We spoke with guitarist, singer and songwriter Dickey Betts about his new live BMG recording, Ramblin' Man', of classic Allman Brothers Band material, his Florida-Georgia roots with the legendary group, and the next generation sons, The Allman Betts Band debut.
By Warren Kurtz
DICKEY BETTS is best known for his work with The Allman Brothers Band as a guitarist, songwriter and singer on “Ramblin’ Man,” one of seven songs included on this new live CD/DVD package from BMG, Ramblin’ Man: Live at the St. George Theatre, from a concert held July 18, 2018. The other six songs are “Hot’Lanta,” “Blue Sky,” “Midnight Rider,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Whipping Post,” and “Jessica,” all originally from the first classic era of The Allman Brothers Band, 1969-1973, now performed with a seven man band including his son Duane on guitar, plus Gregg Allman’s son Devon as a guest on one of his father’s iconic numbers.
GOLDMINE:Before we get to the new live album, let’s look back on a single that Gregg wrote here in Florida in 1967, “Melissa,” finally making it to your fourth Allman Brothers Band album Eat a Peach in 1972. Where did you meet Gregg? Here in Daytona Beach he was a local hero.
DICKEY BETTS: Yes, he and Duane would play at a club there. I met them at a club in Orlando. I was playing there, and Gregg and Duane came in and they sat down with my band. We met that way. I am from the other side of the state, from where they lived, and now I live in Sarasota.
GM:The flip side of Gregg’s “Melissa” was your “Blue Sky.” On the new album, with seven songs covering seventy minutes, there is a lot of room for all the musicians to shine. The new version of “Blue Sky” is ten minutes long and the beginning of it is not the same as the original record. Its catchiness actually reminds me of Hanson’s No. 1 hit single “MMMBop.”
DB: I didn’t realize that we played it that long, but we did. For that beginning, I started playing a little Grateful Dead-like thing for the Allman Brothers to give the band an idea of how I wanted it to sound. We had originally started playing it like “Johnny B. Goode,” but I wanted a shuffle-bounce. I have since added that intro to the live shows.
GM:Were you in Florida or Georgia when you wrote that song?
DB: I was in Macon, Georgia in our big house that we all used to live in. We had one in Jacksonville, too, which was also a big two story house that we rented, before and during the forming of The Allman Brothers Band, but then we moved to Macon and I wrote “Ramblin’ Man” and “Blue Sky” in the big house in Macon. I was married to a Native American woman at the time, and her name was Blue Sky. I wrote it with that in mind. Then I decided to take the personal thing out of it and give it more of a spiritual, thank you for the day, kind of song, and I think I made it a much better song.
The Allman Brothers Band
Flip side: Blue Sky
A side: Melissa
Top 100 Debut: August 12, 1972
Peak Position: No. 86
Capricorn CPR 0007
The Big House in Macon, photo courtesy of Chris Altmansberger
GM:You mentioned “Ramblin’ Man.” Did you live along Highway 41 as mentioned in the song? My wife Donna and I lived in Atlanta, around the time your Let’s Get Together album by The Dickey Betts Band was released in 2001, and I would think of you, driving on that road.
DB: You know, I’m a Florida boy and we have a road that runs through our town called Tamiami Trail, from Tampa to Miami, and it is part of Highway 41. Back in the old days, and I’ve been around since water, you know, it was the only main road from Miami to New York, before the interstates. That Highway 41 is ingrained in my psyche.
GM:I first heard Gregg’s son Devon on the A Song for my Father compilation. It is good to hear him again, as a guest on your new recording.
DB: Yes. At several of our shows Devon has sat in and played “Midnight Rider” with us.
GM:Our daughter Brianna and I saw Gregg at Lake Tahoe in 2007 and her favorite song of Gregg’s is “Whipping Post.” Mike Kach does a nice job on this song vocally on the new recording and his piano playing on “Jessica” is so much fun.
DB: Yes. Mike is terrific. He has been with me a long time. The band on the new recording is the band that I’ve had for at least ten years, except Damon Fowler is a new addition on lead guitar, slide guitar and vocals. He doesn’t really get a chance to do in my band what he is really capable of doing. Not only is he a great guitarist, he is also a great singer.
GM:Pedro Arevalo on bass is great and Frankie Lombardi and Steve Camilleri on drums are outstanding.
DB: Yes, Pedro is great and then with Frankie Lombardi and Steve Camilleri, I have Little Italy back there. There are seven of us all together.
