Allman Joy

Melding myriad musical influences, Devon Allman returns to Millville June 11.
By Jeff Schwachter
It’s the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and Devon Allman picks up his cell phone to speak with The Grapevine in advance of his return to the Levoy Theatre in Millville Saturday, June 11 (8 p.m.; $28-$48, with opener Dana Fuchs).
As it turns out, however, the 43-year-old singer-songwriter is “in the thick” of a recording session in Nashville, laying down tracks for his third solo album—the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2014 album Ragged & Dirty.
Despite Allman’s willingness to proceed with the interview, following several dropped calls due to a bad cell signal, the only option is to reschedule the interview.
Fast-forward five days later and the new album—titled Ride or Die—is in the can and has already been sent off to be mixed and mastered for a September release on the Ruf Records label out of Atlanta.
Not a bad way to spend the holiday weekend.
The day after Memorial Day, Allman’s back at home in the St. Louis area where not only is the cell-phone signal a lot stronger, but he can take some time to discuss his big upcoming summer tour, the evolution of his music and the new record.
“I’m really proud of it,” says Allman, son of famed musician Gregg Allman, of the new album. “It’s the most different album of my career. It’s a very personal record, but it’s got a lot of different colors for sure. I’m showing a lot more of various musical influences than normal. It’s very multi-faceted.”
While Ragged & Dirty debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Blues Chart upon its release in October 2014, earning Allman further credibility as a modern blues artist, the new record, says Allman, is another turning point.
Titled Ride or Die, the album, says Allman, exposes more of his musical influences, namely “alternative” rock bands from the 1980s and ‘90s, such as The Cure and R.E.M.
“There’s some real groovin’ stuff on the record, but it’s also a bit moodier [than Ragged & Dirty],” says Allman. “I used to kind of sit on the alternative music that influenced me, [but] that finds it’s way in. And, of course, R&B finds its way in there, too.”
Through his own prolific music career — including founding the band Honeytribe in 1999, playing on and producing records for himself as well as other artists, extensive touring (including with his father’s Allman Brothers Band and the supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood), and even managing a Guitar Center in suburban St. Louis for a stint — Allman has come to discover that the life of a musician is akin to the “human condition.”
“You’re out on the road and then you want to be home,” he says. “Then you spend enough time at home and you want to be back on tour.”
The show, he says, however, is the most important thing.
“You gotta wrap your head around that,” he says, “and be ready to perform for people who are paying to see you. There’s really no other way to look at it. It’s about the people having a good time.”
While writing the songs for his forthcoming album, Allman says he kept in mind how the material would sound in a live setting — both for the acoustic shows he performs as well as the “balls-out, 90-minute rock shows with a 30-minute encore” concerts.
“There are a lot of songs on the new album that will lend themselves to both types of shows,” he says, adding that this summer he’ll be touring with the same four-piece band he’s been working with for the past three years.
Although he’s up to about 30 different countries and counting as far as touring goes, Allman says he’s looking forward to returning to South Jersey, the third date of his six-week summer tour.
“Jersey’s always great, man,” says Allman. “Real music lovers there.”
Following the ultra-positive response to the rock-blues flavored Ragged & Dirty—a project that Allman says was a “game-changer” in his career—the guitarist, singer and keyboardist says he has not only evolved as a performer, but also as a songwriter.
Thanks are due in part to Grammy-winning producer and musician Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood) who produced the Ragged & Dirty sessions, putting together a Chicago blues-heavy band and even writing and co-writing some of the songs in the set, which would be recorded in the Windy City itself. Allman has called the recording sessions “one of the most profound experiences” of his life, especially the tutelage under Hambridge.
“That was a crash course on how to arrange songs,” says Allman, referring to his experience working with the veteran musician/producer. “It was a great learning experience and I feel that the production and the song selection were the best in my career up to that point.
“And I feel that we topped that with Ride or Die.”
Asked if the new album has the same blues-heavy vibe as Ragged & Dirty, Allman says, ““I would say there are some bluesy numbers, but since my last couple of records had been pretty rooted in the blues, this is a little bit of a departure. Things are unfolding more.”
Fans will have to wait until the Levoy concert to see if he’ll be performing any of the new material on the road this summer, which kicks off in New Hampshire on June 9 and stretches through mid August before he heads overseas for another tour.
“It’s a pretty long summer tour,” says Allman with a tinge of nervousness in his laugh. “Probably the longest string of dates I’ve done [together] in a while. But, you know, summer is when you can really hit a lot of people, and do some festivals and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I love playing in the summertime; it’s the best time of year.”
Asked whether or not his Rock and Roll Hall of Famer father has ever given him advice about life on the road as a musician?
“I don’t know, man. I think, if anything, [him telling me] how crazy it was back in the day gave me a beat on [the notion to] stay away from drugs and just try and perform at a top level every night. He never really has meddled, which has been really great.
“All of the [music] industry contacts that I’ve ever cultivated in my career have been totally, 100-percent my doing. I wanted to build this myself. I mean, we’ll talk about the road and the music sometimes, but he doesn’t really meddle.”
Allman didn’t meet his father until he was a teenager—his parents split when he was an infant—but says they have a good relationship as well as a “mutual respect” for each other. He says that he believes his own life in music is a continuing journey and that making a career out of it isn’t for the dispassionate or impatient.
“You’re always learning,” he adds. “I remember being a guitar instructor back in the day and I had a kid come up after about six months and go, ‘Hey, when am I going to know everything?’ And I’m like, ‘Bro, never!’ I mean, there’s a trillion different ways to play what you’re feeling.
“It’s always a quest.”
Devon Allman’s Favorite 5 Albums
“I think if I had those five records they would keep me pretty satisfied for a while.”

