Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band guitarist, dies at 80: 'Dickey was larger than life' (2024)

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. – Dickey Betts, a driving force behind the Allman Brothers Bandthat launched Southern rock and influenced the jam band scene, died Thursday at his Florida home, according to his longtime manager David Spero.

"It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that theBettsfamily announce the peaceful passing of Forrest Richard 'Dickey'Betts(December 12, 1943 - April 18, 2024) at the age of 80 years old," reads the statement from the Betts family.

"The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader and family patriarch was at his home in Osprey surrounded by his family. Dickey was larger than life, and his loss will be felt world-wide. At this difficult time, the family asks for prayers and respect for their privacy in the coming days. More information will be forthcoming at the appropriate time."

The Allman Brothers performeda singularamalgam of rock, blues, jazz and country marked by thepioneering,twin lead guitar playing of Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, best heard on the band's landmark 1971 live album”At Fillmore East." After the tragic deaths of Duane Allman and then bassist Berry Oakley, Betts became thede facto leader of the band, writing and singing thechart-topping single "Ramblin' Man" from their platinum-selling 1973 album "Brothers and Sisters," whichalso featureskey Betts compositions such as"Southbound" and the hit instrumental "Jessica."

Betts released several acclaimed solo albums in the 1970s and 1980s before playing an integral role in reforming the Allman Brothers Band in '89 following a seven-year hiatus. Joined byfounding singer/keyboardist Gregg Allman and drummers Butch Trucks andJai Johanny Johanson (known as Jaimoe), Betts brought his Dickey Betts Band guitarist Warren Haynes into the fold and wrote the vast majority of the material for their 1990 comeback album "Seven Turns," which features Betts singing the hit title track.

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The Allman Brothers spent the first half of the '90sregularly issuing well-received new studio and live albums whilefilling amphitheaters nationwide, often headlining lineupswith popularjam bands who were influenced by albums like "At Fillmore East," its follow-up "Eat A Peach" and "Brothers and Sisters." The Allman Brothers wereinducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 by Willie Nelson. During the ceremony, Betts' explosive guitar work was the highlight of the band'sperformance of the blues standard "One Way Out," which they first popularizedwhen Duane Allman was in the band.

“We had some real tragedies losing Duane (Allman) and losing Berry Oakley and we had to keep the band together, had to keep it effective, and viable through all that period,” Bettstold the Herald-Tribunein 2019. “We took off the (1980s) and Gregg and I put our little bands together and played clubs. After we got back together a lot of writers from Rolling Stone and stuff were calling us dinosaurs and making fun of bands like us and wondering if we could still play and we were determined. It gave us more drive and we showed we weren’t done yet. We made some of our best records and I think that helped put us in the Hall of Fame.”

While many celebrities have lived in Sarasota and Manatee counties including Betts' longtime bandmate Gregg Allman, none have roots as deep as Betts’, whose songwriting and guitar playing would go on to influence acts including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Gov't Mule and Tedeschi Trucks Band. The Betts family started living here, in the southeastern Manatee County community of Myakka City, about the time of the Civil War. Drive around the area east of Bradenton today and you are bound to find Betts Road.

Interview:Dickey Betts on ‘Ramblin Man’ and more of his greatest Allman Brothers Band songs

Forrest Richard 'Dickey' Betts born in Florida

Forrest Richard Betts was born on Dec. 12, 1943. The boy everyone called Dickey traded his ukulele for a mandolin and then a banjo and then an electric guitar because he noticed the electric guitar impressed the girls.

At 16, he left home to join the circus and got a gig playing the Teen Beat stage of World of Mirth, which traveled the country from 1933 to 1963.

“Our band would do like splits and we had basketball knee pads and we’d go sliding on our knees playing and then I’d pick the other guitar player up on my shoulders and we had all this s--- going on,” Betts told me during a 2014 interview at his home. “So we did like 10, 12 shows a day. It was like Vaudeville or something except it was rock ’n’ roll. That was my first road trip.”

Betts’ next road trip was playing with the band The Jokers, immortalized in the Rick Derringer song “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.”

The Jokers were a regionally popular act that could fill 1,500-capacity dance halls. After playing with them in Indiana, Betts returned home and teamed up with fellow guitar player Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt, a Bradenton native who would go on to play with Iron Butterfly and Captain Beyond, bass guitarist Berry Oakley and keyboardist Reese Wynans. They emerged in the late 1960s in Jacksonville as the band Second Coming.

