Devon Allman of
The Allman Betts Band,
The TVD Interview

Much like the families and groups from which it was bred and sprung, The Allman Betts Band has consistently thrived as a live performance act. But just last year they proved their studio mettle by releasing a debut album Down to the River, and in late August of this year—and what a strange and volatile year it has been for the universe—they released Bless Your Heart, a versatile, expansive, and guitar-driven record that serves as a testament to the band’s studio abilities.

Possessing a penchant for live performance The Allman Betts Band has configured themselves to operate within the newly outlined confines of these strange days. They are in the midst of a socially-distanced live tour—at select venues across the United States that vow to honor safety precautions—to share works from the new album. And what works they are. For those music fans still possessing some interest in the legacy of the guitar, Bless Your Heart does not disappoint.

The band is spearheaded by talented offspring of the legendary Allman Brothers Band: Devon Allman, son of Gregg, and Duane Betts, son of Dickey—not to mention bassist Berry Duane Oakley, son of founding member Berry. Through songwriting, production, and instrumental acumen, both Devon and Duane prove themselves to be worthy of their own independent musical footprint, while—to the probable satisfaction of longtime Allman Brothers fans—still being wise and thoughtful enough to honor the enduring legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.

Bless Your Heart is a modern album that seeks to make the old new again. There’s the authentically collar-grabbing album opener “Pale Horse Rider,” the 1970s-romantically charged epic “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the cross-country road trip of “Much Obliged,” and the scene-stealing, tripped-out yet sophisticated instrumental piece “Savannah’s Dream,” amidst a sea of solid and varied songs to create an album experience. The album proves that the echoes of classic rock are not dead and finished but instead still malleable and up for grabs. Plus, it’s been released as a nice-looking coke bottle clear, 180 gram vinyl double record.

In a breezy, candid, and vinyl-centric conversation with Devon Allman, we learn more about the incarnation of The Allman Betts Band and its latest release, the effects of a rock family’s legacy on one’s own artistic quests, and the band’s goals for implementing a safe and successful concert tour.

You’re currently on a “socially distanced” mini tour—one of the few artists who currently are—amidst the current pandemic conditions. What’s it like? How have things changed? How did you come to that decision?

At the end of the day people need togetherness, and they need music—it’s medicinal, you just take it through the ears. I think it’s something people are realizing during these unprecedented times how much it does really matter to them and drive them and heal them and fill their hearts with joy. Realizing it’s that important makes it an easy decision for us to go out there.

Obviously you have to go out there with precautions in place. So what we did first, was start it with drive-in movie theatres converted into concert venues so that people distance outdoors—we kind of dipped our toes in with that way of doing things and it was successful; everybody had a lot of fun. Then it was, “what’s the next step?” A lot of these venues are reopening but at a third or fourth of their usual capacity, and they’re doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their patrons from requiring masks to setting up individual pods requiring six feet or more of distance between each other in all directions—a lot of venues have stepped up to the plate and started to implement things. So I think we’re kind of easing into it and only selecting to play venues that truly are taking the precautions. We felt like it was time to get people out to see live music again.

What was the genesis of this album project Bless Your Heart?

We had basically set out on our tour in 2019 behind the first album feeling pretty solid and maybe a few months into that tour we started writing for the second one. So while we’re on tour for the first one, we’re writing for the second one because we don’t want there to be this massive window between the two releases and tours. The idea for me is, you always want to make a record in the winter and drop it at the beginning of the summer. People can have a summer soundtrack so to speak—frankly that’s when all the summertime touring is going on when it comes down to being a live band, a touring act—and give people enough time to fall in love with the songs, and then want to see the songs live.

