By Alan Sculley | April 7, 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 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 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 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 April 9 at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe. It’s one of a number of limited attendance, socially distanced concerts the group will play this spring. The group began playing drive-in shows and indoor socially distanced shows last year to comply with COVID-19 safety regulations, and Duane says 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,” Duane says.
“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.”
The Allman Betts Band w/Carvin Jones
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 9
Where: Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Avenue, Tempe