Duane Allman, already a famed session guitarist, and his good friend Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, who had played drums in Otis Redding’s band and then with Sam & Dave, moved to Jacksonville in March of 1969, and soon that’s where the Allman Brothers Band formed with Duane Allman and Betts sharing lead guitar duties, Oakley on bass, and Jaimoe playing drums alongside Butch Trucks, with whom Duane and his younger sibling Gregg Allman had worked with before. Gregg Allman, who was living in Los Angeles in early ’69, joined a few weeks later – at the urging of Duane, Betts and the rest of the musicians – to handle lead vocals and play the Hammond B-3 organ.

Dickey Betts co-founds Allman Brothers Band in 1969

Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band guitarist, dies at 80: 'Dickey was larger than life' (2)

The Allman Brothers Band relocated to Macon, Georgia, and their self-titled debut album came out in November of 1969. The band toured the country virtually nonstop for an entire year and then released “Idlewild South,” which includes the Allman Brothers’ first charting single, “Revival,” written by Betts, as well as the debut of his instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

The definitive, 13-minute rendition of “Elizabeth Reed” appears on the Allman Brothers’ masterpiece, the 1971 double live album “At Fillmore East.” “Elizabeth Reed” is one of only three originals on the album that also includes the instrumental “Hot ’Lanta” (credited to the entire band) and the Gregg Allman original “Whipping Post,” which clocks in at 23 minutes and features some of Duane Allman and Betts’ most inspired guitar playing.

A few months after the “Fillmore” release unofficial bandleader Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. Almost exactly a year later, Oakley died in a motorcycle accident. Both men were 24 years old and riding near their respective homes in Macon.

Betts’ composition “Blue Sky,” the first Allman Brothers song with him on lead vocals and one of the last to feature the gorgeous guitar harmonizing of Betts and Duane Allman, appears on the hit 1972 double album “Eat a Peach.”

“That’s a cool song," Betts said during the same 2014 interview. "I was married to an Indian girl whose last name was Wabegijig, which means 'clear blue sky,' so I was writing it for her and I was writing it as ‘She’s my blue sky, she’s my sunny day’ (Betts sings). And I thought, nah, this would be a better song if I just sang it to the sky instead of to a woman. That was a very good move that could make or break that song. It made it more universal. If you’re a songwriter, that’s not a big jump. In fact, in ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ the original line to that was ‘Playing my music and doing the best I can.’ Everybody doesn’t play music, but everybody works for a living. I asked Gregg to sing ‘Blue Sky’ and actually the producer, Tom Dowd, he said, ‘No, why don’t you sing it.’”

Allman Brothers release 'Brothers and Sisters' in 1973 featuring Betts' hit song 'Ramblin' Man,' which he would later sing with Bob Dylan

The Allman Brothers' next album, 1973's “Brothers and Sisters,” includes “Ramblin’ Man.” Betts wrote and sang lead on the song as well as playing lead guitar. “Ramblin’ Man” is the Allman Brothers Band’s first and only Top 10 pop hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on theU.S. CashboxTop 100.

“I was going to send ‘Ramblin’ Man’ to Johnny Cash," Betts told me. "I thought it was a great song for him. But everybody in our band liked that song. Even my dad liked the song before we recorded it or anything.”

During Bob Dylan's Sept. 30, 1995, concert at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa. Florida, Betts joined Dylan on stage for several numbers including "Ramblin' Man." Betts told the story of how it came to be while seated at his Sarasota County home in 2014.

Dylan says, “Let’s do ‘Ramblin’ Man.'”

“All right, let me write the words down,” Betts tells him.

“I know the words,” Dylan says. “I should have wrote that song.”

Betts unleashed one of his warm, charming laughs.

"I said, 'Bob, just sing whatever you want to.' I didn’t think he knew the words. I figured he’d just make up some stuff," Betts recalled. "He knew the song word for word. Man, it was such an honor. He sang it and I told him later that those words have never had so much feeling. The way he sings, he makes every word punchy. It really was beautiful. It really was."

The success of “Brothers and Sisters,” in large part, because of "Ramblin' Man"made the Allman Brothers rock stars.

An estimated crowd of 600,000 fans attended when the Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead and The Band co-headlined the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, New York, on July 28, 1973. Considered the largest crowd to date for a rock festival, the event drew more people than Woodstock did a few years earlier.

While filling stadiums nationwide during the mid-1970s, the Allman Brothers Band was joined by teenage journalist Cameron Crowe. His experience with the group as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine would influence his critically acclaimed 2000 film “Almost Famous” starring Billy Crudup looking just like Betts.

“I talked to Billy Crudup about it and he said he was playing me,” Betts told me. “I knew Cameron Crowe and I did invite him on the road because he worked for Creem and he did a real good article about me when I did my (1974) solo album ‘Highway Call.’”

Starting in 1975, The Allman Brothers Band played benefit shows for Jimmy Carter, helping the former governor of Georgia get elected president. At the time of his death, Betts had a letter of gratitude from the former president framed in his house.

