For the first few months after Gregg Allman died, his 45-year-old son Devon was unable to perform in public. “I called up my agent and canceled every date,” he says. “I said to him, ‘I’m not gonna be able to concentrate. The energy in the room is not gonna be about the concert. It’s gonna be about, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry your father passed.’ I knew I couldn’t do it.”
But in August of 2017 he gathered up the courage to walk onstage at the Peach Fest in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and belt out an emotional rendition of the 1972 Allman Brothers Classic “One Way Out.” “I was just fighting back tears,” he says. “I was missing my dad and thinking about how badly I wanted to hear him sing, and knowing that I never would again.”
Realizing it was now his obligation to keep his father’s music alive, Devon reached out to Dickey Betts’ son Duane to see if he’d join him for a tour this summer where they’d play their own music before teaming up at the end of the night for a mini set of Allman Brothers classics. During downtime from the road, Devon phoned us up to talk about the tour, losing his father and what it was like growing up the son of rock royalty.
How old you were you first started playing music?
I started playing in garage punk bands when I was 13, much to the dismay of my neighbors. And we were horrible. But we had this profound love for everything from R&B, Otis Redding, Al Green to Motörhead and early Iron Maiden. I think I was probably 19 or 20 when I joined my first serious band.
You didn’t meet your dad until you were a teenager, right?
I was 17 when I met him, about four years after I first picked up a guitar.
I imagine you always knew he was your father, though.
Yeah, definitely. My mom was really cool. She knew he was having issues with drugs and alcohol and the lifestyle, and didn’t want to raise her kid in that environment. I was really grateful that she approached it that way. She always told me, “Hey, when you’re old enough, you’ll meet him. You guys will get along great. He’s a good guy.” She never once shit-talked him, which really is a testament to her character.
Did you resent him when you were younger for not being in your life?
I didn’t resent him. I think that I was bummed out that he didn’t reach out. But later in life I became a father myself and began to understood my dad’s story. His father was murdered when he was two or three years old. He was scared to death of the role of a father. But it was tough sometimes, growing up without a dad. But when I met him, it wasn’t like I was ready to slug him. I wanted to know him. And he wanted to know me, too. I know he felt a great weight off of his shoulders once we forged a relationship.
It’s great you had that chance. So many kids who grow up without a father never get that chance.
I sought him out, man. And I really tried to be the glue for the Allman family, and get us together for holidays even though we were really scattered. But I really, really tried for the last 20 years to keep some semblance of a normal kind of family vibe.
When did you first play one of his songs?
I was 17 and I quit high school to go on an Allman Brothers reunion tour [in 1989]. On the final night, they didn’t bother telling me, but they put me on the spot, and introduced me to come out and sing “Midnight Rider.” It was in front of like 3,000 people in Miami. And thank the lord, they caught me so off guard that I just went out there and did it. It was a great response from the crowd. I really fell in love with that, that energy exchange.
Were you really familiar with his songs at this point?
No. I did not grow up studying the Duane [Allman] licks and knowing my dad’s catalogue. I liked heavy metal. I liked the Cure and the Smiths. I loved blues. I loved B.B. King; I loved Buddy Guy. But I didn’t want to just study his music, you know? I wanted to find my own path in music, something that I could call my own. I specifically didn’t study that music. Of course I respected it.
What made you want to play his music after he died?
I think that it’s important that the music live on. But there’s also a balance that has to be kept. I’ve got nine albums out. I’ve toured 25 countries. I have my own fan base. They do not want me to come out and play two hours of Allman Brothers songs. That’s because me and Duane [Betts] aren’t the Allman Brothers. But to come out and not do any, is not very respectful also. So I started to envision how I could do both.
I’ve known Duane for years. He’s been a guitarist for his dad’s band and for Dawes for the last decade plus. He’s finally coming out and being his own leader, writing his own material, putting out his first record this year. So he really needed some type of way to go out there and tour and play his material. So I was like, “Man, why don’t you come out and open for me? Do 40 minutes, I’ll do 70 minutes, and then let’s do an encore together and tip our hats to the dads and some other musical heroes.” We’ve thrown a Prince song in. We’ve thrown in Tom Petty songs. It’s been wonderful. And for the first time in my life, I studied [Allman Brothers] deep cuts. I did tell my band to go back and I said, “The people that love that music, they fell in love with the studio versions of the original records, so study those, and let’s do them really good justice.”
How did you guys prep for the tour?
