The Blues. Americana. Allman-Betts Band
by Kirk Anderson
Music has so many definitions around the world. The definitions change with time. Each generation feels their definition is the only one that matters. Oxford Languages defines Americana as, ”things associated with the culture and history of America, especially the United States.”
As we go back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s, Americana was often defined by folk music. John Avery Lomax was a pioneering musicologist who was recording Americana when he came across a guttural music being made on the plantations of the South.
The blues of the time, sung only to a few other slaves on individual plantations, had few real instruments, much less recordings. But Lomax was able to take recording equipment to the Mississippi Delta in the early 1900s as the Great Depression was revving up.
The blues was born in the American Southeast as slaves toiled endlessly in the plantation fields, starting early every morning. The slaves were given just enough food to sustain them through their hard workdays. At the end of the day, leftover food from the plantation house was thrown out to the slaves to replenish the calorie deficit. The next day, they’d do it all again. Pay? None. Hope of working their way out of indentured servitude? None.
As hot summer days turned to hot summer nights, any feelings of optimism gave way to animalistic moaning out in pain and despair. As the workers mixed these guttural vocalizations with rhythms and beats from their central West African homes, the blues was born.
Jump forward 100 years. Americana has grown into the blues, into jazz, into country and rock ‘n’ roll. Again, as artists do, a new group of lifelong musicians are interpreting the music’s growth. Where? Back to a new Americana. They are keeping one foot firmly planted in their musical influences. They mix their inner musical voices to bring music to a new place.
Cascade Blues Association, I introduce you to the Allman Betts Band.
Alphabetically, for your reading enjoyment…
Devon Allman – guitar, vocals
Duane Betts – guitar, vocals
- Scott Bryan – Percussion – second drum kit – backing vocals
John Ginty – B3, keyboard – backing vocals
John Lum – drums
Berry Oakley – bass – vocals
Johnny Stachele – slide guitar
“The Brotherhood of the Light” with Pete Rabinowitz and Chris Samardizch
In the late 1990s I interviewed Devon Allman and worked on tour with Duane Betts and Berry Duane Oakley. More than 20 years ago, as they started their professional music careers, they were adamant about making their way on their own terms and with hard work.
Sure, you might come see them because of their dads, but they stand on their own merits to gain you as a fan. What? Their dads? If the last names haven’t already given it away, I always encourage my readers to Google the names they don’t know. My musical knowledge still only touches a small portion of the incredible variety of music. I always try to take the time to search out the roots for music for which I am listening. read up about names I don’t know. This extension has opened my experience with music like a meeting with Morpheus (don’t know Morpheus? The Oracle? More Googling may be needed).
Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, the individual band members crossed paths many times as they shared the stage in many incarnations. They bring with them more than 100 years of musical interpretations and performance.
Four years ago, Devon and Duane came together in a new project called the Devon Allman Project. Devon brought with him three decades of progression, recording and touring with endeavors like The Dark Horses, Honeytribe, Royal Southern Brotherhood and solo projects. Duane himself had a busy three decades of musical experiences with Backbone69, Oakley Krieger Band, Whitestarr, Great Southern, Dawes and Jamtown.
During a nationally streamed broadcast, BMG-NYC’s Lea Gerschwinder interviewed Devon for the national release of their first CD, “Down to the River.” Devon shared that it was natural to bring in a longtime third leg of their musical family, bassist Berry Duane Oakley.
Berry brings with him three decades of professional life in music. His musical experiences include Robby Krieger Band, Bloodline, Oakley Krieger Band, Backbone69, Chuck Negron Band, Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band and Indigenous Suspects.
The Allman Betts Band’s first CD, “Down To the River” debuted at the top of the iTunes rock chart. Grammy winning producer/engineer Matt-Ross Spang (Jason Isbell, John Prine) brought his skills to the CD, pulling together the history of the music, the facility and the musicians to lay down the first recorded landmark of this band’s evolving new sound. Classic recording techniques and vintage gear completed an environment conducive to finding their own sound. The result was nine songs recorded to two-inch analog tape without computers or digital editing, allowing the listener to hear the warm nuances that the band works hard to share.
Their first CD highlights the vocals of Allman and Betts and is a combination of rockers, blues runs and a country ballad. You get a chance to hear them establish their sound. Many times, artists are inspired by musical venues that carry with them the history of those who recorded there before them. Such is the case with the Allman Betts Band.
Joining part of their musical family is their studio of choice, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. After years of backing some of the best musicians at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section( aka The Swampers) took their rhythm section talent and left to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in nearby Sheffield, Alabama. Again.
The Swampers’ rhythm section backed many branches of the blues tree and its soul branches as they recorded hit after hit. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Boz Scaggs to name but a few.
The Allman Betts Band is now part of the studio’s history. Twice. The Allman Betts Band, after recording their first CD and touring the world, have evolved. They wrote new songs as they sat in the tour bus going down the road. They have had another stint at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios laying down fresh tracks.
