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Listen to "When I Left Home" from Turquoise:
“Nobody wants to get to the top of the mountain and be asked how the helicopter ride was. The common misconception is that I grew up on a tour bus and never had to work a real job, and that’s so wrong,” says guitarist Devon Allman, who first met his father Greg Allman at the Fox Theater in St. Louis when he was 16. “Growing up without my dad proved to be very good for me. It made me develop a work ethic and it also gave me an organic path to my musical career.”
Since hitting the scene, Allman has divided his time between two bands—Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood (a blues-rock supergroup featuring Cyril Neville and Mike Zito). Both groups prominently feature Allman’s guitar-playing prowess. Turquoise, Allman’s first solo album and latest release, takes the focus away from the fretboard and sets its sights on songwriting. The opening cut, “When I Left Home” offers Allman a chance to reflect. The sensitive guitar slinger says, “I never really had a song that dealt with my story. I left high school and went on tour with my dad. The day that I split high school, that very night I flew out to New York. I hung out with my pops for a few weeks and then started the Allman Brothers tour. It was, for me, to see what it would be like because I was kind of struggling between choosing acting—theater—versus being a touring musician and making records. As soon as I got out there, I was like, ‘Yeah, I know what I want to do.’”
We caught up with Allman (who has an image of his hero, Curtis Mayfield, tattooed on his right bicep) to get an inside look at the making of Turquoise and also get the scoop on his gear, including the inexpensive resonator that proved to be the star of the recording session and the cigar box guitar given to him by a fan.
Turquoise seems more focused on songs than your other projects, Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood. Was this an intentional decision as you were making the album?
Yeah. It was time to make a solo album without the framework of being in a band. This is a lot more of a laid-back singer/songwriter kind of record. With Royal Southern Brotherhood, there’s a lot going on, and Honeytribe is a lot more aggressive. People that have seen me over the last 10 years might have expected to hear a lot more guitar. A lot of people think that I lean on the wah wah quite a bit but I am really proud to say this record has not one wah wah. The funny thing is that there is a lot of lead guitar on the record but it’s very understated. I really wanted to capture the tastefulness of playing and I kind of took a page from Clapton. Not stylistically but in terms of the approach. I was able to draw from different genres and styles.
The album definitely displays a broad stylistic range. “Strategy” and “Into the Darkness” have a soul vibe, “Homesick” has a reggae influence, and you also have an acoustic instrumental. How were you able to keep the album cohesive?
I have no idea [laughs]. It wasn’t really thought out—I didn’t have some vision or plan for it. These are songs that just kind of came together at the last minute and we laid it down. Honestly, I was just hoping that the voice of the guitar would be the linear thread that would tie it all together. Luckily, it all worked.
The album starts off quite energetically and gradually gets mellow by the last track. Was that programming intentional?
Once the songs were all done, I designed it that way. I thought it was a nice exit strategy to mellow out a little bit. To kind of wrap things up. It’s good to listen to a whole album—a lot of people don’t do that anymore.
Jazz saxophonist Ron Holloway plays the recurring, catchy melodic line in “Into the Darkness.” Did you write that with him in mind?
Ron’s a friend. I’ve known him for years and he’s sat in my with my band 10 or 12 times. He played on my last Honeytribe record. The melody was initially a guitar thing and I was fine with just laying it down on guitar but the more I heard it, the more I really heard him on it. I was like, “Man, it would give it a whole new level of cool to get Ron on the track.”
I understand that he flew in for the session and finished his part in a couple of hours.
He had some things to do with Warren Haynes so we got him in, he cut his part, and we got him out. He landed at 10 a.m. and he was gone by 5.