Devon Allman Project + Duane Betts
Tuesday 4th September 2018
Islington Assembly Hall, London
For fans of the Allman Brothers Band and Southern Rock in general, the names Allman and Betts will be forever inextricably linked and a guarantee of quality. This despite the fact that few of the ABB’s British fans would ever have seen the original line-up, with the twin lead guitars of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, in person; Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971 and the band’s UK debut was not until the Knebworth Festival of 1974.
Subsequent London visits were restricted, I believe, to the Rainbow in Finsbury Park in 1980 and Hammersmith Odeon in 1991. Tensions between Betts and Gregg Allman led to the former leaving the ABB and any hopes of reconciliation were extinguished by the deaths last year of both Gregg and drummer Butch Trucks. Betts himself, who has never played in the UK other than with the ABB, resumed touring in the USA last year, but was recovering from a mild stroke at the time of the Islington gig (he subsequently underwent life saving surgery to relieve swelling on the brain, following a fall at his home).
So, it was against this backdrop that we welcomed the next generation of Allman & Betts this summer; Devon Allman (son of Gregg and nephew of Duane) has been a regular visitor, but it was our first sighting of Duane Betts (Dickey’s son). Press releases told us to expect a half hour support set from Duane, then an hour of Devon’s music, followed by a half hour encore of ABB classics featuring them both.
Duane, looking uncannily like his father as a young man, complete with cowboy hat and drooping moustache, opened his set with Betts Sr.’s ‘California Blues’. However, on this number and the following ‘Silver Train’ Duane seemed reserved (and maybe a little nervous) and was rather outshone by his fine slide guitarist Johnny Stachela.
During the middle part of this mini-set R. Scott Bryan joined the band on keyboards, sticking mainly to organ effects, and this seemed to encourage Duane to extend his solos during ‘Autumn Breeze’ and ‘Taking Time’. The tight rhythm section of Justin Corgan (electric bass) and John Lum (drums) joined Bryan in creating a very ABB feel to the latter part of the set, which culminated in a fine version of ‘Hot ‘Lanta’, with Betts and Stachela in full flight.
(DB setlist: California Blues; Silver Train; Autumn Breeze; (unannounced); Taking Time; Hot ‘Lanta)
During the interval I managed to buy one of the few copies of Duane’s debut CD ‘Sketches Of American Music’ (although £15 for what turned out to a half hour EP was a bit eye watering!), while overhearing many positive comments about Duane and, especially, Johnny Stachela.
As if to reaffirm his own guitar credentials and assert his headline billing, Devon came out blazing with an extended workout on ‘Mahalo’ from his early days with Honeytribe. After ‘Alive’ we got the first of several references to Devon’s musical influences, with a nice workout on The (Detroit) Spinners’ ‘I’ll Be Around’, complete with a few slightly cheesy synchronised dance steps by Devon, bassist Corgan and rhythm guitarist Jackson Stokes.
Then Duane rejoined the fun surprisingly early (Stokes would also alternate with Stachela during the rest of the gig) for the ABB’s ‘Blue Sky’, before matters took an unexpected twist or two. Devon switched to acoustic as seats were brought on stage for all the six-stringers and we were treated to the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend Of The Devil’ and Gregg Allman’s ‘Multi-Colored Lady’.
Whether the tribute to his late father had affected Devon emotionally, I don’t know, but Devon was then absent from the stage for over 20 minutes of his own set, as keyboardist Nicholas David (a dead ringer for Dr. John in appearance!) sang Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, which was serviceable while being at odds with the rest of the setlist, before Duane stormed through a lengthy version of his father’s classic ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ (which replaced two songs from the printed setlist, suggesting that it may have been unscheduled and making Duane’s solo even more impressive).
Devon returned to hit us with another surprise, as he romped through a great version of Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’, which sounded remarkably fresh for a song from such an over-produced decade as the 80’s.
With Bryan moving to percussion for this set and locking in tightly with Corgan and Lum, the rhythm section was building up a head of steam for the ABB finale and they didn’t disappoint: storming runs through ‘Dreams’ and ‘Midnight Rider’ sent us home well satisfied and wondering what it must have been like to stand in front of a stage when the ABB was in its prime. It’s good to know that the torch has been passed on to safe hands, though.
(DA setlist: Mahalo; Alive; I’ll Be Around; Blue Sky; Friend Of The Devil; Multi-Colored Lady; What’s Going On; In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; Boys Of Summer; Dreams; Midnight Rider)
Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Tim Russell)