Devon Allman’s Expansive Sound
Released earlier this year, singer-guitarist Devon Allman’s latest album, Ride or Die, finds the bluesman expanding his sound. The album follows solo efforts such as 2013’s Turquoise and 2014’s Ragged & Dirty. The son of musician Gregg Allman phoned us from his home where he was “thawing out from a really long European tour that lasted about 30 days.” “It’s always badass,” he says of the recent European tour. “I love the food and the people. They really go nuts for blues- and soul-based music.”
What initially made you want to play guitar?
I knew I would get more chicks than if I played the tuba, and I always just loved the sound of guitar. It mystified me. When I was 13, I was living in Cleveland. That’s when I picked it up.
What kind of music were you into?
Just like now, it was really varied. Back then in my collection I had Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Maiden, Hall and Oates and Slayer . . . everything. I’ve always been that way. I always had a very vast musical taste buds. I saw every show I could. I saw Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and tons of shows. I always ended up going alone. Everyone’s parents were freaked out by heavy metal. My mom would drop me off and then tell me where to meet at 11. I would go and rock the show. I was grateful than my mom had some vision and understanding that it’s no different than dropped your kid at the art museum. It’s an enriching experience.
You played a few different styles before settling on the blues. Talk about what it was like to experiment?
I think when I came out the gate at 18 or 19, I didn’t want to sound like my family. I wanted my own identity. In a cerebral way, I gravitated to what was happening, which was grunge. My first real band from age 20 to 25 was a post-grunge hippie stoner rock Blind Melon-ish Pearl Jam-ish band. We actually did really well with it. Once I was done with that band and ready to graduate to something more organic, my love for R&B floated to the top. I thought if I kind of sounded like my dad or uncle, that’s who I am. I decided to stop worrying about it. If you play from the heart, the comparisons don’t matter. At least I was playing purely.
You arrived it on your own.
Totally. My path was organic. I didn’t grow up backstage around tour buses and I’m grateful for that. It enabled me to find my own way.
Talk about the Honeytribe days. You had a great run with that band.
It certainly laid a solid foundation for where I find myself today. You’re only where you’re at because of where you’ve been. I’m proud of the body of work — the records and the global touring. It’s the foundation I’ve built myself upon.
What was the transition to a solo career like?
I had formed Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville. We had made a couple of laps around the planet and did three records. There was a small break. I was signed as a solo artist. I could have made a solo record or a Honeytribe record. The approach for the solo record was that it was going to be more organic and more of a singer-songwriter style. I had never done that, but it came easily. I wanted a different dynamic live so I hired a new band. It started with the album Turquoise and has blossomed from there. I made more records and used world-class musicians on the last two records. It’s just cool to see exponential growth when I look back every year. There’s never been a lateral or a back step.
Talk about Ride or Die. Did you try to do anything different this time around?
For the last ten years when I would make records, I always was kind of trying to cater to the blues rock lovers of the world. The fact is my musical approach is so varied but I would often quash certain influences so that they never saw the light of day. This time, I thought that I’d earned my stripes and I had my fanbase. I felt my fans were ready to hear me stretch out. With certain textures and fun ear candy going on and really producing this album, I thought it would to be interesting to listen to. I thought about that instead of whether fans of Skynyrd or whoever would like it. I wanted to make a record for me and not give a fuck. When I played it back in the studio, it almost felt like my first record. It was like my coming out. I’m pleased with it. It’s a good step and I think it’s good timing.
Is “Galaxies” about riding a motorcycle?
That’s just posing the question, “Are you for real or are you going to give up?”
Did something in particular inspire “Watch What You Say,” which is also introspective?
Without getting specific, I’ll say that we all go through our peaks and valleys in life with relationships. Pain really fuels art. I’ll leave it at that.
How’d the tour with Rusted Root come together?
Back in the day when they had their hit, they opened for my father a lot, so I’ve known them for decades. We recently ended up with the same booking agent. We did a few shows last year. We had a love fest. The two bands got along really great. The music for the fans was a good blend. I think we’ll eventually be going coast to coast.
Do you join Rusted Root during their set?
I never give away details like that because I want people to come to the show. That’s like a magician giving away the secrets to his tricks. I’ll just say that cross-pollination in music is essential. Last night, I had the day off and drove down to Columbia, Missouri, and I sat in with G. Love and Special. Sauce. They’re old buddies of mine. Any chance there’s a chance to jam and blend styles, I love it. You can expect to see me strap a guitar on near the end of the Rusted set and trading some licks.
Photo: Roman Sobus