An Interview with Nate LaPointe and Duane Betts

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Last week, Nate LaPointe and Duane Betts announced a “Duo Acoustic” show this Wednesday, June 22nd at Salvage Bar in Downtown Los Angeles, also known as the regular home of “Nate and Craig Play Acoustic Dead.” With two world-class guitar players making some wonderful music in a stunning venue, I knew immediately that not only would I want to go, but this seemed like a perfect opportunity to sit down and talk about music with one of my favorite musicians and favorite people, as well as his good friend, the man who brought spirit and musicianship of the “Brothers of the Road” to the last Dawes tour.

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ON THE SALVAGE BAR SHOW

I was honored to be invited into Nate and Duane’s rehearsal, where they generously took a break to answer some questions about playing, writing, and getting ready for the show on Wednesday. Here’s what Nate and Duane shared with me about playing with Dawes and Bobby Womack, performing the music of The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead, and what the audience can expect on Wednesday at Salvage.

Nate LaPointe and Duane Betts. Photo by Jackson Truax

Nate LaPointe and Duane Betts. Photo by Jackson Truax

Jackson Truax: Duane, music lovers who grew up loving The Allman Brothers Band and have stayed in the scene will know you as one of the guitarists for Great Southern. Yet those same people’s kids just saw you on this amazing Dawes tour. When you’re onstage with these different bands, does it feel like your playing for audiences of different generations or in a different cultural milieu? Or does the experience of playing the live shows feel similar?

Duane Betts: The experience is similar, I’d say. The crowds are a little different. Some people overlap. They like the music, whether it’s a younger band or an older band… Definitely, there’s a big difference in some of the bills… The festivals that we play with Dawes are leaning toward the Mumford and Sons kind of folk festival. But you go on stage and play music. Hopefully it’s a good experience and you walk off stage feeling great. It’s a similar feeling.

JT: Do you think the audiences come to live music looking for the same thing? Or are they looking for different experiences, musically and emotionally?

Betts: I think there’s maybe an expectation set for bands that are thought of giving a certain experience versus a more standard set. But if you’re going to a Dead show, there’s a certain kind of thing that you’re looking for. And hopefully you get that. If you go see David Gilmour…it’s a different experience. But you’re still looking to come away feeling different, and hopefully good… Pink Floyd music is a lot different than Grateful Dead… That’s what I noticed when I saw David Gilmour. It was the same [venue]. It was just a totally different experience. It’s a different thing.

Nate LaPointe: We should start a poll and see what expectations are for Wednesday.

Betts: Yeah. They’re probably really low.

JT: But that hits on something really meaningful. Which is that for the audience that goes to experience live Grateful Dead music, or would see Great Southern or The Allman Brothers Band, there’s nothing more hallowed or sacred than The Show or The Jam. It’s this profound, spiritual, emotional, significant thing. And I’ve seen that happen at duo acoustic shows at the Salvage. And I’m sure it will on Wednesday. Part of the point of this experience is that it’s impromptu and it’s messy. Nate, did you know you were going to play “Blackbird” on Saturday prior to finding yourself in the middle of it?

LaPointe: Someone yelled out, “It’s Paul McCartney’s birthday.” And I thought, “I think I can play ‘Blackbird.’”

JT: Case in point.

LaPointe: I think that people go looking for things like community. And acceptance. And love. Sometimes the music is a byproduct of that, it seems like… What does the audience expect? They probably expect [Great Southern] to play a certain number of tunes that they recognize.

Betts: They expect me to shred.

LaPointe: They expect you to shred?

Betts: Yeah. (laughs)

LaPointe: I think that Deadheads looking for a Grateful Dead experience who come to see Cubensis expect us to play at least a certain number of songs that they recognize. And that we can shred on. But also, even more than that, I feel like there’s somewhat of a community around those situations that kind of transcends the music on some level.

Betts: Definitely. That whole Grateful Dead thing, that’s a phenomenon that’s a lot different than a regular concert-going experience… But what do people expect when they go see Motley Crue? They want to be rocked. They want to see Tommy Lee bang on the drums with his shirt off. And the drums to do flips up above the crowd or something.

LaPointe: There’s a show aspect.

Betts: So that’s different than what they expect when they go to see my Dad. They don’t expect that. But music is music. And there’s different types of music. But there’s twelve notes.

JT: Looking back on the last Dawes tour, there’s so much beautiful Rock and Roll kismet in the idea of you being in this great lineup of this great band that really was formed and fortified on the road over the course of a year. How do you think the music evolved over the course of the tour?

Betts: They asked me to just jam with them. It just evolved from that. Basically, I just look at it like I’m sitting in with them. But it’s not a sit-in for the night. It’s an on-going thing. But I just looked to just play the way I play and add my flavor into the mix. In anything that you do, you want to bring your influence in…and hopefully make it better.

JT: Taylor Goldsmith has talked at length about how tasteful your playing is, and how you know how you navigate where you fit in. You’re a talented enough musician that you could easily play solo shows that feature you as a virtuosic Guitar God all night. But what is it about being onstage and touring as an equal member of a band that appeals to you?

Betts: You can play guitar solos all night. And people are really impressed with guitar solos. But Taylor is a great songwriter. It’s a real honor to play with them and play on some really nice songs. He’s got a lot of really nice lyrics. They’ve formed a sound. They’re a really good band. I just try and get in where I fit in, so to speak. And not overplay but underplay. You want to be heard. You want to make a statement but not be overbearing. You don’t want to change it too much. You want to add to it.

JT: You’re one of a handful of musicians who built an initial following playing with your Dad. Looking ahead to the rest of your career, do you see yourself trying to play more of your Dad’s music? Or do you have other things you want to explore?

