By Andy J. Gordon
Children of famous musicians who enter the same business have big shoes to fill. Such is the life of Devon Allman, Gregg’s son, and Duane Betts, Dickey’s son. Gregg Allman, who died in 2017, and Dickey Betts, who celebrates his 75th birthday on December 12, are two legendary original members of the Allman Brothers Band.
Following in their footsteps, Devon and Duane have chosen careers in music and each faces the difficult task of finding his own place, while honoring the tremendous legacies of their fathers. This second-generation musical duo is wrapping up a yearlong tour known as “The Devon Allman Project with Special Guest Duane Betts” that has been crisscrossing the country.
Featuring those two famous sons and six other stellar musicians, the band delivers a blues-Southern rock show of original music by Betts, songs from Devon Allman’s catalog including tunes from Royal Southern Brotherhood and Honeytribe, as well as from his solo projects. Lastly, and what is certainly a big draw for fans, the group busts out versions of some Allman Brothers Band classics.
The band came to Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, California, on December 6, 2018, and delivered an inspired performance for a mostly older crowd that was obviously hoping to relive some of the classic rock moments that the Allman Brothers Band delivered for four decades until calling it quits in 2014.
Betts opened the show with his go-to slide guitarist Johnny Stachela and the Devon Allman Project rhythm section.Betts and Stachela are a dynamic duo with their guitars, each playing extensive and creative solos. Betts is also an accomplished vocalist and sang a few songs from Sketches of American Music, theEP he released in April 2018. R. Scott Bryan, the Devon Allman Project regular percussionist, played keys on the first few tunes including “Ride It Out,”a song that sounds like it could be a classic Eagles tune. Nicholas David, the regular keyboardist, then took over and Bryan moved to percussion for a great version of the Allman Brothers Band instrumental classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” They closed the short set with Betts’ “Taking Time” from the new EP.
After a break, the Devon Allman Project came out to play some songs. Bassist Justin Corgan, drummer John Lum and guitarist Jackson Stokes joined percussionist R. Scott Bryan and keyboardist Nicholas David. Devon Allman was the last one to hit the stage and joined the group for a rowdy instrumental called”Mahalo” from Honeytribe’s 2006 album called Torch. Allman also sang lead on a sweet cover of The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around,” that had many in the audience joining on the chorus.
Allman invited Stachela to join the band on slide guitar for “Left My Heart in Memphis” from 2012s Royal Southern Brotherhood self-titled album. The full eight-piece combined band shared the stage as Duane Betts came out to sing lead and play guitar on his father’s classic Allman Brothers Band hit “Blue Sky.” It seemed like everyone in the crowd was singing with Betts.
After the applause died down, Devon Allman talked about the yearlong tour and how much each member has enjoyed working together. In fact, they have decided to make it a permanent band, and christened it The Allman Betts Band. They just finished recording new songs at the historic Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama for a new album that will be released in Spring 2019.
Allman introduced “All Night,” one of the new songs from the upcoming album and the band launched into it. He sang lead vocals on the straight-ahead rocking tune, while Betts and Stachela played intense guitar solos. They followed with another new song called “Melodies and Memories,”a twangy, country influenced song that Allman and Betts sing as a duet.
A mellower, nearly acoustic segment followed with a trio of songs. With the guitarists and bassist Justin Corgan sitting on stools at the front of the stage, Allman sang lead on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” He asked the audience to be quiet before playing Gregg Allman’s ballad written for Devon’s mother called “Multi-Colored Lady.” The mellow segment ended with Betts singing lead on the 1990 Allman Brothers Band’s “Seven Turns,” a song originally written and sung by his father Dickey. Both Betts and Stachela played beautiful solos to close out the seated segment of the show.
Allman and Stachela left the stage for a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” sung by keyboardist Nicholas David. He enjoyed the spotlight on the soulful song and so did guitarist Jackson Stokes who played an impressive solo. Allman and Stachela returned for the set-ending “Midnight Lake Michigan,” a song from Allman’s 2014 Ragged & Dirty solo album. Allman sang and played lead guitar. He also introduced each band member, who took solos before the band finished the song.
The band left the stage as the crowd begged for more. After a few minutes, all members returned and the guitarists played teasing solos before launching into “One Way Out,” the Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James blues classic famously recorded and played over the years by the Allman Brothers Band. Devon Allman sang the song and he, Duane Betts and John Stachela took turns trading lead guitar solos. Nicholas David did an inspired organ solo reminiscent of Gregg Allman. John Lum and R. Scott Bryan performed a percussion duet before the full band joined in for the conclusion of the song.
Devon Allman thanked everyone for coming out before introducing yet another new song called “Good Ol’ Days.” It is a soft rocker with Allman on vocals and acoustic guitar. The song is an optimistic look at today while appreciating yesterday. Stachela played another great slide solo and Betts added his guitar wizardry to the song. The band finally called it a night, took a group bow and left to loud applause.
This new combined band of exceptional music talent with a fine pedigree are a welcome addition to the live touring scene. With strong roots in the blues, Southern rock, Americana and country music, the Devon Allman Project that is transitioning into The Allman Betts Band has a bright future. They are planning a tour in March and April 2019 that will hit clubs along the East Coast. Look for added dates as the new album is released. All classic rock, blues and Southern rock lovers should buy the new album and catch them live. Their show is an excellent combination of new music and old classics that will make you remember the good old days while appreciating what we have today.