Duane Betts

Father to Son
Duane Betts
Duane Betts: Dylan Jon Wade Cox.

It’s understandable if you detect a certain Southern-rock flare in the music of singer/guitarist Duane Betts. After all, his father is longtime Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts and he shares a name with the legendary Duane Allman.

On his first solo album, Wild & Precious Life, the 45-year-old pays tribute to his musical roots while also putting a very personal touch on the music. Betts (who is also a member of the Allman Betts Band with Devon Allman and Berry Oakley, Jr.) spoke with Vintage Guitar about his solo debut, gear, and guitarists he admires.

What made you decide to release your first-ever solo album now?
I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I became a singer later. I was always a guitar player and wrote songs in bands, but I never really took on a lot of the lead-singing responsibility. As I started singing more and writing more, it was a natural progression to get it out.

How does Wild & Precious Life differ from a Allman Betts Band release?
With Allman Betts Band, you still have my stamp on it, but this is a more-pure version of me, my personality, my story, and where I’m at in life. The instrumentation is pretty much the same and the style isn’t drastically different. But my personality is stamped hard on this.

What was your guitar setup for the recording?
I mainly used my Les Paul – the Dickey Betts signature prototype #1, and I played through a ’65 Deluxe Reverb I got from Derek Trucks. There’s a ’61 335 on a few songs, and that was pretty much it.

For effects, I used a Dan Drive Secret Engine fuzz that J.D. Simo gave me, on “Cold Dark World.”

The acoustic I used was a late-’40s Martin D-28. It’s my dad’s guitar and it’s one of my favorites.

Johnny Stachela joined you on the album, playing a few vintage instruments along with his Custom Shop ’61 SG through a mid-’60s Vibrolux Reverb…
Johnny was a huge part – the other half of the guitar work is him.

Which songs are you most proud of, guitar-wise?
I really like the solo in “Under the Bali Moon.” There’s a lot of pain and angst in it. I’m also really proud of some of the acoustic tracks, like “Waiting on a Song”; I really enjoyed the live jam – just us playing in the room, with no overdubs.

I also like “Circles in the Stars,” which doesn’t have any guitar solo at all. There’s a little melody that leads out before it breaks down for the final acoustic verse. It’s just a simple “lullaby melody” I play on guitar. Sometimes those really simple, beautiful melodies are the things I’m most proud of, rather than a ripping guitar solo. Almost like a child could hum them. That’s really rewarding.

Did your father ever give you pointers about playing guitar?
That you can learn lot just from listening and watching people play. I’ve been onstage watching him play, playing in bands with him, and watching Warren [Haynes] play – and listening to Warren. They rubbed off on me quite a bit.

My dad, I’d say, is my favorite player. But when I was learning, it was just listen, listen, listen to records constantly, training my ear. I didn’t want to have too much interference with people coming in and telling me what to do. I liked to isolate and listen to music and learn stuff by myself. But then my dad would come in and give me really valuable insight – like, how to play Chuck Berry and showing the right way to play 12-bar blues. A lot of that you pick up by watching and listening. But the elementary building-block stuff, he showed me.

Who are your favorite modern guitarists?
Derek Trucks is at the top of the list. Eric Krasno is a good friend and somebody I love. Luther Dickinson – I love his playing. I like a lot of people who are in “the rock”– I like what Jack White does, I like Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I also like more-experimental people who aren’t necessarily “bluesy” – Johnny Marr from the Smiths; J.D. Simo and Blake Mills are two of my favorite younger guitarists. Also, I love Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. There’s a lot of different stuff to pull from.

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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