Betts: I want to put out some of my stuff. I’ve had a bunch of songs of mine that have been in my pocket for a few years now. I just started singing, probably in the last several years. So that’s a new thing for me. I want to put out some of my music… I like playing tribute to my Dad and my Dad’s music. But I don’t want to necessarily go out and play [just that]. But I don’t want to run from it either. I want to be known for doing what I do.

JT: The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band were two of the bands that most strongly defined the greatest decade of American music. Is there anything in the feel of their music or in their playing that you try and capture when you’re onstage?

LaPointe: I think earlier when you said that Dawes has good tunes, I think that’s it. A good guitar solo is born from a good song. I don’t think that any of those Grateful Dead guitar solos would have been as good if they weren’t in the middle of those great songs. And I would argue that there probably wouldn’t have been as many good Allman Brothers guitar solos if they hadn’t been played on such wonderfully written songs. If you think about, “Okay, I’m at the Greek Theater, and I’m about to go see Bob Weir and Ratdog.” And there’s a kid sitting in the dirt with an acoustic guitar and he starts playing a Dead song. And he’s doing it, maybe not super accurately or super great. People still stand there and they listen and they sing along. Because that composition is coming through… I just have to tip my hat to those guys who wrote those songs.

Betts: Yeah. I would agree with that.

JT: Nate, how did you and Craig start playing Salvage? What do you love about the venue that made it a good place to play on Wednesday?

LaPointe: Our friend Vincenzo [Amato] is the General Manager at Salvage. He used to work at the Waterfront…in Marina Del Ray. It was a great venue that sort of fell on hard times. Vincenzo moved around to a couple of different venues and ultimately landed at Salvage.

Betts: He salvaged.

LaPointe: He salvaged his career at Salvage… Vincenzo said, “Does Cubensis want to come down and play?” I went down and I checked it out and I said, “No.” He said, “Well, does Craig want to come down with you and do a show?” And I said, “Yeah.” Because…the drums in there get out of control. It’s too loud and it’s too bright. So I said, “An acoustic venue is what this is.” It always worked better doing it that way. I’ve brought drummers in there before… But I think that acoustic works better.

JT: How is playing a full band show with Cubensis different than playing a duo or trio acoustic show?

LaPointe: They’re way different. I have fifty percent of the responsibility in an acoustic set. I’m responsible for fifty percent of everything that you hear. I don’t have that same responsibility in Cubensis. So it’s just a different way of sitting within the group. Not that any one is any better or worse, because you have different things to say in each setting.

JT: Is one typically more scripted than the other?

LaPointe: It depends on the show. Maybe one out of twenty Cubensis shows have a written setlist that we do. And the rest of it we just completely wing. There’s also this thing that happens when you’re just doing a duo. You don’t have to communicate with five other dudes or gals. You just have to communicate with one other person. So if we want to make a left turn at Albuquerque we can make that left turn… You’re not steering a bus.

JT: You spent over ten years on the road with Bobby Womack. How did that change or influence you as a musician?

LaPointe: Bobby never phoned it in. When he came to soundcheck, he sang like it was the last time he was ever going to sing. That was a big lesson to me. Because I didn’t always do that. I’d say to myself, “This is just soundcheck.” Or “This is just rehearsal.” So I’m constantly reminding myself that Bobby Womack used to sing like it was his last time. And it was just rehearsal or soundcheck to an empty auditorium.

JT: I want to ask both of you, what’s your favorite thing about the other, as a musician and performer? What do each of you get from the other onstage that you don’t get from anyone else?

Betts: I like [Nate’s] playing a lot. He’s a fantastic player… I like guitar players that have a nice touch. And have a nice sense of melody… He’s very technically capable… I’m honored to play with him.

LaPointe: I like that you play stuff that I wouldn’t. I oftentimes find myself saying, “I wish I had thought of that.” Because it’s melodic, hip, simple, it’s never overstated… I don’t think [Duane’s] ever failed to deliver that.

JT: What’s next for both of you?

Betts: I’m going back out with Dawes in a couple of weeks. And just trying to play with as many people as possible that are worth playing with… Then just trying to do my stuff. I’m writing and I want to get an EP recorded and get that out, so people can hear some of my stuff… I’m putting together a new kind of thing with a friend of mine, Johnny Stachela. He’s a great guitar player. He and I have been jamming together for a while. I want to do some stuff with him… We’ll see what else happens.

LaPointe: There are a couple of Cubensis festivals this summer. There’s something up at Mt. Baldy, which should be kind of interesting. That’ll be fun… Then we’ve got this thing up in June Lake that happens in September. It’s beautiful up there… It like, the next hill past Mammoth. It’s up in the mountains. There’s a series of lakes up there… They’ve got a big festival… They give us these cabins to stay in. It’s great, man. I’m going to be doing some teaching this summer. I’ve got a music program. It’s a day camp situation for middle school and high school kids. I’ll do that in July. In fact, Duane, I might have you come down and play for them. We have a visiting guest artist series… We’ll see if we can make that something that materializes. I’ve got a tour with a blues group called The Reverend Shawn Amos in August. Just a short trip to Northern California.

JT: As you get ready to get down to rehearsing for the show at the Salvage on Wednesday, what can fans expect to hear from both of you over the course of the evening?

LaPointe: We haven’t done a single Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead tune so far, for better or for worse… In fact, it’s been all original stuff up to this point.

Betts: Yes! Hopefully we can stretch some things out and jam a little bit. Play a few of our original tunes. A nice mixture of music. Play some blues? Maybe. A little blues, maybe?

LaPointe: That’ll be our left turn at Albuquerque.

Betts: Some country.

LaPointe: I’ve got a good little country song we should rehearse later. So non-genre specific is what we’re going for.

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