Singer/guitarist Devon Allman remembers the exact moment when he became the songwriter and musician fans hear with his band Honeytribe on the group’s stirring debut album, Torch.
“I woke up one morning going, ‘What am I doing?'” he says. “I felt I needed to just do it all from the heart, with no thought, no pretense … I’m just going to write a collection of songs. I’m going to put the best band lineup that I can put together. Literally, by that evening I had put Honeytribe together. It was that easy.”
The current lineup, which formed in 2005, includes Allman on vocals and guitar, with drummer Mark Oyarzabal, bassist George Potsos, and keyboardist Jack Kirkner.
Until that time, Allman admits, he had shied away from writing songs that might bring to mind another band with his last name — the Allman Brothers Band. His father is Gregg Allman, singer/keyboardist for that legendary Southern rock band. Like many sons of famous musicians, Allman wanted to carve out his own identity.
That’s exactly what the young Allman has been doing for the better part of a decade. A native of Corpus Christi, he moved to St. Louis around 1989. His first band, the Dark Horses, made some noise during the 1990s.
“I spent a lot of years in St. Louis really trying to kind of find myself and my sound and my style,” says Allman. “I was really proud of the Dark Horses project. It was a very organic rock thing that really spoke to me at the time. We got really close to signing a major label deal, and we went out to L.A. for awhile, played for everybody, went to all the dinners, and listened to all the B.S. But I think at the end of the day it was still something that didn’t encapsulate my most natural abilities. So it just kind of fizzled out. I think I was a stubborn kid in the Dark Horses going, no, I’m going to play power chords and rock out.”
Allman didn’t wait long after the Dark Horses split to move ahead, forming his first version of Honeytribe around 2000. That unit, though it lasted only a year or so, partly because its horn-spiced eight-person lineup proved unwieldy to hold together and because after Allman had his son, Orion, he wanted to take time away from touring to be a stay-at-home dad.
He admits that his dedication to parenting was partly a product of his own childhood, which was spent with his mother, Shelly, after she had divorced Gregg Allman. Devon knew about his father as a young child and actually began to grasp his father’s notoriety at a young age as well.
“I don’t think the magnitude of his celebrity hit me until I was about four or five, basically by seeing him on the cover of magazines in the supermarket checkout line when he was with Cher,” Allman says. “That was a trip.”
Devon Allman didn’t forge a relationship with his famous father until he turned 15 and decided to reach out.
“I think more than anything else, I wanted to know he was all right,” says Allman. “You hear stories. You hear things. I remember I sat down and I wrote him a letter when I was 15. It was very basic. It was a paragraph long. ‘Hey, I’m your son. I think about you a lot. I hope you’re OK. I play guitar. I love music. I like Zeppelin, I like Hendrix. If you feel like talking, here’s my number.’ Pretty cut and dry.”
His father called, and right off the bat, the two had a rapport.
“It was really odd, but it was as if I had known him the whole time,” he remembers. “I guess that’s just a father-son connection that you just always had.”
Several months later, they met in person backstage at the Fox Theater in St. Louis at an Allman Brothers show, and once again, they enjoyed a good visit. By then, Allman was a high school junior. After finishing that school year, he tagged along on tour with the Allman Brothers Band. That tour convinced Allman, who had been torn between pursuing acting and music, that he wanted to follow the career path of his father.
Even though he wasn’t around his father growing up, Allman was drawn to similar musical influences — namely blues, soul, rock, and country. On Torch, those influences occasionally help bring out a sound — especially on the songs “Something I Know” and “Perfect World” — that evokes the Allman Brothers Band.
The blazing boogie of the title song and “Heaven Has No Mercy,” for instance, recall the Black Crowes, while a good bit of Southern soul is in the heartfelt ballad “When I Call Home.” The instrumental “Mahalo” gets an island feel from its laid-back rhythm and silky guitar melody, while “Why You Wanna Bring Me Down” and “Mercy Mercy” offer up some potent blues-rock.
“When you listen to Torch, you don’t think Allman Brothers at first,” says the bandleader. “There’s quite a bit more spunk and other influences to draw on.”