GM:It seems that everybody gets to solo on the 21 minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” That is my favorite song on the new collection, maybe because it is the longest. The guitars remind me of Santana, and that takes me back to 1969 when both bands were debuting. My father’s restaurant partnership had just dissolved, making him the sole proprietor, so I began to spend more time there. One of our young customers recommended two new bands to me, The Allman Brothers Band and Santana.
DB: Back then we also spent a lot of time in a restaurant, H&H, by the big house. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” has that Latin kind of feel to it, that’s for sure. Carlos Santana and I have been compared a lot over the years. It’s not on purpose on my part. I guess we both like that Latin flavor salsa appealing music. Of course, he is more prevalent than I am with that feel. BMG put a wonderful package together with this thing. It is really nice. It kind of reminds me of our At Fillmore East package.
Dickey Betts, left, photo on H&H Restaurant wall, courtesy of Chris Altmansberger
GM:Speaking of the At Fillmore East 1971 double live album, which was also a seven song set, that is when we first heard “Hot’Lanta.” That song is a great opener on the new package.
DB: I wrote the melody to it. Gregg had the chords. The drummers played the rhythm. I was outside of the house and I came in with this melody. Then after we recorded it, everyone was saying that they heard that melody somewhere before. Later on, when we were listening to At Fillmore East, we found that it is part of my solo in “Whipping Post.” We got a big laugh, “There it is!”
Dickey Betts at The Big House Museum, photo courtesy of Chris Altmansberger
GM:Your instrumentals throughout the years have been so entertaining. From your first solo album, Highway Call, there is the violin driven song “Kissimmee Kid” written by Vassar Clements as the finale from the instrumental side that begins with your composition “Hand Picked.”
DB: I wrote “Hand Picked” especially to play with Vassar. We had John Hughey on steel guitar, who had played with Conway Twitty and Jeff Hanna from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I would run into these guys on the road and invited them to make that record. We had Tommy Talton from Cowboy and there was a bluegrass band, The Poindexters, who would play in town at the feed store on Saturday nights and had never been in a studio before. I took them in, and it was like The Beverly Hillbillies coming to the big town, “Golly! Look at that!” They were great guys.
GM:Tommy Talton told me, “Working and playing with Dickey on his album was one of the highlights from those early days at Capricorn. I think some of his best songs are on it. “Rain” and “Highway Call” are truly beautiful. Tell him I send all my best.” Another song where you brought in a guest with an amazing sound was on “Crazy Love,” in 1979, from the Enlightened Rouges album. I was working at Peaches Records & Tapes in Cleveland and we were so excited to finally have a new Allman Brothers Band album to promote and with “Crazy Love,” as a single, bringing you back to the Top 40 for the second time in the ‘70s. We would play Poco’s gentle and beautiful “Crazy Love,” that Rusty Young wrote, almost back to back with your powerful composition with the same name and with Bonnie Bramlett singing mightily on background vocals.
DB: I would try to get Bonnie to sing and anything I could work her into. That is a great tune and I loved singing with Bonnie.
GM:Another song of yours that I have loved since ’73 is “Southbound” from the classic Brothers and Sisters album.I thought it should have been released as a single.
DB: I think that is one of the best musical tracks that we ever did. Chuck Leavell on piano was just amazing. It took us a long time, almost a week, to record that one song. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but it is so cool and intricate that it took us awhile to get it where we wanted it.
GM:When will you be returning to performing? I am so sorry about your backyard fall but so happy that you are recovering at home with your wife Donna and your old fox red Labrador Mandy, that she told me about.
DB: The doctors have given me the okay, but it will take awhile for me to get my chops back up and get my energy. I have been laying around for six months. I had a brain operation and it takes a lot out of you. I broke my neck and busted my head open. I had a pretty bad fall. It came close to killing me. I have seen people go through car accidents and not being hurt that bad. I was in a coma for five to six days. It was pretty bad, but what do you think about Duane and Devon. They sure have a nice thing going, don’t they?
GM:They sure do, my fellow Goldmine writer Ray Chelstowski gave their debut album, Down To the River by The Allman Betts Band, four stars in our new September 2019 Goldmine issue. Ray wrote, “To learn that Devon Allman and Duane Betts had officially joined forces wasn’t only poetic, based upon their respective talents, it was pretty clear that it was going to lead to some tasty new material.” His favorite track that he recommends is “Autumn Breeze.” That one sure has gentle, moody power and the eight minute length is certainly a tribute to their fathers’ band. When the next generation continues with music, I am very excited.
DB: The record business is so tough that it was hard for them to get recognized but now it is starting to happen. So, Duane and Devon are on my new album and have one of their own all coming out around the same time. It was great talking to you. Donna and I both thank you. It was a lot of fun.
Dickey Betts photo courtesy of dickeybetts.com
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.