That was the idea—to finish the record, have it mixed, mastered, and turned into the record label say February for a June release. Obviously with the current situation there wasn’t a summer tour. The label called and asked “Hey, do you guys want to sit on this? Maybe put it out in Spring 2021 and go on a proper tour?”  We were just like, “…no.” So many artists are doing that, and that’s fine, but we were of the mind that this is when people need music the most. So thankfully BMG is a major label and really put it to us on what we wanted to do, so we went forward with the release and we’re really glad we did. Our fans were really grateful to have it. We kind of took a gamble hoping we’d be able to do some type of live performance. And sure enough yeah, we’re playing the new songs, they feel amazing, people are singing along to the words, it’s just incredible.

I love the road film genre and Bless Your Heart in many ways reminds me of a road album—there’s a feeling of movement to it, and there are nods to different parts of the US in certain songs. Interesting that a lot of it was devised or written while literally on tour across the US.

Yeah man, we’re certainly an American band. I kind of call it the “United States of Americana.” I think we have lots of western and southwestern vibes to the music. It’s not entirely by design that these places that inspire us wind up being namechecked in the songs, but sometimes you just land on one. For the “Carolina Song” chorus, “Carolina, hear my song,” we were in North Carolina and just couldn’t come up with that final line. I was like, “We’re in Carolina, let’s sing it as Carolina.” It’s about becoming a better version of yourself. Somebody’s got to hear your plea, and why not be the state you’re in right now? Fun things like that happened for us.

I like the nods to southern cultural history. “Much Obliged” definitely has this, and the title song’s phrase of “Bless Your Heart” pays homage to the cultural history of the American south. How do you see your role in the idea of southern rock, or contributing in some way to the southern character in this country? Did you think about that while working on this record?

A lot of us are from the south. I grew up in south Texas and Duane grew up in south Florida. Florida and Texas don’t necessarily come to mind first when one thinks of the true south, but it really is. Everyone had southern accents, everyone had a lot of the same sayings, and there was a slower pace to life. Especially back in the ’70s and ’80s, and further back than that I can imagine. I think it’s important to kind of keep some southern culture out there. The south with the whole racial thing can get a bit murky—but it wasn’t like everyone from the south was a bad person. There’s a lot of beautiful art that comes out of the south, a lot of really wonderful people. So I think it’s really important to magnify the good of that whole region, artistically.

So much of your sound on this album speaks to the legacy of the guitar as a rock ‘n’ roll instrument—the classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. How do you think about the guitar and what it can do, and how you’re contributing to the instrument’s evolution?

Certainly since those golden eras of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s when guitar-based music was first making an impression, with the electric guitar—in the ’70s it was taken further, in the ’80s even further—so now here we are, forty years removed from the ’80s even, and it’s really cool that there are a lot of up and coming guitar players. It’s a testament to the instrument’s ability to captivate and seduce.

It’s a gorgeous instrument, there are things on it you can’t do with other instruments. And yeah, the thing I’m most proud of with the band is—it’s kind of easy, if you’re a good guitar player to make a good guitar record. But what I like about this record is it’s a song record with good guitar—not just a guitar record with maybe not many real songs going on. Every song was crafted as a song and then the guitar is then going to fit into the song. A cinematic parallel would be an action movie that had a really solid, wonderful plot. And it’s not just action, action, action for no reason; it accentuates the storyline, and that’s what I like about the record.

Certain songs on this record like “Ashes of My Lovers” have such strong imagery, like mini movies. You mention action films, and plots—when you write do you see images, is it in some ways a visual experience for you? Are you influenced by film?

I’m a huge fan of really great films, but it’s more storytelling—you kind of want to captivate. At this point it’s a bit of autopilot—you begin to tell a story and the rest seems to kind of unfold from there. I visualized “Pale Horse Rider.” I visualized a guy who’d just… had it. Just wants to go off on his own.

My favorite song here is “Savannah’s Dream”—what an incredible jam—so atmospheric, and the riffs are gorgeous. What was the story behind this track, was it mainly improvisational with each other at first?

