Duane Betts is only supposed to answer one question about the Allmans. Duane is the son of Dickey Betts, legendary founding guitarist and singer for The Allman Brothers Band. His latest band membership revives his family legacy alongside Allman progeny Devon Allman, son of founding keyboardist/singer Gregg Allman. Although there are unmistakable Allman influences and flourishes, The Allman Betts Band is not an Allman clone.
Betts is an amiable spokesperson, willing to discuss the obvious familial imprint. “You can ask a couple (of Allman questions) as long as it doesn’t get ridiculous,” he said by phone last week form the road. “I think the idea is that we wanna talk about our record and our band, and sometimes people go a little overboard with it.”
But instead of grilling him about the Allman spiritual connection that haunts the band, the one question put to him asked him to reveal one memory or feeling about the Allman Brothers that stayed with him over the years that makes him smile every time he thinks about it.
“It made me really proud when I hear my dad play a solo in ‘Jessica’ or ‘Blue Sky,’” Betts replies. “You can feel the whole crowd being transported somewhere emotionally by the sheer will and emotion that that man played the guitar with. I’ve never seen anybody play like that. There (were) nights that I would see him play and just manhandle the whole thing and move it up to a level, a frenzy of joy that you don’t see. There’s a lot of great guitar players, but the way he can do that — no one can do that. So that’s what I’m really proud of, I think of that a lot.”
Duane grew up with a dual statehood citizenship, born in Florida then moving to California when his was 12. But he’s quick to say that’s his dad’s family is Old Florida, and Duane’s music is more Southern soaked than Left Coast tinted.
His first pro band was with Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley’s son Berry Oakley Jr. and Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger’s son Waylon. He later joined Backbone69 with Roy Orbison’s son Alex, and Chris Williams, son of famed songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams (“Pretending,” for Eric Clapton, Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up for Your Love.”)
“We did a record in Nashville, and that was a bunch of California kids kind of, but it was a Southern kinda classic rock sound,” Betts says of the Backbone69 period.
Betts and Allman got together on the 2017 Gregg Allman tribute show at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Then for the next year, Betts opened for the Devon Allman Project’s world tour. When the tour ended, the two started The Allman Betts Band, recruiting Berry Oakley Jr. and asking former Devon Allman Project members slide guitarist Johnny Stachela, drummer John Lum and former Sheryl Crow percussionist R. Scott Bryan to join.
The band’s latest, “Down To the River,” released last June, is blues rock with a Southern accent, rootsy creations that glide and soar with an Allman tinge that’s more of a brush than a coating.
Betts has the lead vocal on “Shinin,’” the band’s hit single, his voice praised by Allman, who mentioned in an interview last year that Duane really came into his own on that tune and that the band has been pushing him to believe in his voice. But Betts says he’s pretty comfortable with his vocals.
“I’m pretty confident,” he says. “I like my voice a lot, I just started more recently, you know? I’ve always been a guitar player, and I just started singing out in front of people about five years ago. I’m 41, so I’m still getting the hang of it, I still have a long way to go.”
He thinks Allman’s assessment is fair.
“He encourages me because he’s been singing for a long time. And I encourage him on his guitar playing, I give him tips. We all encourage each other in the band. I ask for people’s opinions because I trust people, what sound I should use, I ask around and get a consensus. I think that’s important, to trust the people you’re with, that you’re playing with.”
Trust, and sharing are an integral part of this band’s chemistry. With three guitarists capable of blistering leads, being polite or at least accommodating to one anther is paramount.
“It works itself out,” Betts says. “We all have our forte. It’s good to have it so one guy doesn’t play everything. It changes it up, and you get a different look, a different sound. We have phenomenal keyboard player, too. We have quite a few ways we can go as far as somebody taking a solo, we all get to play quite a bit. I don’t need to be the hog on lead guitar or the spotlight. I get to play plenty. I think everybody’s pretty happy with it. It’s a really cool thing.”
And as far as a legacy, Betts has already got his own figured out. “We all have challenges in life, and when you can keep trying and overcome your obstacles or your demons, make it about spreading good into the world, I think that’s really giving people hope and making people feel good, giving them an outlet to escape their daily stresses and just make life a little easier. That’s the idea. It’s pretty simple.
“Just go out and keep playing that guitar, make people feel good and write some honest songs and just be authentic. That’s what I’d like people to think of when they think of me.”