.From the Heart: The Devon Allman Project Puts Its Own Spin on a Family Tradition

Devon Allman remembers the exact moment when he became the songwriter and musician fans have been hearing over the past decade and a half-plus.

“I woke up, Jan. 3 of ’05, going ‘What am I doing?’” Allman said in an interview with this writer in 2006. “I need to just do it all from the heart, with no thought, no pretense on ‘I’m not going to sound like that or I am,’ nothing. I’m just going to write a collection of songs. I’m going to put the best (band) lineup that I can put together.”

He’s made good on that promise ever since. And the epiphany of 2005 led Allman to regroup his solo band, Honeytribe, which had originally formed in 1999 but was put on hiatus two years later so Allman could spend time with his newborn son, Orion. Honeytribe went on to release two albums, Torch (2006) and Space Age Blues (2010).

Allman admitted that his dedication to parenting was partly a product of his own childhood, which was spent with his mother, Shelly, after she had divorced his father, Gregg Allman, keyboardist/singer of the Allman Brothers Band.

Allman knew about his father as a young child and actually began to grasp his father’s notoriety at a young age as well.

“I don’t think it hit me to the magnitude of his celebrity until I was about four or five, basically by seeing him on the cover of magazines in the supermarket checkout line when he was with Cher,” Allman said. “That was a trip.”

The relationship between Allman and his famous father wasn’t forged until Devon Allman was 15 and he decided to reach out.

“I think more than anything else, I wanted to know he was all right,” Allman said. “You hear stories. You hear things. I remember I sat down and I wrote him a letter when I was 15. It was very basic. It was a paragraph long. ‘Hey, I’m your son. I think about you a lot. I hope you’re OK. I play guitar. I love music. I like Zeppelin, I like Hendrix. If you feel like talking, here’s my number.’ Pretty cut and dried.”

His father called, and right off the bat, the two had a rapport. Several months later, they met in person backstage at the Fox Theater in St. Louis at an Allman Brothers show, and once again, they enjoyed a good visit. By then, Allman was a high school junior, and after finishing that school year, he tagged along on tour with the Allman Brothers Band.

That tour convinced Allman, who had been torn between pursuing acting and music, that he wanted to follow his father’s career path.

The second phase of Honeytribe marked a turning point in Allman’s musical journey. Until that time, Allman admitted, he had shied away from writing songs that might bring to mind the Allman Brothers Band.

That’s exactly what Allman did for the better part of his first decade in music. A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Allman moved to St. Louis around 1989, and his first band, the Dark Horses, made some noise—and nearly signed a record deal—during the 1990s.

“I spent a lot of years in St. Louis really trying to kind of find myself and my sound and my style,” Allman said in 2006. “I was really proud of the Dark Horses project…But I think at the end of the day it was still something that didn’t encapsulate my most natural abilities. So it just kind of fizzled out.

“I think I was a stubborn kid in the Dark Horses, going no, I’m going to play power chords and rock out,” he said.

After the Dark Horses break-up, Allman formed his first lineup of Honeytribe. He had one other project, Ocean Six, which released the album Somewhere Between Day and Night in 2003, before he reformed Honeytribe.

He’s continued to follow his musical instincts since then, letting his Southern rock, soul, blues and funk influences seep into both Honeytribe albums, as well as the music of his next band, the Royal Southern Brotherhood, which he formed in 2011 with Cyril Neville and Mike Zito. Allman left the group after its 2014 album, Heartsoulblood, and sandwiched between Royal Southern Brotherhood projects were two Allman solo albums, Turquoise and Ragged & Dirty.

Allman next returned to his solo career, releasing the album Ride or Die in 2016 before forming his current solo band, the Devon Allman Project, which then morphed into the Allman Betts Band when Allman began writing songs with guitarist/singer Duane Betts, the son of Allman Brothers founding member and guitarist/singer Dickey Betts. That group has released two stirring albums, Down to the River (2019) and Bless Your Heart (2020), that perhaps more than ever show an Allman Brothers Band influence, while establishing a distinctive sound of their own.

“It was a seamless transition, and then the growth was immediate, which was shocking, but also such a blessing,” Allman said in a 2022 interview with this writer about the Allman Betts Band’s formation and early period as a group. “We went from playing 400- or 500-seat rooms to 2,000-seat theaters in 12 months, or less, maybe eight months. So the word got out there quick, and the word got out there that this isn’t a tribute act. This is a throwback band that really can bring it.”

Now Allman is back doing shows fronting the Devon Allman Project—playing with Larry McCray and Jimmy Hall at the Fountain Blues Festival—before the Allman Betts Band return for several shows in July. Then Allman will embark on a unique co-headlining tour with Donavon Frankenreiter. (The duo releases an EP, “Rollers,” on June 23.) That trek will attempt to set a world record by visiting 50 states in 49 days, besting Adam Brodsky’s 2003 tour of 50 shows in 50 days.

It sounds exhausting, but considering how consistently busy Allman has been throughout his career, he’ll probably be back to touring and releasing new music soon after the 50 shows. And whatever comes next, it will be authentically Devon Allman.

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