The second CD is titled, “Bless Your Heart.” Stronger, more familiar, direction becoming clearer. Oakley adds his distinctive vocals to the project as the band further defines itself.
Music has many personalities. Each member brings their own essence to the project. The recording studio and venue can add their imprints on the music. Ultimately, it’s the musicians, their instruments and amplifiers that bring the project to life.
- Devon’s Johnny Cash model Martin acoustic guitar and ’61 Fender Stratocaster ”Frankencaster”;
- Duane’s ’61 Fender hard tail Stratocaster and Les Paul gold top Dickie Betts Signature prototype;
- Johnny’s ’59 Leroy Parnell edition butterscotch Gibson Les Paul;
- Berry’s Fender Jazz Basses;
- John’s Hammond B3 through the Leslie speaker;
- Louis’s John Lum’s Pearl drum kit and
- R Scott Bryant’s percussion set up rounds out the percussion section and
- (Touring) Peter Rabinowitz and Chris Samardizch-Brotherhood of the Light add a distinctive light and video show building on 50 years of complementary innovation.
While we’ve all been in various states of COVID-19 lockdown, the Allman Betts Band has had to satisfy our live music needs with a streamed, live performance at Belly Up in Solana Beach, California. A high-quality video and soundboard audio on live streaming concert production company NOCAP hosted the event. NOCAP had already streamed more than 70 virtual concerts at well-known music clubs and theaters and sold more than 350,000 tickets.
With BMG again behind the band, the band performed on its first nationally televised performance on “CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions.” Not just one tune played on the cutaway, but performances of the “Bless Your Heart” single, “Pale Horse Rider,” paired with the single “Magnolia Road” from their inaugural CD “Down by the River.”
As the spring of 2021 grew with what was hoped to be post-pandemic optimism, the Allman Betts Band again came back to the NOCAP live streaming platform with three different performances streamed weekly over three consecutive Monday’s. One stream was a more controlled environment performance at Village Studios in L.A., followed by two live concert performances at West Hollywood’s Roxy Theater.
Everyone has to fight to keep live music alive. The bands, the venues, the community and YOU! The Allman Betts Band, its management and the venues in your community are in the middle of an 80-plus U.S./European stop tour which started in late May.
Late July finds our intrepid friends (friends? Yeah, don’t you feel like you know these guys now?) on the same bill as another group of musicians finding their own way, Blackberry Smoke. They are together for a line of concert dates across the U.S. At the end of this joint tour, the Allman Betts Band continues on their own as they head out west, taking a hard right turn up the coast to the Pacific Northwest before heading back for a line of European gigs.
BMG is again showing their love for the recording endeavor. Gibson Guitars and Facebook Music have put their assets to work for the tour. Big Hassle Media has continued its representation of the Allman Betts Band as the 20-year-old company represents an incredible string of artists over a wide variety of musical genres and experiences. Man, Google these people!
Again Big Hassle Media has opened their hearts to the music fans of the PNW, providing access to information about the band, exclusive interviews with the band as well as the community of Pacific Northwest venues hosting the shows in early September. There are four shows starting the second week of September in Oregon and Washington.
The PNW run starts at Century Center in Bend on Thursday, Sept. 8, and into Portland’s Roseland Ballroom on Friday, Sept. 9. The tour crosses the border into Washington for a show in Seattle at the Neptune Theatre in the University of Washington district on Saturday, Sept. 10, and at Spokane’s Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Special guests opening the show are Marc Ford (Google him) and St. Louis’ own soulful folk duo, River Kittens.
In this preview, I wanted to make sure you knew that you have several opportunities to see the Allman Betts Band for yourself. You also have the chance to help your community. Your musical community that has hunkered down during the past 16 months of the pandemic lockdown. They now need your patronage to help them come back. Have you thought maybe of taking a trip to a neighboring community in the PNW and maybe seeing a second show? Support the music, support the band, support the venue and support the community around the venue. Have fun!
As I’ve been reading about the Cascades Blues Association, I’ve found a group of people who do more than just go see shows. You care about your community. You participate with the musicians and the venues as a community. So it is with great honor that I am able to exclusively cover the PNW portion of the Allman Betts Band tour for both the Cascades Blues Association and the Washington Blues Society. We are a community that is more the same than we are different.
We’re planning one article for each group previewing the early September tour, followed up by a second article for each with special emphasis on the shows in your home state. Interviews with the band members, reviews of the shows and community experiences as well as information from the venue representatives about what they’ve been through during COVID-19 and what they are doing to open back up. I hope to pique your interest in your and your neighboring communities’ music scenes so we can all be part of the comeback.
Thank you for spending the past 20 minutes with me as I brought you up to speed on the Allman Betts Band. As my first effort for the Cascade Blues Association, I hope I have earned your interest and have provided useful background to broaden your understanding of the music in your life.