By the time Duane Betts began working on Wild & Precious Life — his triumphant debut solo album — he’d already spent two decades creating his own version of guitar-slinging, story-driven American rock & roll.
“It felt like the right time to make something that was entirely my own vision,” he says. “This is a record that guitar players will love, but at its core, it’s really a song record. It’s an album about who I am, where I come from, and what I believe in.”
The years leading up to Wild & Precious Life‘s creation were a whirlwind. Duane cut his teeth with the bands Backbone69 and Whitestarr, then spent the better part of ten years playing guitar alongside his father — legendary Allman Brothers co-founder Dickey Betts — as a member of Dickey Betts & Great Southern. He’d also travel the world as a touring member of Dawes before releasing an EP of his own songs, Sketches of American Music, in 2018. As the decade drew to a close, Duane co-founded The Allman Betts Band, releasing two records in 2019 and 2020.
Even so, the need to create a full-length solo album — one that nodded to his musical roots while simultaneously pushing ahead into new territory — continued to gnaw at him. “I wanted to make a record which would really capture that old school Florida vibe,” says the Sarasota native. Following his instincts, Duane assembled his dream team of musicians — including guitarist Johnny Stachela, bassist Berry Duane Oakley, keyboardist John Ginty, and drummer Tyler Greenwell — and took up his old friends Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks on an offer to record at their own Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville. Wild & Precious Life was recorded to two-inch analog tape during a series of live-in-the-recording-studio performances in 2022.
“We set up as a band, tracked everything live, and kept whichever takes had the magic,” says Duane, who co-produced the album with Stachela and Ginty. The band welcomed a number of guests into the fold too, finding room for Marcus King (who swaps guitar solos with Duane on “Cold Dark World”), Nicki Bluhm (whose haunting harmonies run throughout the country-flavored “Colors Fade”), and Derek Trucks (who contributes searing guitar leads to the album highlight “Stare at the Sun”). Bobby Tis handled the album’s engineering duties, while seven-time Grammy winner Jim Scott mixed.
Wild & Precious Life offers up a timeless version of American music — a mix of blues, rock, folk, and country that could’ve blanketed the FM radio airwaves during any number of decades. It’s a modern album inspired by some of the best parts of the past, full of sharply crafted songs written in a state of deep reflection and Duane’s journey toward sobriety. “Waiting on a Song” is a timeless tribute to patience, faith, and the muse itself, laced with fiery fretwork from Duane’s Les Paul Gold Top. “Circles in the Stars” is equal parts cowboy campfire song and folk ballad, with Duane singing a love letter to his wife over the earthy resonance of a vintage, post-WWII Martin D28 acoustic guitar that once belonged to his father. The twin guitar harmonies that define “Stare at the Sun” breathe fresh life into southern rock. “I was inspired by a conversation I’d had with Derek, where he was talking about my father’s guitar playing,” Duane explains. “He told me, ‘Your dad is one of those players who’s not afraid to stare directly into the sun,’ and I loved that line. I was already working on a new song, and Derek’s sentiment gave the song a center.” Even the album’s instrumental track, “Under the Bali Moon,” seems to conjure up its own storyline, thanks to a combination of evocative slide guitar and non-western twinkles of piano.
Wild & Precious Life captures the emotional release of overcoming struggle, appreciating the fleeting nature of life, and celebrating the joy of being present.
Wild and precious, indeed.