He’s been a professional guitarist, singer, songwriter and recording artist for over two decades, but to many, Damon Fowler is best known as a guitar player with a couple of bands whose southern rock pedigrees have helped keep that genre alive. He was a member of Butch Trucks’ Freight Train Band, which was led by the late Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks until his untimely 2017 death. And Fowler has been the touring guitarist, often playing slide, with the Dickey Betts Band, alongside Betts’ son Duane of the Allman Betts Band.
Fowler also is a member of the contemporary blues band Southern Hospitality with blues/roots piano monster Victor Wainwright. Fowler’s new solo album, Alafia Moon, drops on March 26, and is a bluesy affair that consists almost entirely of songs he wrote or co-wrote, with the exception of a cover of Guy Clark’s “The Guitar.” And in yet another nod to the band that has played such a role in Fowler’s musical evolution, the cover for Alafia Moon was created by legendary artist Flournoy Holmes, whose iconic album covers include the Allman Brothers classic Eat a Peach.
Fowler talked with American Songwriter about his songwriting and guitar influences via phone from his home in the Florida panhandle.
“Willie Nelson,” he said, as he began a list of favorites. “I know it’s probably cliché, but I love his guitar playing, I love his writing, I love his song choice, he always picks the right covers. John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, those guys. But there’s great blues songwriters too, you know. Like for [late bluesman] Albert Collins, his wife Gwendolyn Collins, she wrote a lot of lyrics for him and I really enjoy her lyrics.”
As for the progression of his own writing skills, he said, “I’m trying to be more simple, to use the least amount of words that say the most. But that’s not always how it works, y’know? I’m just always trying to get better at it.”
When it comes to who and what informs his own instrumental prowess, particularly on slide guitar and lap steel, Fowler is quick to cite the work of southern rock originator Duane Allman as the apex of the art. “Absolutely Duane Allman, I grew up in Florida,” he said, referencing the area where the Allman Brothers Band originated. “When I was 10, 11, I would listen to my uncle’s country band, playing like George Jones, that was country music in those days. But I would hang out with the guitar players in those bands, and even then [to them], Duane Allman was the king. When I got the Butch Trucks gig, I was playing with Butch and Berry Oakley Jr., and all I could do was look at them and think, ‘How did I get here?’ And when Duane Betts called me for the gig with Dickey, it was surreal for me. But yeah, Duane Allman was the man.”
Fowler uses various, mostly atypical, guitars, depending on the song. “I kind of switch back and forth,” he said. “I play quite a bit of lap steel, and for that I have a Gibson BR-9 and a Fender Champion, I enjoy playing both of those. I have a Harmony 44 that I play a lot of standard slide on, open-tuning slide. My main guitar that I use though, my workhorse, is a guitar that my friend and I made, it’s a Telecaster with P-90s in it and the toggle switch is on the top horn like a Les Paul.”
And to protect his vintage and hand-built instruments, Fowler is quick to give a piece of advice. “When I was just starting to fly a lot, the airlines were just brutal, and I didn’t have a great case yet,” he said. “You need a great case. If I can give any advice to the musicians out there, you need a great case!”
Alafia Moon is Fowler’s ninth album, quite an accomplishment considering the years he’s spent travelling the world with various acts and playing solo gigs as well. But Fowler doesn’t seem to think he’s all that prolific. “It’s not like I just spit out records all the time like some people,” he said. “I wish I could do that. But I’ve been doing it a long time. I’m 41 years old, and I put out my first record when I was 19.”
Fowler has a number of hopeful tour dates lined up this year both in the U.S. and overseas to promote Alafia Moon, and isn’t sure what’s up with a return to the Dickey Betts Band lineup. “I think Dickey’s maybe retired,” he said, “I’m not really sure. And of course Duane’s got the Allman Betts Band. But if they were to decide to tour and needed me, I would totally do it.”