By Brent Thompson
Duane Betts (left) and Devon Allman
Few surnames in rock music history carry as much weight as Allman and Betts. And though we can never see Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts together onstage again, we can now watch as the next generation shares the same stage. Devon Allman – the son of Gregg Allman and Shelley Kay Jefts – and Dickey’s son Duane Betts forged an early friendship while learning their crafts from two legends. During his career, the 45-year-old Allman has recorded as a solo artist, fronted Honeytribe and has been a member of the supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood. His latest album, Ride Or Die, was released in 2016. On Thursday, May 3, The Devon Allman Project and opening act Betts will perform at WorkPlay Theatre. Recently, Allman spoke with us by phone from the tour’s stop in Asheville, N.C.
Birmingham Stages: Devon, thanks for your time. This tour is your first ever tour with Duane, correct?
Devon Allman: Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for 10 years or better and now was the right timing so here we are. We are two weeks into doing it.
Birmingham Stages: Though you two are lifelong friends, how would you describe the experience of interacting on a musical level?
DA: It’s amazing – we’re living our dreams. When we were kids out on tour with the Allman Brothers, we wanted to end up doing the same thing. To have it happen is pretty wild.
Birmingham Stages: What is the performing order on this tour?
DA: He’s got a brand new EP out – a six-song EP that just hit the market a week ago – so he comes out as the opening act and plays that new record and a couple of others. I come out and do a headline set – [the set list] runs through the Honeytribe era, the Royal Southern Brotherhood era, the solo records and a couple of covers. I’ve got like nine records out now so I really try to do at least one [song] from each. Then he comes out to join me on the encore and that’s where we tip our hats to our heroes and the encore is long [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: How do you select the songs for the encore numbers?
DA: If you came out and did “Midnight Rider” and “Ramblin’ Man” every night that wouldn’t be any fun because they’re the obvious ones. Not to say they shouldn’t be done and they have been, but there’s a bunch. So I just go by the feel of the room and the feel of the band and I’ll throw it together a few hours before the show. When it comes to the encore and playing the Allman Brothers songs, we’re doing them true blue – we’re not doing our own interpretations. We’re trying to replicate for the listeners the original songs they fell in love with.
Birmingham Stages: As fans, we connect to those classic songs on a musical level. But for you, it has an added emotional component.
DA: I have to just think about the work. I have to think about how I can sing this song to the best of my abilities. I can’t think about missing my dad. Sometimes it creeps in – I can’t help it – but you really still have to do the work. I think that’s the thing that keeps me from having an emotional breakdown [laughs]. Last night in Charleston, there were six or seven people I saw in the front row that were weeping, so I think we must have reminded them of something.
Birmingham Stages: You’ve started your own record label, Create Records. If you will, talk about the evolution of the label.
DA: I started getting into production about seven or eight years ago and I wanted to be able to find new talent. Out on the road I’ll see some bands opening up, at festivals or I’ll go out to a late-night bar and see a band. I thought it would be cool if I had a vehicle to take in a band every year and a half and work with them and put their record out and have them come on tour and open for me. If I can launch 10 to 15 careers in the second half of my life, I would feel like I had given back. [The label] launches in the fall and the first release is by Jackson Stokes.
Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?
DA: I’m really grateful for the iPhone with the Voice Memo because I can just sing into my phone if I have an idea or I can grab a guitar and play it into the phone. I typically catalog things that hit me. I pull out maybe 20 seedlings and then take three or four that are real strong and develop them into songs. It’s really like note-taking on the road.
Birmingham Stages: How do you view the musical climate in this day and age?
DA: Having the tools at your disposal, you can make a record on an iPad and you can market yourself from your iPhone and connect with people. At the core of it, you still have to write good songs and you still have to go play a good show. As much as the peripheral thing envelopes the industry, that will change and tweak and get more savvy but the core of it is still playing. I think it’s a good time. I think it’s a very self-empowering time and you can dictate your own terms. As long as you’re writing good music and playing in front of people, the word will spread.
The Devon Allman Project will perform at WorkPlay Theatre on Thursday, May 3. Duane Betts will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $25 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com.