There is learning and there is knowing. From sit-ins, sessions, and sideman shifts, Duane Betts learned. Then, Duane Betts knew.
As a teen, Betts cut his teeth sitting-in regularly with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Allman Brothers Band, led by his father, Dickey Betts. Named by his dad in honor of his late Allman Brothers bandmate, the renowned Duane Allman, this native of Sarasota, Florida relocated to Southern California in the late 1990s, becoming a consummate musician in Malibu rock bands such as Backbone69 and Whitestarr, and sharing the stage with luminaries from Jack Johnson and G. Love to Kid Rock and Phil Lesh.
After 15 years of honing his craft in numerous bands, the Los Angeles-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter knew it was time to take all that he learned and make it his own. Following celebrated stints with folk-rock darlings Dawes, and with Jamtown- a supergroup featuring Love, Donovan Frankenreiter, and Cisco Adler- plus a near-decade stint with his dad Dickey Betts’ post-Allman Brothers Band outfit, Great Southern, it was time to step out from the side of the stage and move to the center.
It was time for Betts’ own six-string stories and impassioned songs portraying a life, and a history, steeped in blues, rock, and country music tradition to be heard.
Duane Betts knew it was time to go solo.
So arrives his long-awaited recording debut: Sketches of American Music. With venerable guitar, timeworn vocals and enlightened, seasoned songwriting on a six-pack of instant favorites, Duane Betts delivers five of his own freshly-drawn rock-and-roll portraits brilliantly colored in country and blues, plus a special homage to his Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame dad Dickey Betts. Enlisting the guiding pen of respected songsmith Stoll Vaughan and veterans Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Marc Ford (Black Crowes) for a production hand on sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles, Betts unveils an inaugural EP sure to cement his place as a solo artist all his own.
“Sketches to me is not a beginning but an extension. I grew up with a guitar in my hand yet at the same time I was surrounded by songs that were iconic. Music was always a focal point in my family and songwriting was the cornerstone,” explains Betts. “I have witnessed in many situations, playing with my father or the countless others, that the song is what ignites the connection. Now that I have this opportunity to play in my own group I can bring my songs as the next experience in that lineage.”
‘My mother, she married a ramblin’ man,’ Betts sings on the opening “Taking Time,” a rolling rocker that both acknowledges and separates Duane from his life-story. It’s a familiar theme running through the half-dozen tracks. To “Downtown Runaround,” and the powerful demons of temptation, too, it’s treacherous territory Betts sings of firsthand. His guitar, the fitting instrumental partner of pleading and catharsis; bending notes in tones truthful and resounding, red-hot and steel-blue.
“These songs don’t just reflect who I am,” says Betts. “They reflect feelings I hope are universal to everyone. I surely don’t think I have exclusive rights to the joy or the pain that life can bring.”
There’s the pensive, Cropper-helmed “When We Get Home,” and the nod to Dickey on a remake of his “California Blues,” as the scion shows he’s got some guitar licks tasty enough to make a father proud. Then, to Marc Ford producing and dusting off his drum skills for the acoustic-flecked ballad “Think I’m Doing Well.” One can almost see the sun, orange and radiating, sliding under the Pacific horizon.
The EP closes on “Ride It Out,” a beautifully unfolding bookend to a journey that started in the swamps of Florida, traces its way through Nashville, across the plains of Texas, and comes to rest the in the West Coast cradle of Southern California.
Currently, Betts is dividing his time between his own band, the Pistoleers, a 2018-19 world tour as a guest with the Devon Allman Project, (assembled by the son of the late Gregg Allman), and reuniting with dad Dickey Betts and his Band for a round of summer 2018 tour dates.
Duane Betts picked up a lot along the way. With every note and every word, he’s showing what he’s learned, while holding with the utmost respect what’s been passed to him.
“There are traits that have been shared with me; maybe a sense of melody or phrasing. I certainly think some of those have been inherited, perhaps instinctually, but also some come from hearing things all around me growing up” says Betts. “I have worked hard to create my own identity, but I don’t think anyone can really get around that history if it’s there. And, I’m honored and grateful to be a part of that legacy.”
Here is Duane Betts and his Sketches of American Music.