The names Allman and Betts are practically enshrined in rock history for Sarasotans who claim a particular stake in the careers of the late Gregg Allman, an occasional past resident, and Dickey Betts of the legendary Allman Brothers Band, whose family roots go back here more than a century. Now those names are combined again in a new band—the Allman Betts Band—that features Gregg’s son Devon, Dickey’s son Duane, and Berry Oakley Jr., son of the late great bassist Berry Oakley, an Allman Brothers staple.
That band is currently on tour in support of its first record, Down to the River, released in late June. Recorded in the famous Muscle Shoals
Sound Studio in Alabama (which has welcomed the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and, of course, Duane Allman), the album features nine new songs written by the younger Betts and Allman, in collaboration with Duane’s friend Stoll Vaughan.
“We write a lot together in California,” said Duane Betts in a recent telephone interview. (He’s based there now, but was born in Sarasota, grew up bicoastal, and visits father Dickey, who still lives here.) “You know, when you’re working on a song, you might come up with five different ideas, and you can’t figure out the one to go with. Stoll could help to point us in the right direction.”
That Duane Betts and Devon Allman should form a band is probably not a surprise. The two have known each other since the 1980s and had played together with other line-ups of musicians before joining forces on the new incarnation. The current band members had not played the album’s songs all together before arriving in the studio, where, in a nod to traditional ways of recording, they put all nine songs on tape (no computers, no digital editing) in less than a week. “We wanted to do this in a place that had history and character, and Muscle Shoals is that to the 1,000th degree,” says Betts.
A typical concert includes solos from both Allman and Betts—outstanding guitarists in their own rights—as well as songs from Down to the River. “It’s just American rock ‘n’ roll,” says Betts. “There’s some soul, some rock, some outlaw country. You might put it in the Americana category, and I’m OK with that.” And, yes, they do throw in an Allman Brothers Band hit or two.
“We have to do this with no pressure, no expectations,” Betts says of how they pay tribute to their famous fathers. “Our audiences vary from city to city; sometimes the crowd is half younger folks, and sometimes there are a lot of older fans,” hailing from the Allman Brothers days. “We like having those come out who have supported our dads,” Bett says. “But we also want to grow our fan base, as any artist would.”
Right now, the tour schedule, running through mid-September, doesn’t include a stop in this area. But, Betts teases, “We very well may play in Sarasota.” Keep your ears open.