that had tablature in them, and I started learning all these tunes. I would skip my lesson, buy the magazines, and I learned really quickly. After a few months, she had me come in and play for her, and she was blown away—she thought I had the best teacher in the world. I was like, “Well, I haven’t really been going to that teacher, but I have been hiding out in the back of the music store learning from the magazines.”
L4LM: What do you love about music?
DA: I think the number one thing is that it helps people deal with the darkness in the world. I mean, it is pretty crazy out there, and music brings us together and it heals. I just love doing my job. I can tell on people’s faces after the show that they feel rejuvenated and renewed, and that’s what it is all about. It’s about that energy. If we went out on stage every night and there was no audience, I mean, that just doesn’t fly. It is the energy exchange that is everything. At the end of the day, I like to make people feel good with music.
Devon Allman with Gregg Allman Band, “Dreams”
[Video: Mitzi Haston]
L4LM: What have you been up to lately?
Devon Allman: It’s been a tough year. I lost my mom and my dad within four-and-a-half months of each other, so I canceled a whole year of touring except for a couple of dates here and there in the late fall. I’ve been using the time to rally around my family and write new music. I started a whole new six-piece band and I’m writing that record that I’m going to record in the next month or two. I went out and did some promo for my Dad’s final record—at the end of the day, I felt bad he wasn’t here to promote it, so I went and did some appearances for that. It’s been a year of taking stock of things and healing. I look forward to next March though and doing my world tour with Duane Betts.
L4LM: Did you channel the energy of the last year into your new music, and is the music different because of what you’ve gone through?
DA: Yeah, it certainly is. I listened to a bunch of records after my Dad passed away and tried to find the path. I tried to write the tunes to see where they landed. Over the last ten years, I’ve done the blues-rock kind of thing, but when I started listening to these records, trying to find my way, I really realized how much I grew up on that late 70s, early 80s Jackson Browne and Tom Petty stuff. It’s a big part of who I am, so yeah, it is pretty different.
It is definitely got more of a classic rock-Americana fusion going on, and less of the blues. A lot of acoustic, a lot of Telecaster, Stratocaster. I have been playing Gibson Les Pauls for fifteen years straight, and it was nice to get away from that, take a break, and explore different textures. So yeah, right in the middle of all that, Tom Petty passes away. I had blueprinted this whole record on this late 70s Petty/Jackson Browne thing, which was strange, but I’m excited to put it out in the spring.
L4LM: How did you and Duane Betts touring together come to fruition?
DA: I mean Duane and I have known each other since ’89, because we were kids on tour with The Allman Brothers. Now, in our adult life, we end up at the same festivals or run into each other in England. As these relationships get deeper, you start realizing you don’t have all the time in the world. I mean we aren’t 20, but we aren’t 60 either—we’re right in the middle.
We always talked about doing something together, so I said we needed to pull the trigger. I thought it would make people happy to see an Allman and a Betts onstage together making music. We had talked about it over the last five years pretty intensely, but the timing had to be right. He was busy with a band called Dawes, and I was busy doing records for Ruf Records and being in the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, so it never jived.
Royal Southern Brotherhood, “Midnight Rider”
[Video: Bjørn-Owe Holmberg]
Devon Allman: This year, a couple offers came my way, and I immediately thought of Duane. We hung out and we said, “Let’s just go do the whole world.” I just thought it was a really good idea and the timing was right—and, sure enough, so do venues, festivals, and promoters. It’s going to be a really great year.
Right now, Duane is stepping out to as his own artist now instead of a sideman, so it’s a big move for him to be a front man and put out his own records. So, for the tour, Duane is going to come out and do like a thirty-five-minute set, then I’m going to come out and do a seventy- or eighty-minute set with music off my new record, and then we’ll do a thirty-minute encore together. In that encore, we’ll definitely pay homage to our fathers and just jam.
L4LM: Do you feel a sense of fulfilling a legacy with this Allman/Betts tour? Is there a chance any other ABB children will join in?
DA: Well, we are really tight with Barry Oakley Jr. who is going to come and do The Fillmore with us. The Fillmore is going to be the tour’s kick-off party, with a bunch of special guests—G. Love and Bobby Whitlock and Jimmy Hall, Tony Luther Dickenson and Samantha Fish. It’s December 8th, which happens to be what would have been my father’s seventieth birthday, so there’s definitely some poignancy to that.
As far as fulfilling a legacy, I think the legacy is to go out there. You know, it’d be easy to get all the Allman Brothers’ kids together and learn all the Allman Brothers songs, but I don’t think we ever wanted to do the easy thing. I think we wanted to do the thing that holds the most integrity. I think that Duane’s dad, Dickey, and my dad are most proud that we’re blazing our own trail. I like to think that keeping the legacy alive is just that we try to make music from the heart and the soul for people who love that style of music.
Do we hope that it resonates with Allman Brothers Band fans? Of course, but we don’t want to ride coattails or take the easy way. If there comes a time in the future when we have some space from all that, to where there could be different celebrations of that music, sure. But for now, we’re still on the younger side of artists, and we still have things to say.
L4LM: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
DA: Musically, the thing people trip out on the most is that I really have a soft spot for like, 80’s alternative music like The Cure, The Smiths, and The Clash—I really grew up on that. I’m also really into cooking. It is a passion of mine. When I am on tour, I don’t really get to fulfill that, but when I am home, I’m always cooking. I put out my own brand of hot sauce a few years ago, and we are going to do a re-launch of that in the spring. So that’s something besides music that I have a really big passion for.
L4LM: You and your dad developed a pretty extensive musical relationship, and you got to play with him often. Do you have an experience that stands out for you?
DA: Oh man, we actually did quite a bit of touring together. We finished one tour, and his tour manager came and said, “Your dad wants to see you.” I was like, “Oh shit, what did I do?” It felt like I was going to the principal’s office. It was the last night of the tour, and I walk into his dressing room, and he takes off his Rolex, hands it to me, and says, “You really kicked ass on the tour.” He gave me his Rolex that he wore all the time, which was amazing and mind-blowing, and I haven’t taken it off.
There is one more time. It was when I was really young—I think I was eighteen—and it was my second or third time singing with The Allman Brothers. I would always sit in on “Midnight Rider”, and he would always take the first verse, and I would take the second verse, and we would split the third. For whatever reason, when I went to sing that second verse, I sung that third verse. I screwed it up.
My inner dialogue during the guitar solo was, “Well, Dad will sing that second verse that I had messed up in the third verse spot.” When the third verse came up, he sang the third verse. Basically, we each sang the same verse. Backstage afterward, and I said, “Dad, I am so sorry. I thought you would kind of save my ass and just flip flop the verses.” He looked at me and said, “My son, two wrongs don’t make a right.” Needless to say, I never screwed that song up again.