Devon Allman remembers very clearly the first time he met future bandmate Duane Betts. It was 1989 and the two were thrown together on a bus that was taking the group that their fathers belonged to – a little act called the Allman Brothers Band – on a reunion tour after years of personal and professional estrangement.
Betts the younger was even named after Allman’s uncle and ABB co-founder. But the teenagers came together not over a mutual admiration for the southern rock of their dads via discs like Live at Fillmore East or Eat a Peach. Their tunes of choice were more aligned with heavy metal efforts like Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? and Testament’s The New Order.
“When you’re traveling under the auspices of something as heavyweight as the Allman Brothers, it’s fun to bond over something different,” Allman says today. “When I stepped on the bus and met Duane, I was big into Metallica and Iron Maiden and thrash metal. So to see this 12-year-old kid listening to Testament at full volume that I could hear out of his Sony Walkman, I thought ‘this kid is all right!’”
In fact, it took years for Allman to come around to the searing blues rock of his lineage as he evolved through a solo career and leading bands like Honeytribe and the Royal Southern Brotherhood. After invited Betts to open some shows on last year’s tour with the Devon Allman Project – a typical night which would also find them playing a mini-set of ABB tunes toward show’s end – they decided to form a new band together.
The Allman Betts Band’s debut record Down to the River (BMG) comes out June 28, but the group is currently on a U.S. tour that will find them stopping at the Heights Theater on May 11.
“I think it was the next logical step. But we had to have onstage chemistry,” Allman continues. “If you’re talking about starting a new band and making a record and having your own identity, you have to have that with someone. That was the key. We had instant chemistry. And it wasn’t because he was a Betts and I was an Allman. We were songwriters who could work together.”
Down to the River runs the gamut between southern rockers (“All Night,” “Southern Accents”), love songs (“Shinin’,” “Try”), sweeping rock and soul epics (“Autumn Breeze,” the title track), and nostalgia (“Good Ol’ Days,” “Long Gone”). Allman sings most leads, and both he and Betts do have vocal resemblances to their forebears.
Further deepening the Allman Brothers Band bond is the group’s bass player, Berry Duane Oakley Jr. – son of that group’s founding member who died in a 1972 motorcycle three blocks away and a year after a similar incident took Duane Allman’s life, and whose middle name is also a tribute (Gregg Allman passed in 2017, and the 75-year-old Dickey Betts has been suffering health issues). The rest of the Allman Betts Band includes Johnny Stachela (guitar), R Scott Bryan (percussion), John Lum (drums), and John Ginty (keyboards).
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this group is Allman Brothers Band 2 or some sort of tribute act with blood ties. Because the Allman, the Betts, and the Oakley in the band don’t - whether they’re sharing a stage or a studio.
“You don’t think about those things when you’re in the thick of it. You’re thinking about your band, not your dad’s band. If you had a restaurant that served food and it was catching on and hot shit, you wouldn’t be thinking about your dad’s restaurant. We don't think about it, though I can see why everyone else does,” Allman says.
“If you take your eye off the work and get too cerebral about it, then your work is impure,” he continues. “We’ve been working musicians most of our lives, the three of us have a combined 60 years of experience. But the proof’s in the pudding. You can talk about it all you want, that’s why I can’t wait for the record to come out.”
As to what makes this group different from any of his others, numbers is a big thing. “We have three guitar players and two drummers and a B-3 player, which is not common. It’s just a bigger, better band, a seven-piece that really fills out the sound nicely.”
Devon Allman is the son of Gregg and his first wife, Shelley Kay Jefts. The pair married in 1971 but divorced in 1972, the year Devon was born. He was raised by Jefts and lived in Corpus Christi until the age of 11, coming back to the Texas city to spend summers until the age of 20 or 21. And the city had a lot of influence on him, especially in music.
“That’s where I fell in love with music. Corpus had a really great radio station in Z101. They would play Metallica and Gerry Rafferty and Zeppelin, so I was exposed to a lot of music, especially on those weekend drives to the beach at Padre Island.”
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But he also has love for Houston, the “closest big city” and one that helped stoke another love of his youth: football.
“I remember going to my first Oilers game at the Astrodome. Houston was always special to me, I was a huge Oilers fan,” he says – noting that the game in question was a 1982 Monday Night Football-televised Texas Showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. And he rattles off names of those involved with the expertise of an ESPN on-air announcer.
“It was all that cast of characters. It was Danny White and Tom Landry and Everson Walls and Tony Dorsett and Earl Campbell and Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson and Bum Phillips and Ken Stabler,” he spits out. “. It was that golden era of Texas NFL football. The only team that stopped the Oilers in that era was the Terry Bradshaw Steelers!”
The Allman Betts Band plays 8 pm, May 11, at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th.JD Simo opens. For information, call 214-272-8346 or visit TheHeightsTheater.com $28.