By Alan Sculley | December 16, 2021
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 the Royal Southern Brotherhood, releasing a pair of albums in 2012 and 2014, before forming the Devon Allman Project. But he 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,” he says. “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.”
Part of what has him 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. Devon, 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.
But by 2018 both Devon and Duane were free and clear, so a tour was put together where Duane 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 tested the waters of writing together.
Duane, in a separate phone interview, remembered the first indication that he and Devon might have a good chemistry as songwriters.
“Devon and I, the first song we worked on was ‘Long Gone.’ That was in the back of the bus,” Duane says. “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.”
The group released its self-titled debut in 2019 and showed considerable promise with a strong set of original songs that drew from a variety of 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 and Duane, slide guitar player Johnny Stachela — who played in Duane’s 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 this 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 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, though, won’t hear much original material when the Allman Betts Band comes to Arizona Federal Theatre on Thursday, December 16, as the house band on the multiact Allman Family Revival tour, which also features, among others, Robert Randolph, Marc Ford, Donavon Frankenreiter, Lilly Hiatt, Cody and Luther Dickinson, Eric Gales, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jimmy Hall, Lamar Williams Jr.
“It’s a lot of moving parts and quite a cast of characters,” Devon says with a laugh. “I’m really excited for it. We started doing this celebration of dad’s music and life about five years ago. To see it grow to this is amazing. I think he would be really tickled.
“When my agent said there were like 30 cities that wanted to do this, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s a ton.’ It’s going to be amazing to bring this traveling musical circus to town.”
He says fans can expect collaborations on stage.
“Without a doubt,” he says. “That’s the whole point of having this many talented people on the tour. You’re going to get to see some guitar players jam with others.”
The show celebrates the life and music of Gregg and the Allman Brothers Band, and has become an annual tradition, first with Devon and now the Allman Betts Band anchoring the proceedings.
“My favorite part is just the joy of the audience. I can tell they are touched and getting every penny’s worth,” Devon says in a statement.
“Knowing Dad is looking down saying, ‘Damn, son, all that hot jammin’ for me?!’ I know he’s tickled that we celebrate him.”
Allman Family Reunion
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 16
WHERE: Arizona Federal Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $38.50
INFO: 602-379-2800, arizonafederaltheatre.com