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Interview: Duane Betts of The Allman Betts Band

The Allman Betts Band
8 June 2021

Photo by Kaelan Barowsky

With The Allman Betts Band, you know what you’re going to get – Southern Rock with some jammy jazz and blues sprinkled in. The offspring of The Allman Brothers founding members Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, Devon Allman (vocals, guitar) and Duane Betts (vocals, guitar) have been lifelong friends and helped each other out throughout their own careers but didn’t form an actual band together until 2018 where they were joined by the son of Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley, Berry Duane Oakley (bass).

The Allman Betts Band have made quick work of it, catching up for lost time by releasing new albums two years in two years and putting as many miles on the tour bus as possible given the fact that touring was pretty much shut down for the better part of 2020. The Allman Betts Band was able to get some safe and socially distanced touring in last year and plan to pick up with the postponed Spirit of The South tour this summer with Blackberry Smoke and The Wild Feathers. Before that, they’ve got something special planned for fans – over the course of three consecutive weekends (June 14, 21, 28), they’ll be performing unique virtual concerts from L.A. Each show has a theme, which Duane and I discussed during a recent Zoom call. You can buy individual tickets ($15/show) or a package for all 3 shows ($35) at the NoCap website.

In 2019, you released Down to the River. In 2020, you released Bless Your Heart. Had the world not been shut down last year, would we have seen a new Allman Betts Band album in 2021?

DUANE: We’re in the process of writing and sharing out thoughts about the third record. But, we don’t want to rush it. We want it to be really great. We’re off to a good start and we certainly don’t have a timeline that it has to be out in 2021. I would like it to be out as soon as possible but we’ll see what happens.

I remember back to my youth and it felt like bands like KISS put out a record every year. There’s not a lot of bands these days that do that so you having back-to-back albums in 2 years was pretty special and unique.

DUANE: If it’s a young band, if a band’s coming out and putting out their first two records, I don’t know how unusual it is to put out two records in two years. It seems pretty typical. But once a band gets established, maybe they take a hiatus, take a little bit of time building a masterpiece for their third or fourth or fifth record. You’re afforded that luxury. But when you’re starting to get your name out there, you want to be out there and you want to have something to promote and something to be excited about that’s new and fresh. Plus, you want to create, you want to keep the juices flowing and keep putting stuff out. I think we’re in a good position.

People have a vision of what the music is going to sound like before they hear just based on the name alone. I don’t think anybody expects to put on an Allman Betts Band record and hear punk rock. But, on the same hand, you’re doing something that pays homage to your lineage but it’s also something completely different and new. I love that there’s blues, there’s jazz, there’s rock. Like, in a song like “Savannah’s Dream,” it kind of goes all over the place. Is that the collection of influences you all bring to the band that creates something that sounds that way?

DUANE: I think we’re pretty conscious of the lineage. We don’t take it lightly that we come from this legacy of music that’s a great legacy. We certainly like a lot of different types of stuff that maybe we haven’t shown. I like Radiohead, I like Interpol, I like the kind of weird English stuff but that doesn’t mean that … maybe a little bit of that can come through, but that’s not me. I’m not going to go out and sing like Ian Curtis from Joy Division. That doesn’t mean that if there’s a certain Joy Division song that comes on the radio I won’t turn it up. I think we’ve kind of established a nice base with where we come from and organic soulful jammy, bluesy, soul-country-driven music, and that’s kind of where we belong. And then we can branch out from there and do a lot of different kinds of stuff from that. There’s a lot of stuff out there that we love but at the end of the day, let’s do what we’re good at and be us.

Given the way you grew up, you probably had a certain taste in music. I was a child who grew up following the path from AM radio to FM radio to MTV to Rolling Stone. It took me a while to develop my own tastes. Even southern rock, or jazz, or blues, I found that the older I get, the more I can appreciate music that’s maybe not what I grew up with. That’s why the two albums you’ve put out so far have been perfect. They hit me at the right point in my life where I can appreciate them for what they are and what it took to make them.

DUANE: It’s always cool when you can go back and you can learn about something – a band or a group of bands or a genre – that you never got into and you can rediscover it years later and you find that you really like it. It’s all your own, you’re discovering it for the first time. Things are looking good for touring and we’re just really stoked to be out playing shows and touring with Blackberry Smoke this summer.

Even on your first tour, you went out as a headliner and were playing decent sized places. It music have felt good to not have to play basement clubs but to be able to play theaters and have a crowd …

DUANE: … an inherently built-in thing. Yeah, it did feel good. Hopefully we’ve kept those fans and gained some new ones, that’s always the goal. I love playing festival with other bands and people that don’t necessarily know our music or some people don’t necessarily know the other bands’ music, but that’s when it really gets cool, when you can get on a bill with 4 or 5 other bands and hopefully make some new fans. We love doing that and we love doing our own shows where we’re the headliner. I think that’s really important to establish yourself as a headlining act. Maybe you’re not selling out big theaters or arenas every night but you can draw enough as a headliner. With us, you really have got to love to tour and love to play music to be in this band because when we’re able to, we tour a lot. We’re a touring band. I find myself getting really excited after a show, even if it’s a place that’s not exciting at all. We could be going to an off-the-map kind of place and I’ll get really excited about just going to a new place and playing music in a new town. That’s when you kind of know you have it and you’re in the right place because it’s not always pretty on the road. It’s tight spaces and you have to kind of get into your groove and learn how to do it.

