Forrest Richard Betts (born December 12, 1943) known as Dickey Betts, is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, and composer best known as a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band.
He was inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and also won with the band a best rock performance Grammy Award for his instrumental “Jessica” in 1996. Recognized as one of the greatest rock guitar players of all time, he had early on in his career one of rock’s finest guitar partnerships with Duane Allman, introducing melodic twin guitar harmony and counterpoint which “rewrote the rules for how two rock guitarists can work together, completely scrapping the traditional rhythm/lead roles to stand toe to toe”.
Betts was ranked #58 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list in 2003, and #61 on the list published in 2011.
Betts grew up in a musical family listening to traditional bluegrass, country music and Western swing. He started playing ukulele at five and, as his hands got bigger, moved on to mandolin, banjo, and guitar. At sixteen and feeling the need for something “a little faster,” he played in a series of rock bands on the Florida circuit, up the East Coast and into the Midwest before forming Second Coming with Berry Oakley in 1967. According to Rick Derringer, the “group called the Jokers” referenced in “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” was one of Betts’ early groups.
In 1969, Duane Allman had parlayed success as a session player into a contract with Southern soul impresario Phil Walden, who planned to back a power trio featuring Allman. The ensuing Allman Brothers Band eventually grew to six members, including Betts and Oakley.
After the death of Allman in late 1971, Betts became the band’s sole guitarist and also took on a greater singing and leadership role. Betts, over the course of one night’s traveling, practiced slide guitar intensively in order to cover the majority of Duane’s parts. He went on to write “Jessica” and the Allmans’ biggest commercial hit, “Ramblin’ Man”. […]
Betts’s first solo album, Highway Call, was released in 1974, and featured fiddle player Vassar Clements. After the Allman Brothers fell apart in 1976, Betts released more albums, starting with Dickey Betts & Great Southern in 1977, which included the song “Bougainvillea”, co-written with future Hollywood star Don Johnson. In 1978 he released an album, Atlanta’s Burning Down. The brothers reformed in 1979 for the album Enlightened Rogues with two members of Great Southern replacing Allman Brothers members unwilling to participate in the reunion: guitar player Dan Toler (for pianist Chuck Leavell) and bassist David “Rook” Goldflies (for bassist Lamar Williams). Several albums would follow with various personnel changes until steadily declining record and concert ticket sales and tensions around management issues led the group to again disband in 1982.
Betts returned to his solo career, performing live at smaller venues and releasing the album Pattern Disruptive in 1989. When a one-off reunion tour was proposed in support of the Allman Brothers’ Dreams box set released in 1989 to commemorate the band’s 20th anniversary, Betts’s solo band again supplied the Allman Brothers’ other guitarist, slide guitarist Warren Haynes. The one-off tour’s success resulted in a permanent reunion which absorbed Betts’s energies for the remainder of the 1990s. This band lineup went on to release three acclaimed studio albums between 1990 and 1994.
Betts was replaced on numerous tour dates throughout the mid-to-late 1990s for what were reported in the media as “personal reasons”. While remaining active as a touring band, they failed to release an album of new studio material after 1994’s Where It All Begins until 2003’s Hittin’ the Note. Haynes and Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody formed Gov’t Mule with former Dickey Betts Band drummer Matt Abts as a side project in 1994 and left the Allman Brothers for Gov’t Mule full-time in 1997. Betts’ last show with the Allman Brothers was at the Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta, Georgia on May 7, 2000.
Things reached a breaking point when the remaining original Allman Brothers members – Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe – suspended Betts (reportedly via fax) prior to the launch of the band’s Summer Campaign Tour 2000. According to Betts himself, the band told him in the fax to get clean (presumably from alcohol and/or drugs). Betts was subsequently ordered out of the band after the dispute went to arbitration.
Betts was temporarily replaced for the 2000 tour by Jimmy Herring, formerly of the Aquarium Rescue Unit. When Betts filed suit against the other three original Allmans the separation turned into a permanent divorce. Betts re-formed the Dickey Betts Band in 2000 and toured that summer. The band reassumed the name Dickey Betts & Great Southern and added Betts’ son Duane (named after Duane Allman) on lead guitar. In 2005 Betts released the DVD Live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.