  1. 1.Derek & the Dominoes – Layla (and Other Assorted Love Songs)

  2. Curtis Mayfield - Curtis

  3. The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

  4. The Band – The Last Waltz

  5. Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

The following are excerpts from The Grapevine’s interview with Devon Allman.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar initially?
“Man, I just loved music so much. I think that was the thing and I just wanted to make my own. I think it’s that simple. I was so enamored by music that I was like, ‘Well, hey, I want to make some music.’
“I was 13 years old and I saw this neighbor kid play and he was not very good and I was like, ‘Man, if he can do it I can do it.’ Then I started jamming with other kids and putting bands together. Then, by the time I was 15, it kind of took off from there.
Were you always into the blues?
“I discovered it kind of by accident. There was this [Jimi] Hendrix greatest hits compilation and I had always loved Hendrix, and I had never really listened to the final few cuts and one day I did and heard ‘Red House’ for the first time.  And I was like, ‘Man, that’s totally different than the rockin’ stuff and the psychedelic stuff. It was really emotional and kind of darker and sexier. So I started to research who Hendrix was into — Buddy Guy, B.B. King — and that was it. I was like ‘Wow, this is a whole other genre of music that really speaks to me.”
On Songwriting
You’ve said essentially that you trust your songwriting process at this point in your career—how did you get there? And what’s it like to write with that faith in your ability?
“I think you get better at self-editing. I think you get better at admitting when something maybe isn’t developing or working and you’re able to jettison that idea quicker instead of trying to force it to work. If I don’t immediately start singing to a chord progression or a riff I come up with, then it’s just, it’s gone. I don’t waste my time. So, yeah, I think the trusting in your abilities just comes over time. You know, if you do a certain job for 20 years you’re going to be way more efficient at what you’re doing than when you first started. The process just becomes more fluid.”
Is it a melody line or a lyric that has to stick first?
“It could be either or both. Luckily, with the technology we have at our disposal today, if I pick up a guitar to just play and relax and something kind of sticks, I’ll pull out the phone and capture it. If I’m driving in the car and I hear a vocal melody in my head, I’ll just whip out the phone and record it.
“So between album cycles I’m just always storing these ideas. When I get enough of them, I sit down and go, ‘Well, that one’s cool, I’m going to try and flesh that out.’ But, like I said, if it doesn’t come pretty naturally and easily I usually just say, ‘Well, that one’s not going to work.’ If it comes pretty quick, it usually means something.”
I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners
How did that tune wind up on the last record?
“I had rented a little chalet in the Alps in Germany to unwind after a tour and write and I had Pandora on and that tune came on and I was like, “Wow, that’s like one of my favorite songs of all time, I think I’m going to have a crack at it. So, I learned it real quick and sang a verse and a chorus with an acoustic guitar into my phone and I sent it my producer and I’m like, ‘Would this be crazy to do? I just think it’s really suited to my voice.’ And he was like, ‘No man, we gotta do that. That’s a great idea.’ So, we just went with it.”
Self-Producing Ride or Die
Following his experience working with Grammy-winning producer and veteran musician Tom Hambridge on Ragged & Dirty, Allman, who has worked extensively as a producer over the years, decided to produce the new album himself.
“Yeah, I actually produced it myself. And Tom Hambridge was gracious enough to co-produce and kind of co-pilot me through the process. I’ve produced about 10 records up to now. The only one on a label was my second Devon Allman’s Honeytribe record, which is called Space Age Blues (2010). So this is my second label production.
“I just felt the songs were really personal and I just really wanted to kind of expand my sound. And I really wanted to be in charge of the process.”
Special Guests on Ride or Die 
Allman hints at the sound of the new album, stating that he “had a small cast of support for sure.” Among the guest musicians on the sessions, Tyler Stokes played guitar on some of the tracks, Bobby Yang played violin, and veteran jazz/R&B player Ron Holloway (Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Scott-Heron), a member of the Warren Haynes Band, lent some saxophone.
“He played on three cuts and just really killed it!”
Royal Southern Brotherhood
Royal Southern Brotherhood is still going, although Allman left the band in 2015 and was replaced by Tyrone Vaughan, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s nephew (and Jimmy Vaughan’s son).
“And they’re doing great,” says Allman. “They have a record coming out this summer, and there’s no bad blood. I love all those guys. There’s talk about maybe doing a reunion next year or the year after and I’d welcome that. It would be a lot of fun to hang out with them again. I’m very grateful for my few years in that band. We had a blast and made a lot of statements.”
On Working with Cyril Neville in RSB
“Oh, he’s great. We co-wrote songs and co-habitated for three years. And I learned a lot from him. He really elevated my singing and gave me a lot of confidence. I mean, I had to sing at my best to stand next to him on stage every night and sing so he definitely helped to elevate my abilities.”