In 2023, New York Times bestselling author Alan Paul published the book,"Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Inside Story of the Album that Defined the 70s."It focuses on the Allman Brothers from 1972 to '76 and largely celebrates Betts and his new leadership role in the band.

"In this new lineup, any combination of players could lock into grooves with one another at various times," Paul writes, before further elaborating: "Betts, an absolutely monster guitarist playing with confidence and creativity, stood atop this musical juggernaut."

Dickey Betts inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Allman Brothers Band

Through several incarnations and countless controversies, Betts led the Allman Brothers after the death of Duane Allman. During the 1990s he wrote or co-wrote such hits as “Seven Turns,” “Nobody Knows” and “No One to Run With.” The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. The following year a live version of “Jessica” won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

In 2000, Betts and the three surviving original Allman Brothers Band members split acrimoniously.

The Allman Brothers Band continued, though, for 14 more years. The group performed Betts’ songs, from his 1970s hits to the popular ones he wrote for the band during its 1990s comeback years. Betts and his Great Southern group toured successfully, too, playing only Betts’ songs and blues chestnuts, during the same time period. Betts performed in Sarasota at Robarts Arena in 2014. It took place about a week after the Allman Brothers Band’s final show. Betts would not return to performing until nearly four years later.

Betts and Derek Trucks shared guitar duties in the Allman Brothers Band in 1999 and 2000 with Derek Trucks remaining with the Allman Brothers through the group’s final show. Betts joined the Tedeschi Trucks Band in September of 2013 at the Beacon Theatre in New York for several numbers including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Blue Sky.”

“I’ve seen some amazing crowd responses at the Beacon, like Clapton guesting, but never have I felt it as much as with Dickey,” Trucks told me in January 2014. “There is a lot of love for him and a lot of people really excited to see him back on stage. It was a moment for sure and Dickey was great and such a sweetheart. I grew up listening to him and his music and I have such respect for what he has done, him and his son Duane in Great Southern.”

Butch Trucks died in January of 2017 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and then Gregg Allman died in May of the same year after a long battle with liver cancer the singer kept private.

“I’m so glad I was able to have a couple good talks with (Gregg) before he passed,” Betts said in a statement issued the day of Gregg’s death. “In fact, I was about to call him to check and see how he was when I got the call. It’s a very sad thing. I, along with the entire Great Southern family, pass along my deepest sympathies to Gregg’s family, friends, and fans.”

Betts, along with his son, Duane Betts, attended Allman's funeral at Snow's Memorial Chapel on June 3, 2017, in Macon. Allman was laid to rest Saturday near his older brother Duane and bandmate Berry Oakley, both killed in separate motorcycle crashes in Macon in the early 1970s, in the same Rose Hill Cemetery where they used to write songs among the tombstones, not far from the U.S. Highway 41 that Betts sings about in "Ramblin' Man."

Betts is survived by many local family members including his wife of more than three decades, Donna Betts, and his daughter, country music singer Kimberly Betts, who performed around Sarasota-Manatee with her band Gamble Creek, which featured her son (Dickey’s grandson), Grant Tyler, on guitar.

Betts’ daughter Christy married Frank Hannon, guitarist and co-founder of the multi-platinum-selling hard rock band Tesla. Hannon’s 2012 solo album “Six String Soldiers” features one of Dickey Betts’ last studio recordings. Dickey’s daughter Jessica Betts, as a toddler, inspired the hit instrumental that bears her name.

Duane Betts, whom Dickey named in honor of Duane Allman, is a nationally renowned guitarist, singer and songwriter born in Sarasota. As a teenager, Duane joined his father and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band in concert for select songs in the 1990s and then became a full-time member of his dad’s Great Southern group in the 2000s.

Following Dickey Betts' successful 2018 brain surgery, Duane Betts posted a photo to social media of him and his dad on stage raising their cowboy hats to the crowd following a performance.

"So grateful today,"Duane Betts said. "My father has always been my hero, my mentor and my favorite guitar player in the world. I want to say thank you to all of you who have sent messages, prayed and sent good energy to my family and my dad."

Dickey Betts' 80th birthday happened to coincide with an Allman Betts Family Revival performance featuring Duane Betts and Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman) at Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Dickey came on stage during the show to be serenaded with "Happy Birthday" by the crowd. After the show, he was presented with a birthday cake shaped like a Gibson Les Paul model guitar. Dickey Betts' official Instagram account posted that "It was a night that no one in the building will soon forget" and "a fitting way to celebrate the life of a true living legend."

Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band guitarist, dies at 80: 'Dickey was larger than life' (2024)
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