Note: This interview originally appeared in early 2021.
It is indeed a very strange and (here comes that word again) “unprecedented” time for live music. Bands, audiences, venues, and promoters are all still trying to figure out when the gears for the industry will start moving again, and how shows and tours will even look while the pandemic is still with us or in its own end times.
Contemporary southern rockers the Allman Betts Band are placing their bets on getting back out on the road sooner than later, with an ambitious tour schedule starting this week.
Their website lists 60+ dates of festivals, support slots, and headlining shows stretching through October (this includes a summer “Spirit of the South” tour that pairs them with like-minded musicians and friends Blackberry Smoke).
“I’m exciting to be playing again. We’ve already done a few drive-in shows, and those were awesome,” says singer/guitarist Duane Betts. “But you have to be careful. We want to take the proper measures and not do anything that puts people in danger.”
This tour will also showcase the first chance that audiences will have to hear material from the band’s second record. Released last August, Bless Your Heart clocks in with 13 original tracks at 72 minutes, a great leap artistically from their already-solid debut. And it finds the band delving straight into much deeper, richer material both lyrically and musically.
“We just wanted to branch out. There’s definitely some different kind of soundscapes and flavors not on the first one,” Betts offers. Of lead-off single “Pale Horse Rider,” Betts has noted its “beautiful entanglement of guitars,” which he says has only gotten better in the years since he and Allman first played together.
“It’s kind of unique how we play that together there that doesn’t happen in any other song ever, like a Neil Young & Crazy Horse approach. The guitars are all together, but it’s a mess that sounds good. And the way we recorded it, sometimes I’m louder and sometimes he is. That was a completely live take.”
Two numbers that Betts co-wrote with musician/songwriter Stoll Vaughan and sings lead on have particularly close meaning to him. The cinematic and semi-autobiographical tale of romance gone awry and it after effects (“Ashes of My Lovers”), and one that touches on his youth growing up on his grandmother’s Florida property (“Rivers Run”).
“’Ashes’ is about that wreckage after a relationship and how to make that right. It’s kind of a spiritual thing about this guy who has left all of it. I guess it’s kind of about me because I’m the one singing it!” Betts laughs.
“And ‘Rivers’ was about that 30 or 40 acres of that my father bought for my grandmother on the Manatee River out in Parrish, Florida, where I grew up and would visit. Then my dad lived there after she passed, and [so did I] for a few years,” he says. “We still have it. It was a magical place. We’d go out running around in the cow pastures and then later in my teens, try to find mushrooms!”
In addition to Betts, the band’s lineup includes Devon Allman (vocals/guitar), Berry Oakley, Jr. (bass), John Ginty (keyboards), Johnny Stachela (guitar), and R. Scott Bryan & John Lum (drums/percussion). There’s a lot of musical lineage there, of course, as Betts, Oakley, and Allman’s dads were co-founders of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Allman Brothers Band.
During the pandemic, Betts says that he’s done a wide variety of things including writing new music, but mainly connecting with his family and nature. “I’m just trying to have gratitude for what I have, and am waiting for this thing to be in the past,” he says. As to his father Dickey, who has had numerous health issues in recent years, Betts says the 77-year-old is “doing great.”
The Houston Press also spoke with Duane when father and son appeared together on 2019 live concert DVD/CD Ramblin’ Man – it’s title taken from the 1973 song that Dickey Betts wrote and sang, and was the band’s biggest hit single.
Dickey Betts is of course known for his grand instrumentals like “Jessica” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which partially inspired Duane to solely write the equally epochal 12+ minute “Savannah’s Dream” on Bless Your Heart. “I kind of took it upon myself to write an instrumental. I didn’t fight it!” he laughs. “My dad writes all these great instrumentals, and I thought we needed our own.”
Of the Allman Betts Band setlist, Betts estimates it’s about 80% their originals, with the rest featuring covers and a couple of Allman Brothers Band tunes. However, Betts says they do the latter out of respect for their fathers and the songs, not because they feel they have to in order to meet any audience expectations.
“I think we just love playing music and having fun. I like to go up and play ‘Jessica,’ but I don’t feel like I have to play it, and I wouldn’t want to feel that way. I enjoy it,” he says. “We’re proud of that. But we’re also proud of the records we’ve made and the songs that we’ve written. And that’s what makes us feel good about covering a few of our dads’ tunes.”
For more on the Allman Betts Band, visit AllmanBettsBand.com
This interview originally appeared at HoustonPress.com