Devon Allman Reflects on 50 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Roots
The Southern rocker and son of a music legend talks about the honor—and responsibility—of carrying on Gregg Allman’s legacy.
Devon Allman isn’t scared of the big 5-0 anymore. Why should he be when his forties were his best decade yet? When I caught up with the soulful singer-songwriter via Zoom, he had just wrapped up the European leg of his 2022 tour and was already planning for the Allman Family Revival Tour, a behemoth of a band jam slated to kick off Nov. 26 in Macon, Georgia. He was also just one day shy of his turn-of-the-century milestone. If his heritage is any indicator, Devon Allman’s got nothing to worry about. Aging just unlocks a new onslaught of artistry for an Allman. And this Allman has already perfected the art of leveling up. The Southern rocker has had his hand in a multitude of musical projects since he was just a fledgling. From a prolific solo career to the Allman Betts Band to launching his own record label, Allman never tires of trying something new. Perhaps that’s why each project gets better and better. Before Allman could usher in his new decade, I prompted him to take me back to the moments that shaped him, from touring with his father back in 1989 to seeing his own son join him on stage.
When did you first realize that playing music might be your calling?
DA: When I was 9, my best friend and his folks and his brother were all planning on going to [see] Cheap Trick. It was a big concert that night, and at the last second they were like, “Man, you love music. You want to go?” I was 9 years old, and I was like, “Yeah, I want to go.” And so I went, and just the whole thing … you know the [Corpus Christi Memorial] Coliseum getting dark, the smell of weed. I was like, “Wow.” It was like this other world. The bass was rattling my 9-year-old rib cage, and Rick Nielsen, the guitar player, brought out a five-necked guitar—you’ve seen double-necked guitars; this was five—And I was like, I want to do that. That is cool. I don’t need five necks, but I think I found what really moves me.
Did you ever consider another career path?
DA: The only time I entertained anything else was in high school. I got into theater, and I thought, “Well, I could see myself doing that, too,” because I really loved the live aspect. You can’t mess up. There was something thrilling about that. Never fancied myself being on TV or in movies or anything, but theater was really cool. That was actually the whole reason I went out on tour with my dad in high school was to decide between theater and a music career.
And did that summer 1989 Dreams tour sell you on a music career?
DA: No. I was pretty doubtful, because, in the wise words of Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz documentary, “It’s a goddamn impossible way of life.” That’s why I leaned toward theater. I was like, “I don’t know, man. These guys are up till four in the morning. There’s drugs. There’s craziness. I kind of would maybe prefer more of a normal life.”
So what changed your mind?
DA: On the final night of the tour in Miami, Florida, they brought me up to sing “Midnight Rider”—my 17-year-old ass. Dickey Betts wanted me to do it. And my dad was, like, taunting me. “Dickey says you’re going to come up and sing. You sure you’re ready to do all that?” Then, that got me pissed. And I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna sing the shit out of it.” My dad was like, “All right, we’ll see.” I went up there. I sang the song. Thank God I did good. Got a standing O. I really had it that night. I gave it everything. There was a lot of patting on the back from the band and stuff. I was really relieved. But that energy exchange beat anything from being in the high school plays. And I was like, “I think the crazy life is worth that energy exchange. I think I just made my mind up, you know?” And that was it. I literally left the tour and put a band together a week later.
What did your mother think about her 17-year-old touring with a bunch of rockstars?
DA: So my mama was his first wife, and they were together when the band started to just skyrocket, right? So my mom was very in love with my dad. It was a very deep thing. But, you know, he had just lost his brother, and he was battling drugs, and it was the ’60s and ’70s where everybody slept with everybody. It was a different era. And she had to pull me out of that. She couldn’t raise me in that. She went back to Corpus Christi to have me. My mom didn’t have any ill will against my dad, surprisingly. She was just like, “You know what, he’s a great guy. You’re gonna meet him someday, and you guys are gonna get along.” And so when it came, she was like, “I’ve been waiting for this your whole life. You need to go be with your dad. I know how much music means to you, and you’ll learn something from him.”
Can you tell me about how the Allman Family Revival Tour came to be?