I’m so happy you postponed the Spirit of The South tour to this summer rather than canceling it last summer. A lot of bands have decided to cancel tours and go back into the studio. A bill with Blackberry Smoke, Allman Betts Band and The Wild Feathers is one of the best packages out this summer.

DUANE: At the end of the night, every night, there’s going to be a very long encore, a jam with a lot of people on stage. And Jaimoe’s going to be part of that. We’ll have a set to play our stuff and then we’ll have a big jam finale at the end and have some surprise covers and some surprise guests, just have a good time. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how they did it back in the day. Blackberry Smoke kind of flies that flag of that old rock and roll spirit, and they’re southern and they’re hip. They have a hip take on being a Southern Rock band but in a hip way, not in a cheesy way. We love those guys. I’ve known Charlie and them for over 20 years.

With two albums already out and not a lot of touring in support of last year’s record, are there songs that you haven’t played live yet?

DUANE: It’s funny you ask that because the number of songs that we haven’t played just decreased after this last tour because we did several songs that we haven’t played live. But, I think the only song that we haven’t played live is “Should We Ever Part.” And, actually, “Ashes of My Lovers”. I don’t think we’ve played that in front of people. Now, when we do the live stream, Bless Your Heart, we’ll play them all there. But, as far as playing them at a gig, “Ashes” and “Should We Ever Part” are the only two we haven’t played yet.

There are three live streams, each has a different take. One is an all-acoustic set, one is Bless Your Heart played in full, one is going to be a set of Allman Brothers songs.

DUANE: That’s right. It’s a lot of hard work to prepare. It’s been fun practicing but it’s hard work.

The live streams are happening from a club in L.A. but you guys don’t live there, right?

DUANE: I lived in L.A. until recently. I’ve always lived in L.A. or Florida. I’ve lived in Florida a majority of my life and then I’ve kind of gone back and forth to L.A. since I was a kid. So, L.A. is sort of a second home to me. But, I don’t have a place there.

I follow you on Instagram and you have a very enviable feed.

DUANE: I hope it doesn’t come across as a bad thing. I like to travel and see beautiful places and go hiking and swimming in the ocean and going fishing, stuff like that.

Before the Allman Betts Band, you weren’t exclusively a Southern Rock musician, were you? Did you do some rock stuff?

DUANE: The stuff that I’m known for is in line with kind of classic and Americana music. You know, playing with my father and I played with Dawes for a while. The band I had in my early 20s, there was nothing way left lane. I’ve done sessions of stuff that is totally different, I’ve played on all kinds of stuff.

You talked about Radiohead and Interpol. Did you ever go through a punk rock phase or a heavy metal phase when you were growing up?

DUANE: I went through a big heavy metal phase when I was in 5th and 6th grade. Before that, when I was really young, I had always been into rap. I was a drummer – the short version of it is I was really into playing drums and I went through a big heavy metal phase. I was listening to The Who and Jimi Hendrix and classic rock too. And then when that shift happened, I went from 10, 11, 12 to 13, 14, 15, 16 and during that time, that’s when Nirvana hit and I got really into Smashing Pumpkins That stuff was a big part of my teenage years. I was also listening to jazz and blues. I was getting Albert King and B.B. King and John Coltrane records, so everything kind of broadened at that point so it wasn’t like it just went in on that one thing.

After the Spirit of the South tour this summer, do you know what you’ll be doing or is that too far in the future?

DUANE: We have dates booked in 2022 already. I think we’re doing some West Coast dates after the summer, the stuff that we were supposed to do – that we had started in March of last year. I just take it one run at a time. If you just look at it like, “Okay, I’m playing here. I’m playing in Florida around my dad’s house, I’m just going to be chilling and playing and it’s going to be good weather.” You take it one week at a time.

You did play shows in the last year, one of the few bands that did some touring. It had to have been a totally different experience than you were used to.

DUANE: We did some drive-in stuff. The first stuff we did was at the end of last summer when they started doing drive-ins. We did a few long weekends. That was cool to be able to play and know that it was done properly, everybody was spread out. And then we did a few runs, they were all socially distanced and limited capacity. The guidelines were in place. A lot of these shows on the last run, we’ve started playing these really nice theaters at 25% capacity and that way you can still sell 600 or 700 tickets and everybody is super spread out. But, now, things are starting to open up. Even on this run, there’s some venues going to full capacity so with people being vaccinated, let’s go!