“Think about having a place that celebrates the source of all contemporary music,” says Devon Allman. “That’s the goal of the National Blues Museum.”
Right now it’s Allman’s goal to get the word out about the fundraising effort underway to make the St. Louis-based institution a reality — and to raise the $1.7-million dollars need to ensure that the museum’s doors can open as scheduled in late 2014/early 2015. So far $12.3-million has been raised over the past three years, and a total of $14-million must be achieved in order to take advantage of various incentives for the project.
So Allman and a board’s other nine members — who are from the corporate and educational worlds — have launched “Buck Up For the Blues,” an initiative to encourage all blues fans to make a donation now to help reach the fundraising goal and bring the museum to life.
Artist renderings of the museum, viewable on line at the National Blues Museum web site, depict a facility like Seattle’s Experience Music Project, with a blend of artifacts, films, historic audio and hands-on interactive “jamming stations” where museum patrons can perform the music themselves. Plans call for artist workshops, seminars and Q&A sessions with industry figures, intimate performances with the genre’s stars, acoustic concerts that blend music and history, plus lectures and discussions, industry seminars and a film series.
But first, as Allman points out, the doors have to open. The Gibson Les Paul slinger and son of rock legend Gregg Allman became focused on the effort to build the museum in St. Lois thanks to the board’s chairman Robert J. Endicott.
“At first, he reached out to my family to kind of get our endorsement for the museum project, but I got increasingly excited about the National Blues Museum and joined the board in October,” Allman explains.
Allman hopes the museum will help foster the kind of interest in blues that continues to inspire him as an artist. “I came to blues through hearing blues-rock,” he explains. “I liked the Stones and Clapton and Hendrix, and one day I was listening to Hendrix and came across ‘Red House.’ The sound was so different from his more rock-oriented songs that I knew it was something different, and that I really related to it. So I decided to read up on the blues and discovered Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King and so much more music that I love.”
Allman’s blues roots continue to show in his latest album, the just-released Turquoise. It’s his first solo disc sans his band Honeytribe and his collaborative Royal Southern Brotherhood — which also includes guitarist Mike Zito. It’s also his most personal collection of songs.
“It had to be more autobiographical,” Allman notes, chuckling. “When you’re 22 you haven’t had much life to write about, but at 37 when you’ve been all over the world and you’re a father, there’s more to draw upon.”
The disc includes a cast of stellar guests: Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars, drummer Yonrico Scott, singer and guitarist Samantha Fish (who sings backup on a version of Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”), keyboardist Rick Steff and guitarist Bobby Schneck, Jr. But Allman’s most consistent accomplice remains his Gibson Custom Shop 1959 Les Paul Standard reissue signed in sharpie by Les Paul himself.
Nonetheless, the album really puts the focus on Allman’s lyrics and songwriting. “The intense guitar playing is there, but it’s more discretely blended into the mix,” he explains. “I was interested in simplicity, so I used other songwriters like Tom Petty and Jack Johnson as a template. This is really a coming-of-age album.”