It was Duane’s composition, and he really spent his time just piecemealing it and letting it unfold. It sounds very complex, and certainly—we have a big band—when you have seven musicians interweaving their thing, vibe, and mojo, it can sound very complex and I guess in a way it is. But the core construct of it is quite basic, yet it’s very captivating in the choice of notes, the choice of where it takes a turn and when and how. And I think it’s really thoughtfully executed in the composition—I think Duane did an amazing job putting that together because there’s six or seven different movements in the song with a few main motifs and themes. It unfolds and tells the story with a very thoughtful layout.

When speaking with the adult children of rock legends about their parents’ musical influences on them, I’ve found that while these offspring usually acknowledge the effect their parents have had on their upbringings and careers, they’re also quick to point out how a lot of musical influences were gained through other people too—older siblings and close friends—how these figures have had just as much artistic and personal influence on them. Do you feel the same way about your own lives and influences, where of course you were influenced by your dads and by the legacy of The Allman Brothers, but at the same time were you influenced by many others as well?

Yeah. I mean, if you grow up and your grandma’s an expert in cuisine and she uses a signature spice, it’s her signature thing—chances are, you become interested in pursuing the same kind of path and you’re going to use some of that spice too because it’s become part of you at some point. But you’re also going to pick up so many other things, from so many other areas.

Not only did we grow up partially on tour listening to our dads play every night, but we also went back and discovered their influences—Bobby Blue Bland and John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis and Ray Charles, and all of the musicians they looked up to, which we also do. But then there’s another generation of musicians who inspired us for a whole different set of reasons, never anything our dads would have listened to because the music wasn’t out yet. We’re kind of an amalgam of their past and their whole story and the music we were exposed to in later years, which was our youth. What’s crazy is it’s actually a bigger library of influences for us than it was for them.

This new album is being released in a great vinyl package. How do you feel about vinyl records, their sound, versus other methods of listening? And how important to you was it that your new record be available on vinyl?

So, so, so, so, so, so, so, so important. And I’ll throw in a few other so’s. I’m kind of the audiophile of the band; I have a massive stereo and massive vinyl collection. All of my componentry is from the ’70s because not only do I want to play records, but I want to play them through a system that’s not digitized in any way, it’s all analog, all warm tubes. So yeah if you’re playing vinyl records through a digital tuner, you might as well be playing mp3s because it’s the same thing.

Another thing is a lot of the records coming out nowadays—because of the fact that record collecting is popular again, which is amazing—a lot of them are mastered off of digitized mirror copies of the masters. They’re not from the analog two inch tape masters or half-inch mixes. They literally make a master rendering, and it’s a pretty damn good rendering. But it’s digital.

What we did was, we recorded the record to two inch tape, every bit of it; there was never a bounce over to digital for editing or doing vocals or anything like that. It was recorded strictly for analog, it was mixed from two inch tape to half inch tape for analog, and from half inch tape it was mastered down to analog. So now when you hear the digital iteration of it on iTunes or Spotify—obviously it has to be digitized for these platforms—but the great treat of this record for us fans who are so inclined, is when you get the vinyl record of this—there used to be a little marker on the back of albums and CDs; I’m not sure if it’s still there or not. It used to say AAA or then it would say AAD, which meant recorded analog, mixed analog, converted to digital.

The great thing about our record Bless Your Heart is it’s AAA—the entire process is analog. When you hear the record through the right system, you’re literally hearing a completely linear experience with nothing digitized in the process whatsoever. It’s literally almost as good as being here in the studio, hearing back our mixes. So basically it’s the most honest representation of what the album is like, sonically. If people wonder what the difference is—the difference is alarming. The depth of the drums, the rate of decay on a digital platform—you hit a drum, there’s no back end to it. On analog you can hear it ring for two, three seconds if it’s a single hit. Voices, and guitars—way richer. Vinyl is my passion. It’s just like my whole thing.

Bless Your Heart, the new full-length release from The Allman Betts Band is in stores now—on vinyl.

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