We spent six months woodshedding. Now we’re six weeks into the yearlong tour. It’s really starting to jell. We’ve been doing some amazing songs, like “Dreams.” We’ve been doing “Multi-Colored Lady” off his  solo record Laid Back. Everyone’s just really playing in top form, and it’s really starting to jell now that we’re a month or two in.
Tell me how your friendship with Duane started.
We were both on that reunion tour in 1989. One day I got on the bus and I see this cool-looking kid with long hair and a Sony Walkman and I’m like, “Hey, dude.” It’s gotta be Dickey’s son, he looks just like him. I’m like, “What are you listening to, man?” And he’s like, “Testament.” And I was way into Megadeth and Metallica, the early stuff. So immediately I was like, “This kid is cool. He’s like 12 years old, thrashing to Testament.” I really felt like we were pretty simpatico right out of the gate.
Just fast forward through the years. We would run into each other backstage in England, or at an event, or down in Sarasota where his dad lives. We’d shoot the shit, catch up, do a little jamming. We always had it in the back of our minds, like, “Aw, man, it would be cool to join forces someday.”
Your fathers obviously had a pretty nasty split. Did that ever impact your relationship with Duane?
[Laughs] It never did! It never even made it awkward. We laughed about it. While the world was gasping at the big split we were like, “Whatever, it happens. It’s families and families become estranged. Families have their ups and their downs.” I do know that my dad always loved Duane, and Dickey has always been down for me and loved me. I do know that before my dad passed, he and Dickey had a conversation that really meant the world to my dad, and they were cool. Everybody likes to kind of magnify the drama, right? But, at the end of the day, we’re all dudes playing music, and there’s nothing but love at the core of that.
What got you through those first few shows after he died?
The fans. This is the soundtrack of their lives. It’s the soundtrack to their good times, it’s the medicine for their bad times. You try not to get on the cerebral side of things at all when you perform. You really try to get into that headspace where there’s really no thoughts going on. But that was so heavy, it’s pretty impossible to rise above that.
The first few times, I’ve gotta say, it was overwhelming. But then time marches on and you realize that people do wanna hear these songs. They wanna experience those feelings again. It’s been a trip to start the intro to “Blue Sky” and see tears roll down people’s faces. That means so much to me.
I take it you see it as your responsibility to keep these songs alive.
It’s a gift. I’m really proud of my family. I’m proud of everyone in my family, from my dad and Duane, to my sister Brooklyn who plays music, to [my half-brother] Elijah Blue, who plays music. We have a wonderful family of musicians, and to be able to cap my night by playing the songs of my dad for the people, it means a lot to me.
Is the Allman Brothers Band name gone forever? Is there any scenario you’d maybe revive it with Duane, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Jaimoe and possiby even Dickey?
I don’t think that that would be very respectful of the legacy. It’s always going be a balance, and my number one thing is integrity and class. So is there a way to kind of perpetuate it within a loose framework? Yes. But to come out and use their name, or the mushrooms and the peaches after they worked hard for all that? No. It’s one thing to play a handful of songs and tip your hat to them and give the people that nostalgia. It’s quite another thing to open up shop on a business that wrapped up their shop already.
It’s been a really rough couple of years for classic-rock figures with your dad, David Bowie, Tom Petty, Glenn Frey and so many more. Do you think as time goes on, more and more children of these people will begin playing their dad’s music on the road?
Absolutely. And I think that’s the thing that people are realizing. There’s tribute bands out the ass. It’s a big, money-making deal. But wouldn’t you rather see a Bonham beat the shit out of the drums? And wouldn’t you rather hear an Allman and a Betts do “Blue Sky” and “Midnight Rider” instead of a tribute band? Hell, yes, you would!
As time marches on, it does become important for the next generation to carry the music on or else it’s just gonna die. Nobody is gonna play that anymore, and if they do, it’s gonna be a sloppy tribute band. I think the people deserve more than that. I think the people deserve to hear it from the bloodlines of the musicians that turned them on in the first place.
Not all the children of rock stars feel that way. Some of them resent always been seen through the lens of their parent.
I tempered that outcome by really being hard-headed, and being into alternative music and punk rock and putting out my own records. It was important for me to not fall into that trap and that when I go to play a show that people know my songs.
But I know my place in all this. I’m not at a John Mayer–like level, but I’ve toured 25 countries and I make a good living. I’ve got a great fan base. And that’s before my dad’s name was ever even thrown into the mix. So being able to do this for my fans and then to be able to also do something for his fans is the best of both worlds. Like I said, it’s really about maintaining that balance. You’re not gonna see me come out and do three hours of Allman Brothers’ songs because me and Duane aren’t the Allman Brothers. But we’ll do a little bit and that means a lot to us.