The Allman Betts Band
February 25, 2020
It’s a good time to be a Rock fan these days. There are a lot of new bands out there getting recognition; Greta Van Fleet, Dirty Honey, Badflower, Ghost and Rival Sons, to name a few. What’s really great about these bands is that while all being guitar-based, they all sound different. It certainly appears that the years of cookie-cutter Metal, Alternative or otherwise genre-specific copycats may have run their course. These new bands are rooted in blues-based Rock; and that’s a good thing! The blues supplies the groove and the basis off of which, bands are free to expand on in any fashion they choose but in ways that the listening public can relate to. Most of these bands are finding success by drawing on their influences; artists from the fifties, sixties and seventies. As for one of these newer bands – The Allman Betts Band, success is in their genes.
Admittedly, I am not and never have been much of an Allman Brothers Band fan. I really can’t tell you why. To me, blues bands from the late sixties and seventies played tired, repetitious and often boring renditions of their own songs as well as blues standards. Live, they often turned these into extensive jams and long solos (well, perhaps I just did tell you.) I suppose they were carrying on the tradition started by Cream, long after Cream broke up. Live, The Allmans kind of picked up where Cream had left off, albeit with a more southern style. Many people loved it but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
So why do I like The Allman Betts Band? I can’t exactly tell you that either. The Allman Betts Band was formed in 2018 when Devon Allman, whom had been touring with his own band (The Devon Allman Project) brought along his friend Duane Betts, son of Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts. Devon is the son of Gregg Allman, who fronted The Allman Brothers Band since its inception. Also part of the band is Berry Oakley Jr. on bass. Oakley is the son of Allman Brothers alumni Berry Oakley Sr., who played bass for the band. With the nucleus of the band complete, it was rounded out by the addition of Johnny Stachela (lead, slide guitar), John Lum on drums and R. Scott Bryan on percussion. Their first album together, “Down to the River” was released in 2019.
When I first heard of this new band, I was intrigued. Both Duane Betts and Devon Allman looked almost exactly like their fathers. It sort of made me wonder if their talent had been passed down as well. The fact that the son of another Allman member (Oakley) was in the band seemed uncanny. Not knowing much about them I did what most people would do – I started searching them on YouTube. What I heard was catchy. The first song – “Shinin’” had an obvious southern bluesy feel to it but it had a groove. Allman and Betts’ guitars playing in two-part harmony (something I love to hear) during the bridge didn’t hurt either.
I found others – “All Night” and “Down to the River.” They weren’t bad, not bad at all. Luck would have it that they were opening up for another Allman alumni – Warren Haynes and his band, Gov’t Mule at the end of 2019. I checked them out and actually liked them better than Gov’t Mule. Shortly after seeing that show, I saw that they were going to do their own headlining date in the area this month. I promptly grabbed a pair of tickets. They did not disappoint.
Once again I found myself at The Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood, New Jersey. This is the place I had seen Buddy Guy a few months before. Supporting their album, they played a mix of their own songs with a few Allman Brothers tunes mixed in, among others. They are touring partially to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band, who formed in 1969. Opening up with the song “Airboats and Cocaine”, they immediately launched into “Shinin’” which brought a rousing cheer from the crowd.
The excellent “Autumn Breeze” was next followed by the Allman Brothers classic (and one of theirs I actually liked) “Midnight Rider”, after which they played another Allman tune – “Blue Sky”.
While listening the band play, I discovered a few things: Duane Betts is a very melodic player. His tone and playing is very reminiscent of Dickey Betts without being repetitious like his father could sometimes be. Playing mostly a Les Paul, he did don a Strat occasionally during the show. Still, his Strat sounded full and meaty, not thin like Strats are known to sound. While Duane Betts plays most of the lead guitar parts, Devon Allman is a better guitarist than I realized. Though he plays rhythm on many of the songs, he played all of lead guitar on the song “Mahalo” – a ten-minute instrumental with a Latin tinge to it that followed and he was quite good. And while Betts is the better guitarist, Allman is the better singer. Following “Mahalo”, they played the radio friendly songs “All Night” and “Down to the River”.
From here the band showed that they are all seasoned musicians. They performed an excellent version of The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” – showing they could do funky rhythms and jazzy breaks. I am not a Dead fan at all but somehow their rendition worked – I can’t ‘splain it. The Allman Brothers classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was next which brought thunderous applause from the audience. In fact, the crowd was another intriguing piece of the puzzle. It consisted almost exclusively of older patrons that were undoubtedly Allman Brothers fans. The new band had almost guaranteed themselves a following, which is a good thing; at least in the short term (more on that later.) Sneaking in the Tom Petty classic “You Got Lucky” was a surprise and again, somehow it fit in. They finished up with “Autumn Breeze” before the finale – “Long Gone.”
All in all, it was very entertaining show, more mellow and a bit slower than some of the newer bands out there. That’s their point, however. They’re a southern band and the style of blues rock they play came from the south. They are a throwback and not afraid to admit it and even their stage show reflects it. The background images that played during their concert were like a kaleidoscope at times, reminiscent of psychedelic patterns that used to fill the backgrounds of concerts in the late sixties and early seventies. In being so tied to the original Allman Brothers Band though, and having a ready-made audience, as that audience thins due to attrition I hope they will be able to attract a younger fan base. Songs like ”Shinin’” and “All Night” are hits; no doubt about it. I’ve yet to hear them get airplay though. While Greta Van Fleet also has an audience of older fans, I can tell you that their music is not wasted on the young. They have legions of fans both young and old. With one leg in the past and one in the future, that future looks bright. I’m hoping that even with their ties to the past, The Allman Betts Band can accomplish the same thing.
What’s your favorite song from The Allman Brothers/Allman Betts bands?