It’s been 50 years since a group of Southern longhairs formed what would become one of the most celebrated rock ’n’ roll bands of all time.
Now, Devon Allman, Duane Betts and Berry Oakley Jr., sons of original Allman Brothers Band members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley, are honoring that golden anniversary by building a new legacy.
While the Allman Betts Band pays respect to the past, they do not seek to repeat it. “We’re our own dudes,” said Allman. “We grew up in a different time and we’re not the Allman Brothers Band. It’s our journey, it’s our work and it’s our turn to share that with people.”
Though the last names behind the Allman Betts Band may be familiar to fans, the music they make is very much their own. “Something can look good on paper, in this case an Allman, a Betts and an Oakley in the same band. We can safely say that has worked in the past,” Allman said with a laugh. He maintains however, that his current collaboration is built on chemistry, not pedigree. “As with any band or any project of any artistic nature, you have to have chemistry and it has to be real. It’s not a baseball team, this is art.”
As fate and family tradition would have it, Allman and Betts were a natural fit as songwriting partners. They began writing their debut album, “Down to the River” when Betts joined Allman on tour last year. “It was really effortless,” said Allman. “We complement each other really well and we had some songs come together right away that were truthful and uniquely our sound.”
Fitting for the sons of the men behind the road anthem “Ramblin’ Man,” most of the album was written on the move. “We wrote it on the bus, in dressing rooms and hotel rooms. We were touring so heavily that those were the only locations we could get down and get busy writing,” said Allman.
The songs that sprang from the collaboration have a decidedly vintage vibe. “Once we wrote the songs, they sounded right out of 1976,” said Allman. That ’70s sound inspired Allman and Betts to cut the record on the hallowed ground of Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.
“It made sense to go to this place where some of the most famous records were made,” said Allman. True to the era it invokes, “Down to the River” was recorded live on a 2-inch analog tape machine, entirely free of computers or digital editing. “We wanted to produce something sonically that really harkens back to that magical time of music. I’m happy to say when I put on that record it sounds old, it sounds juicy and I’m really proud of it.”
While echoes of the Allman Brothers can be heard on tracks like “Shinin’” and “Long Gone,” Allman’s personal favorite, other influences emerge on “Down to the River.” “You’ll hear some Rolling Stones, some Santana. There’s a lot of other influential heroes outside of our families,” Allman said.
Among those heroes is Florida’s own Tom Petty. “Down to the River” includes a haunting rendition of Petty’s “Southern Accents” with Allman taking the reins on keys and vocals. For Allman, the choice to incl
ude the track was rooted in processing his own grief after losing both his father and mother. “There’s the stanza in the song, ‘There’s a dream I keep having / Where my mama comes to me.’ I lost my mom four months before I lost my dad. With Tom Petty dying shortly after, it was like I lost my parents and then I lost one of my most respected and endearing professors. His music was a constant education for me.”
Allman is committed to helping young and aspiring musicians find the education they need. The guitarist is a proud patron of the School of Rock after-school program. “It’s a stellar organization. With kids, it’s scientifically proven that music fires up their neurons. It gives them fuel for dreams. We could be missing out on the next Jimi Hendrix if we don’t have entities out there like School of Rock nurturing our next generation of musicians.”
Like their respective fathers before them, the Allman Betts Band lives for live performances. A recent surgery and a few weeks recuperating at home have made Allman restless for the road. “I read a quote that said, ‘Give a man good food, cheap entertainment and consistent sex and watch his ambitions fly out the window,’” Allman recalled with a laugh. “There’s some truth to that, but the artist in me is like, ‘Let’s go. You’ve got people to make feel good. You’re a different kind of doctor. Your medicine is sonic medicine and that’s why you’re here.’”
The Allman Betts Band brings its brand of medicine to Key West on Monday, Oct. 28 at the Sunset Green Event Lawn. JD Simo opens the all-ages show. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., show starts at 7. Chairs and blankets are permitted, children 2 and younger rock for free.
Here’s more about Devon Allman:
Full name? Nickname? Devon Lane Allman. My friends call me DA or Devo, like the rock band.
Astrological sign? Do you fit the description? Leo in the First House. I’m unabashedly a Leo.
First concert? Cheap Trick, 1981. I was 9 years old. It was powerful. Rick Nielsen brought out this five-neck guitar. It was bigger than him. One guitar, five necks. He brought that out and I was like, that’s it, I want to do that, whatever that is.
What is your favorite journey? Hiking in Hawaii
What is the last book you read? “The Instant Enlightenment of Ordinary People” by Yukio Matsudo. It’s burly and might require a reread. It’s about a particular sect of Buddhism that’s based around chanting. Tina Turner and Herbie Hancock were really into it. I actually found it via the biography of Herbie Hancock. I started doing the chanting and the meditations and there’s something about it that pauses the world and the desire to find joy in the external; in gambling, in shopping, in sex, in drinking, in drugs. The pause really allows you to go deeper within.
What historical figure do you most admire? Curtis Mayfield, JFK and Buddha. That’s not a bad dinner party.
What is your greatest fear? Fear.
What is the greatest advice you’ve been given? Who gave it to you? Warren Haynes’ wife. I called her when I stated making music and said ‘you’re a smart cookie, I respect you, I need one bit of advice as I start this journey.’ She said, “Stay out there. Stay out there on the road, stay out there making albums, stay out there, stay out there, stay out there. Because, the minute you go and sit at home, someone is stealing your audience.”
What quality do you value most in your friends? Honesty
What was your best Halloween costume? When I was 19 I went as a biker nun with combat boots, shades, full beard and a full habit. I thought the dichotomy was hilarious.
What would your last meal be? My final meal would have to be sushi. I’m easy.
What landscape do you find most inspiring? Salt and sand. I feel the most at home on the beach. It’s typically what makes me feel the most alive, the most relaxed and the most inspired.
What is your most marked characteristic? It’s two things; I don’t half-ass anything and I give a shit. I truly care.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, who or what would it be? Jesus, now we’re getting really esoteric. I would come back as the moon.
Finish these sentences.
I can never refuse … Love, chocolate and coffee, in any order.
My autobiography would be called … “The Long Way Around.” I didn’t put out my first record until I was 33. I didn’t want to leave my son until he was old enough to count down the days until I got home. A lot of my friends blew past me with their careers and I decided it was more important for me to lay that foundation with my son and it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life.