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Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel with Cordovas
October 12, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
This is a night of music you don’t want to miss. Victory North and Classic Colt Productions are proud to bring Duane Betts & Palmetto Hotel and Cordovas to Savannah for their first show at Victory North. This show is going to blow you away.
Duanne Betts Bio
Duane Betts, Wild & Precious Life
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 mu-sical 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 Gram-my 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 pa-tience, 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 bal-lad, with Duane singing a love letter to his wife over the earthy resonance of a vin-tage, 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 cen-ter.” 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, ap-preciating the fleeting nature of life, and celebrating the joy of being present.
Wild and precious, indeed.
The story of Cordovas is one of rock ’n’ roll seekers, hammering away in search not just for a platonic ideal of their freewheeling sound, but also for some greater truth about our experience as humans. The band is fueled by the long strange trip of frontman Joe Firstman, who had a circuitous path through his young adulthood — spat out from the major label system, a stint as a bandleader on Last Call With Carson Daly, and finally finding his way back to himself, a mystic classicist who has guided Cordovas through their own series of twists and turns. That includes music yet.
Cordovas’ origins go all the way back the early ‘10s, when Firstman decided he was best with a band around him. After releasing a self-titled debut and undergoing various iterations, things really started cooking when guitarist Lucca Soria joined the fold. Firstman describes him as “the one soldier that understands what I’m doing best.” Soon the band’s vision cohered further, and they signed to ATO, releasing the quick one-two of That Santa Fe Channel in 2018 and Destiny Hotel in 2020.
While it might seem like Cordovas were away a bit longer this time, the music never stopped.
The group, in whatever form it currently exists, is always active. “When you finish your record, you’re starting the next one,” Firstman explains. Cordovas is a state of constant flow: Firstman, Soria, and their various co-conspirators gathering in their twin outposts — a farm in Nashville, and a hideout in the artist community of the Baja California town Todos Santos — to jam out ideas. Before the dust remotely began to settle on Destiny Hotel, Cordovas were already back in the shop, working up a trove of songs from which The Rose of Aces would emerge.
Once Cordovas had about 20 songs they were happy with, they linked up with producer Cory Hanson. Firstman bemusedly describes the theoretical mismatch of the pairing — Hanson the Southern California kid coming out to Nashville to work with “a whole bunch of, you know, Americans.” Whatever culture clash might’ve been there was just extra gasoline. “He brought a super-charged way of thinking because he’s a genius,” Firstman says. “He’s built his life wanting to sound like himself.” Hanson ended up contributing vocals and guitar to the album as well.
The Rose of Aces begins with a conjuring. “Your song comes on like a cure/ And you remember who you were before/ How many times did music save your soul?” Firstman asks on opener “Fallen Angels of Rock ’n’ Roll.” He goes on to trace rock history from Memphis to Muscle Shoals — though he’ll also quip he’s never actually been to Muscle Shoals. “I’m also aware of all the stuff that came through those places,” he says. “The criss-cross of American highways, you can’t take that away from me, man. I’ve ridden those dirty roads a lot.”
As is their custom, Cordovas held on to “Fallen Angels of Rock ’n’ Roll” for years, road-testing it and letting it come into its own before it was time to really get it into shape for recording. Firstman reflects on how Cordovas’ always sharpening chops — the band’s playing, but also his ability to push his voice further — let the song be what it always wanted to be over the years.
While the song gives the album a rallying cry, it’s not without its wistfulness — its title reflecting on friends back in the day who didn’t make it. “The important part is don’t forget what music does for you,” Firstman says. “It can make you sad, it can make you happy, it can remind you of a better time.”
There’s no better way to kick off The Rose of Aces and Cordovas’ new chapter. The band has long cited influences like the Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, and The Band. And while Cordovas can certainly jam, they’ve also long been acclaimed as tapping into the more songwriting-oriented side of those forebears. From “Fallen Angels of Rock ’n’ Roll” onward, you can hear the band honing their craft across The Rose of Aces. “What Is Wrong?” is a sunburnt twilight sigh of a song — originating with some ideas of Soria’s that the band then toyed with, adding some lyrics (“Are you ready?/ If you’re free enough to do it on your own”) that Firstman worked on with his girlfriend. Throughout his career, Firstman has taken fragments of various American traditions and turned them over into new lights, and you can almost hear Cordovas’ music as a travelogue — easy-going yet careening forward, from the laidback rollick of “Sunshine” to the swamp grooves of “Deep River” to, eventually, nodding to their home south of the border with closer “Somos Iguales.”
In true rock spirit, joints are lit and roads are rambled down. Salvation is sought, but characters stumble into sordid corners, too. “High Roller,” another highlight of the album, tells the story of the narrator and his compatriot Stanley having a chaotic bender at a casino.
When they’re camped out, friends and artists come and go. The band jams, and writer pals gather to dissect Marcel Proust or Marcus Aurelius. There’s an almost old-school, utopian scene at play — like-minded individuals not just improvising and seeing where it goes, but seeking a purpose through that discourse. There are all kinds of characters in Cordovas’ orbit, including the namesakes of the album — hotel owners Ace and Rose down in Mexico, who Firstman paid tribute to via an imagined Tarot card of an album name.
If the whole thing sounds like some kind of fantasy, it didn’t come without a lot of missteps and rebirths, sweat and hard work. Now 43, Firstman has already lived more than a few lives. Raised by a weed dealing vet father and an opera singer mother in Charlotte, the young Firstman took a Greyhound to Los Angeles in the early ‘00s and quickly became a buzzy young songwriter. He was signed to Atlantic, and released a solo debut called The War of Women in 2003. While the album led to some burgeoning success — including opening slots for Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson — Firstman embarked on era of self-sabotage. “I was a fucking drunken nightmare, and the songs weren’t as good the second time around,” he admits. Soon, he was dropped from Atlantic, but landed on his feet with the bandleader gig on Carson Daly’s show, where his bandincluded Kamasi Washington and Thundercat.
“I wanted to sing songs I wasn’t embarrassed of,” Firstman says of the transition from those years to Cordovas. As matter-of-fact and self-deprecating as he can be about his early LA days, Firstman also holds that time dear as a crucible, all the hard lessons he had to learn to become who he is now. “Everything is victory as long as you can pull it out of the trash and polish it off and identify it as such,” Firstman reflects. “That’s a big part of Cordovas. We wanna be better people — but not just for nothing.”
That brings us to the parables of Cordovas, the stories on The Rose of Aces arriving 20 years on from Firstman’s initial stint in the music industry. “With the philosophy, I’m trying to get you to change your brain and work in a useful way for society,” Firstman says. “What happens when you let that stuff in and you become it? What does your brain tell you then? Go feel that, and the standard you set and the call you make to your friends and the thing you said you were gonna do that mattered. How did you feel the next morning? What song did you write?”