Duane Betts is the son of famed guitarist Dickey Betts. He was named after the late Duane Allman and he spent his formative years touring with The Allman Brothers Band. While most people would try to live up to these sentiments, he seems to be focused on what he can do rather than what his father did. Speaking to him was refreshing and easy because of his humility and the depth of knowledge he has for show business. He has been jamming with Cisco Adler, Donovan Frankereiter and G. Love in California and is about to hit the road with his band as support for The Devon Allman Project. 2018 is going to be a big year for Betts and we will get to hear some of his original music. He took some time while in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to talk to us about music and the start of his solo career.
When was the first time you picked up a guitar?
Well, that is funny because my dad actually gave me a guitar when I was really young. He probably put a guitar in my hands when I was four or five, maybe. It just seemed too hard. I was somewhere around that age, maybe about five or six. I didn’t really like it because it was really difficult for me to finger the chords so I told him I wanted to play drums. He got me a drum set and then I became a drummer. So I was actually a drummer until about thirteen. I was playing in bands with my friends just like jamming in a house or something, ya know? I would see a guitar laying there and I would pick it up when we would take breaks and I started noticing I was getting better so it grew from there. I was about thirteen.
I read that you were going to stray away from being a musician what changed your mind?
Well, I was into the behind the scene stuff but I never wanted to be a tour accountant or anything. I grew up on the road throughout my high school years. I was home schooled. So it became a thing where I was really interested and intrigued by the business…like how many tickets were sold, ticket counts, what markets were stronger, if a market was doing better then expected. There were always strong markets that we knew the band would do well in. They would share all that information with me. Not that it was really sensitive information but it was cool because I was into it. But really, I wanted to be a drummer then when I switched to guitar I wanted to be a guitar player and I put a lot of time into it.
How did growing up around legendary musicians help shape you as a musician but also as a person in general?
I think musically you just pick it up. Being able to play with people like that at a young age definitely you learn things that you wouldn’t learn. Ya know, just how a band works. You learn the ins and outs of like when you sit in on stage with someone there is a etiquette but as far as being around people of that stature as a kid it seems kind of normal. As you get older then you realize how it’s shaped you. While it is happening its just sort of normal because it is your normal but later on you see how being around the influence of people that really spent a lifetime working at their craft and had god given talent and really could transcend energy to a very large audience, that is a different thing than show business. That can’t be taught. It definitely helped shape me. I think my dad was pretty conscious of that when he wanted me to go on tour and be home schooled. I think he had that in mind that it would shape me.
What kind of guitar do you play?
Mainly, I lean towards Gibson. I am kind of a Gibson guy. I play a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top and I have a 1957 Fender Strat that I like to play a lot but I don’t I don’t use it on as many things. I pull that out to get a different sound. I don’t have a ton of guitars but I do have a few other ones. It just depends because if you’re on a tour you can have more guitars but if you are just going to do a few gigs you would just bring your main guitar. So the Gold Top is my number one.
How are you feeling about starting your solo career?
I am feeling really good about it right now. I mean I have been working on demos and recording some stuff and writing a lot over the last few years. I have been touring with different artists I was on tour with Dawes for a year and a half. Lately I have been playing with Donavon Frankenreiter and G Love and my friend Cisco Adler. They started a project called Jamtown. They were going to do a record and Cisco was going to produce it and then they decided to all three do it, and so I have known those guys for along time so they brought different musicians to play on it. I played on a few things so I am in that band. G and Donovan tour a lot so that is a spread out thing. But as far as my stuff goes I am really excited to put things out. I have been sitting on stuff for a bit now and waiting for the right time to do it. I think 2018 is shaping up like a good year for me to do a lot of touring. I am going to do quite a bit of touring with Devon Allman. I am going to play a set and he is going to play his set and then maybe we will play some together at the end of the night. That’ll be cool. I am really looking forward to getting some stuff out. I have been looking forward to it for a few years now.
When does the tour with Devon (Allman) start?
Well the first thing that we are going to do is December 8th at the Fillmore in San Francisco. That is kind of a big show that he is putting together and initially he just asked me to be a guest as there will be many guests that night that are basically going to be sitting in with his band and doing different songs. Luther and Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), I think G Love is going to be there, Bobby Whitlock from Derek and the Dominos, a few other people, Jimmy Hall is going to be singing. He asked me to do that and then it turned into a thing about us touring together. Then he was like why don’t you just open that show too. So I am going to open up with my band first. Then all the guests will sit in, it’s going to be a fun night. That will be the first gig we are playing together.
How many parts make up your band?
When I have my full band I have… I have my kind of my right hand man guitar partner his name is Johnny Stachela. He is a really good guitar player. He plays great slide. I have been playing with him… we have known each other for years and years, but we have been playing and jamming together a lot over the last several years. Then I have bass and drums and the two guitars (me and Johnny) and a key board player. So how many is that? Five. I prefer a five piece band but sometimes you have to do it without the key boards. It depends on what the gig is and what the budget is.
Describe your music with three adjectives.
Classic, Timeless and Meaningful… soulful.
Describe yourself with three adjectives.
Deep, Optimistic and Genuine.
Are you a songwriter? Do you sit down and write a lot?
I write a lot. I don’t sit down and write notebooks full of poetry. I am not that kind of writer. I have a songwriting partner that I have written a lot of songs with over the last few years. I have written a lot on my own too. When I am just writing by myself, I will usually get a chord change and start humming a melody and then the words will come… or they won’t (laughing). A melody over chords…that is usually first. I never come up with words first. I don’t quite have that. As far as people who can write pages and pages of stuff and then put words to it, that’s not me.
Do you have a story from touring we haven’t heard before?
I have a lot of stories. One of the bands I was in in my early twenties was on tour with Kid Rock. We had a guitar tech that some how had his dad’s credit card. We were on tour with Kid Rock so on show days we would get a room at his hotel. We all wanted to have a good time and if we wanted to party with him it made sense that we would have to be at his hotel. They were all Ritz Carlton’s and Four Season’s and instead of getting out own rooms are guitar tech would put the presidential suite on his dad’s credit card. I don’t know how much money he ran up but I remember we had some fun times in different cities. Bob, that’s Kid Rock’s name, everyone knows his name is Bob Ritchie, he was like “Man, you know you guys can really keep up.” And we were like “Yeah, we try…” (laughing)… That’s a fun story.