Devon Allman, 44, is the second oldest of the late Gregg Allman‘s four children, from his first marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts (who died last year). The younger Allman, who didn’t get to know his father until he was a teenager, is also the most musically prolific of the five kids, leading bands such as Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood and releasing three solo efforts, including last year’s Ride or Die.
Allman and his father developed a tight relationship as both family and peers over the years, and he spoke about it to Billboard as he prepares for his father’s funeral this weekend.
So how are you?
I’m just trying to process and get through it. My mom also recently passed, six months ago. So that’s a lot.
Talking to others, there seems to have been a sense of hope against hope that he would somehow survive this.
God, he’s strong, man. He bounced back from so many different situations. Yeah, it’s just one of those things. The man had 20 lives, and you’re just thinking, “Oh, well, maybe he can pull through this one too,” and it’s just not the case.
Did you get to spend time with him?
I made some trips down in the last six months. I made sure to spend some time and put in some good quality time. I’ve been touring a lot myself, but all the kids went and spent some time with him before Christmas and had a really, really wonderful hang with him, and then I was in the area on tour in March and went and spent time with him. Y’know, it’s tough, ’cause you also want to, you don’t want to crowd. He had a lot of kids. He had a lot of fans, a lot of friends, a lot of family, and you don’t want to crowd him when things are not so good.
When was the last time you communicated?
I believe it was the Netherlands a couple weeks ago. I was hanging out with Bobby Blue Bland’s son Rod Bland. I’ve known him for years, and Bobby Blue Bland was one of my dad’s all-time favorites, and I sent him a picture on my phone of me and Bobby Blue’s kid and he just thought that was so cool, and I think a couple days later I just said, “I love you and I miss you.” We Facetimed about a week ago and that was the last time.
What was his state of mind about what was happening?
The times that I visited him before, [his health] was always kind of the pink elephant in the room. We never really talked about it. And the last time I hung out with him, it was the first thing he brought up and that was unsettling. That was hard, but it is what it is, and he said he was really proud of us kids, and that was just a hard day. I had to say goodbye to him.
What do you think your dad’s perspective was on his life and career?
I think he felt very very fortunate that [his brother] Duane [Allman] called him that day and said, “Get your ass back South ’cause I got a killer band and you’re gonna complete it. You’re gonna be like the cherry on top.” I think he feels very fortunate. I know in the beginning, he didn’t think much would come of music as a career. He just loved to play. For it to develop as it did and have such a big impact, he was certainly proud of what he and his brother had built. And to reunite in 1989, which was where I came into his life and went on tour on the reunion tour and to see all those guys and their eyes sparkling again and then get to have a complete second coming of the Allman Brothers Band from ’89 until a couple years ago, I think blew him away as well. The fans never went anywhere. In fact, they multiplied. I think they did a lot of good for a lot of people’s hearts. Their music was the soundtrack to a lot of people’s really rough times, and I saw that in the fans’ eyes after my shows, after his shows. His music will last forever.
You didn’t meet him until you were a teenager. What was the time before that like?
It was rough, man, ’cause I grew up in the late ’70s when his face was everywhere and his voice was coming out of every speaker and his face was looking back at me in magazines. So I’m not gonna say it was easy. Obviously growing up without a father is very difficult, even more so when he’s everywhere, when he’s famous. So kudos to my mom; she never ever talked bad of him, ever. She just said, “You’ll meet him some day. You guys will get along great. You’re a lot alike, and he loves you and he’s just not in a position to be much of a father right now.”
You made it happen, right?
I tracked him down. I think I was about 15, and I wrote him a very short letter and I said, “Hey, I’m your son and I play guitar and I’d like to meet you some time.” And he called me within a few days and we met within a few months, when he was on tour in St. Louis. We met at the Fox Theatre for the first time and I moved in with him and went on tour with him and we started our relationship.
And it was…?
Our relationship was really good. He was really cool about my career. He didn’t want to meddle at all, and I was very hard-headed in the beginning, like I just wanted no help, I wanted no input. I just wanted an organic path into my career and into music that was my own, and he was really, really respectful of that. I think that that really bolstered our relationship. There was a lot of mutual respect there. He was very dear to me. We did get very very close. I think I was one of the only guys, and his wife, that would call him out. There’s so many people when you’re famous that are just kind of yes men and yes women. He came to me for advice a lot. We shared a lot. And I went to him for advice as well. We almost had a brotherly kind of relationship.
That great photo of the two of you that you shared on social media after he died seemed to sum that up.
Yeah. My sister just candidly snapped that shot in December when we were all together, and she sent it to me a couple days after the trip and I broke down. It’s just a beautiful image. He was a big hero of mine, and he didn’t have to go out of his way to give any kind of advice or anything. Just the way that he lived his life. I told him at one point how proud I was of him of conquering his demons and really getting real and trying to cultivate relationships with his children and that he really finished strong.
What did you learn from him, musically, after you became open to that?
That you sing and you play with feel, and wherever it ends up, whatever category it ends up with, it’s fine. You play and sing with feel and you go up there and you take it to the people, and that’s the commitment, is doing it with feel.
How do you feel about the way he’s being viewed and saluted during the past few days?
Y’know, I’ve heard a lot of people, especially with the tributes that are rolling in, calling him the best white blues singer or the best white soul singer. My opinion is you take the white right out of there, ’cause I’ll put him right next to Ray Charles, and Ray Charles is my favorite all-time vocalist. My dad didn’t see color. My dad’s band in 1969 was multiracial; it was one of the first bands. They encountered difficulties, but he never saw color. Nobody in our family does. My heroes are both white and black. I know people mean well when they say the best white blues singer, but I say take white off of there, because he was just one of the best ever. He just channeled so much feeling.
Moving forward, what kind of charge do you feel to perpetuate his legacy?
I just want to make sure that his music lives forever and is treated with respect and integrity. We are, once we get through the services, myself and his manager, I told him I had an idea about on his birthday [December 8] having a big celebration of life for him in New York City, a big concert where all his friends can play, play his songs, donate the money to charity and just have a big love-in in his honor. So I think that’s the first step. There’s some things in the vault, and that’s certainly up to the family and management to kind of oversee. He also has an album in the can that’s going to drop in September; it’s a special record, for sure.
As far as me directly, I’m going to continue to stay the course of my career, and if anything should come down the pipe as far as his music or whatever, that would be later. I think I’m going to take a break; losing both parents in six months is tough. I think it’s time for me to just huddle around family and kind of hit the reset button. I’m launching a record label and I’ll probably put a record or two in the can to come out next year and just try and rally around family and be with my son. My son doesn’t have any grandparents now. It’s tough for everybody. I want to spend a lot of time with my siblings as well.
How is the funeral being handled?
It’ll be this weekend. We’re keeping it pretty small so it doesn’t turn into a circus. Yeah, it’ll be this weekend. We’ll definitely make sure all the people that he really got to play music with can show their respects.