The Allman Betts Band may seem overdue to some, but Devon Allman and Duane Betts spent a long time avoiding it.
But with the group’s debut album, Down To The River — whose opening track “All Night” is premiering exclusively below — due out June 28 on BMG, and another Allman Brothers Band progeny, bassist Berry Duane Oakley Jr., on board, the duo is embracing their inevitable affiliation.
“There was hesitation for 30 years, but there’s no more hesitation because it’s the right timing,” Allman, the son of the late Gregg Allman, tells Billboard. “We’ve all done our thing. I’ve been in three, four, five different bands. Duane has. Berry has. It wasn’t like we HAD to do this, but we ended up having real chemistry — unforced, organic — and we wanted to make music together.”
Betts, who had frequently played with his father, guitarist Dickey Betts (currently recovering from an August 2018 stroke), adds that “at the end of the day it’s all about the songs — the songs we wrote and the record that we made. We’re really proud of this record and what we can do as a band.”
Friends and, in their words, “family” since they were children, Allman and Betts began touring together last year, after Allman invited Betts to take part in a December 2017 tribute concert for Gregg Allman in San Francisco. While on the road, writing together seemed like a natural progression. “We knew that we had a lot of respect for each other and we would have a lot of fun together, but we kind of took it one step at a time as far as what we expected out of it,” Betts notes. But after they came up with “Long Gone,” the album’s closing track, Allman says the duo “raised our eyebrows, like, ‘OK, we can obviously write together. Let’s try another one,’ and it just went from there.” Stoll Vaughan co-wrote a number of songs on the album, including “All Night,” while former Allmans keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Gregg Allman Band organist Peter Levin guest on the set.
And Oakley was recruited, according to Allman, “because he was a bad-ass bass player, not just because of who he was or what his name was.”
The lineage, of course, presents the Allman Betts Band with what Allman calls “a fine, fine, fine line” to walk — even as the group does play some Allman Brothers Band material in its shows. “Y’know, if we hit the stage and did a two-hour show and played all Allman Brothers, that would just be weird. It would be a tribute band, and that’s not what we’re into,” Allman says. “We have our own songs, our own show, our own album. But if we also go on that stage and didn’t play one (Allmans song), that would be weird, too. So we need to tip our hats. It’s appropriate.
“Let’s face it, we’re definitely celebrating the legacy. There’s definitely a power there. It’s the 50th anniversary. They’re not in existence. My dad’s not playing ‘Blue Sky’ or whatever. So if people are gonna pay a little respect, why not us?”
But, he adds, “We’re definitely out there to be our own band and play our own songs.”
The Allman Betts Band is already doing that, with a full slate of concerts and festivals that will take the group into 2020. The troupe is also already working on its next album, including some material that was considered by not included on Down To The River. “We’re gonna record the second record in December,” Allman says, adding that the group’s tour “will roll right into next year and right into the next album campaign. We’ll probably drop that second record in April, early May and just do it all over again.
“This really has its own thing, and you can feel it. It goes beyond the fact our dads were in a famous band and supersedes the whole ‘sons of’ thing. We’re a band, and we’re going to make sure everyone recognizes that.”