Dickey Betts co-founder of Allman Brothers R.I.P.

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20 Apr 2024, 5:56 am

The co-founder of the Southern rock institution was known for “Ramblin’ Man,” a countryfied guitar style all his own, and inspiring a character in Almost Famous

Dickey Betts, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band whose piercing solos, beloved songs and hell-raising spirit defined the band and Southern rock in general, died Thursday morning at the age of 80. The cause was cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Betts’ manager David Spero confirmed to Rolling Stone.

Although he was often overshadowed by Gregg and Duane, the brothers who gave the Allmans their name, Betts was equally vital to the band. His sweetly sinuous guitar style introduced elements of Western swing and jazz into the band’s music, especially when he was duetting with Duane. As a singer and writer, Betts was responsible for the band’s biggest hit, 1973’s “Ramblin’ Man,” as well as some of their most recognizable songs: the moody instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” the jubilant “Jessica,” and their late-period comeback hit “Crazy Love.”

From his trademark mustache to his badass demeanor, Betts was so iconic that he inspired the character of Russell (played by Billy Crudup) in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. “Goddamn, that guy looks like me!” Betts told Rolling Stone of his first reaction to the movie. “I didn’t do the jumping off the roof or the ‘golden god,’ but I knew Cameron.”

In the mid-Sixties, a member of a Midwestern band named the Jokers heard Betts and recruited him for out-of-state tours. Back home in Florida later that decade, Betts formed the Second Coming, a band that also included bass player Berry Oakley. The two ended up meeting and jamming with Duane Allman, who asked both to join the newly formed Allman Brothers Band in 1969. “It took a lot of talking and getting along,” Betts told Rolling Stone in 2017, “but we all knew this was something we had heard in our heads for a long time. We had to talk Duane into calling Gregg because they were having a brotherly fight, and Duane didn’t want Gregg. Oakley and I said, ‘Come on, Duane, the band is too goddamn powerful. We need Gregg’s voice in there.’”

Although his initial role in the band was co-lead guitarist along with Duane, Betts made his mark as a writer thanks to his exuberant “Revival” on the band’s second album, Idlewild South. During the band’s first few years, he and Duane took rock-guitar improvisation and two-guitar dueling to new heights, as heard on the 13-minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” on the band’s At Fillmore East live album from 1971. Right before Duane Allman’s death, the band recorded Betts’ “Blue Sky,” a country-influenced gallop inspired by his first wife, who is Native American; the song that became one of the band’s signature songs.

After Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident in 1971, Betts became the band’s de facto lead guitarist and frontman, a role he wasn’t always comfortable with. Featuring both “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica” — the latter named after Betts’ daughter — the band’s 1973 album, Brothers and Sisters, album crossed over into pop. Betts’ 1974 solo album, Highway Call — one of the best of the Allmans offshoot projects — incorporated country, jazz, bluegrass, and gospel.

The bond between the Allmans and Jimmy Carter, whose 1976 presidential campaign they supported by way of benefit concerts, also applied to Betts personally. “I remember going to a jazz concert at the White House [1978],” Betts told Rolling Stone last year. “Of course, I got there and I left my damn ID at home. But the Marines said, ‘Oh, go ahead in.’ They knew me very well and knew I wasn’t going to do any harm. Jimmy was walking around the premises and someone said to me, ‘Go over and talk to him,’ but I didn’t want to bother him. Then I went to use the men’s room in the White House, and as I was coming out, I ran into Jimmy with a group of people and he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dickey Betts, one of the best songwriters around nowadays.’ That just floored me.”

The Allman's were an essential part of the soundtrack of the 1970s.

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