DA: Yeah. It’s great that we talked about mom and dad, because I lost them both within four months of each other five years ago. So mom passed away really suddenly. She was 66. And the next day, my dad’s manager called and said, “You need to come down here and see your dad. He’s going.” So me and my siblings all flew down to Florida and hung with dad. Now, he hung on for months and months, but he passed away. When my mom passed away, I couldn’t concentrate, so I canceled two months of shows. When dad died, I was like, “I mean, come on. How can I play a concert and have it be about the music? It’s just going to be everybody hurting about dad.” When you go and make music, it’s supposed to be about celebrating the evening. It was like the pink elephant in the room. If I go right back on tour when my dad died, everybody’s gonna be thinking about it, because it’s so fresh. I called my agent and said, “Man, let’s cancel the rest of the year.” And I realized through the summer that the one thing that I kind of denied myself was the healing power of making music for people. Making other people feel good—in essence, giving them some healing, medicinal thing—is also healing and medicinal for yourself. I was kind of denying myself. I called him up, and I go, “Man, I want to jump back in.” There was nothing there that was premeditated. I called like five friends, thinking one or two would say yes, and they all said yes. So I called my agent, and he goes, “We’re gonna need a bigger room.”
Your fans praise you for crafting an immersive concert experience. How do you do that?
DA: That’s music to my ears to hear that. I think there’s an urgency that’s so important in music. I mean, it can’t be overly urgent. But there can’t be zero urgency, because where’s the fun in that? I’ll put it to you this way. Would you rather watch a football game that’s 21 to nothing in the middle of the second quarter? Or would you rather watch a football game that’s 42 to 40 with 10 seconds left, and they got the ball on the five? I think when you play with that kind of urgency, it translates to the crowd, and they’re on their toes, and every note means something to them. I would much rather bring that kind of energy to a stage. And obviously, you can’t do it the entire time, but it’s tension and release. Also, I think it’s the scope. We call it the jam of the year when we advertise this event, not to flex or to be better than anyone or anything silly like that. There’s kind of nothing like it in scope and size. I mean, it’s like a traveling circus. There are like 30 musicians.
Is there any song of your dad’s that feels especially sacred to you?
DA: There’s a song that was on my dad’s Laid Back record that he wrote for my mom called, “Multi-Colored Lady.” I had always wondered if it was, and then I found out for sure that he had written that about her. It’s one of my favorite songs anyway. Yeah, I don’t think I’d ever let anyone on the revival sing that but me, because it means so much. That was a real healing point to be able to sing that song to his fans and my fans and for people to know it was written about my mom.
People were over the moon when you joined forces with Duane Betts to launch the Allman Betts Band. What is it like to work with him creatively?
DA: When I went on that tour in 1989, I met Duane. I was 17, and he was, like, 12. We’ve always been family since that tour. When we did that first Allman Family Revival at the Fillmore, the band was kind of born out of that. The only thing we have to be able to do is to have chemistry writing songs together, because you kind of can’t force that. It was crazy. Not only did we have chemistry with our two voices singing together, but we had chemistry writing songs together. He would bring one part, and I’d finish it or vice versa. We were really good about pushing each other for the song to be its best without hurting anyone’s feelings or mojo. Yeah, it was truly effortless.
You all took a hiatus in 2022; will we see more Allman Betts Band in the future?
DA: It’s a living, breathing entity that band. There’s some fan talk that it’s dead or it’s over, and it’s like, me and Duane have been buddies since we were kids. Whenever we want to pick that up, we’re gonna pick it up. I will say this, the dynamic of starting a new band, no matter if you have a known name or not, it’s really tough to get out there and rebrand. We really had to pound out three straight years nonstop, and it burned us out. And it made us want to say, “Hey, let’s take a breath from it.” But you know, at the same time, it’s really nice to have people missing it. As far as the timeline on that, that’s a beautiful thing for us to know and everyone else to wait for.
Your son, Orion, joined you on stage this past year for the first time. What was that like?
DA: Orion made his stage debut playing the Hammond B-3 [organ], which is the instrument that my dad played. John Ginty from the Allman Betts Band took him under his wing, and taught him a tune or two, and it was just mind-blowing to see him up there on stage with me. I got on the mic, and I said, “You know what, 30 years ago, my dad brought me out on stage, and here we are. I’m bringing my son out on stage.” And the crowd just went bananas, and he played his ass off. It’s an unbelievable feeling. Makes me a little teary thinking about it.
Did it take some coaxing to get Orion onstage?
DA: That’s a good question for John Ginty, and I believe the answer is yes. Maybe even a step beyond coaxing, maybe polite bullying.
That sounds a lot like when Gregg taunted you about getting onstage back in 1989.
DA: Funny how we come full circle.