Dickey Betts, of The Allman Brothers Band, Dies at 80

The founding member of the legendary rock group was responsible for such hits as “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.”

Dickey Betts performs at the Pistoia Blues Festival, Pistoia, Italy, July 2008

Dickey Betts performs at the Pistoia Blues Festival, Pistoia, Italy, July 2008

Photo by Simone Berna; Creative Commons; some changes were made; https://www.flickr.com/photos/simone13/2667705298/

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Dickey Betts, a driving force behind one of the most influential bands in rock music, The Allman Brothers Band, has passed away at the age of 80.

A native of Florida, Forrest Richard “Dickey” Betts was raised in a musical family steeped in traditional bluegrass, country, and western swing. As early as 16 years old, he began playing guitar in a succession of rock and roll groups that toured throughout the eastern US. Eventually linking up with brothers Gregg and Duane Allman (the latter had already achieved renown as a sessions musiciain by the late 1960s), in 1969 Betts became a founding member of the band which bore the brothers’ name.

"In 2003, Rolling Stone placed Dickey Betts at No. 58 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time."

While the group’s first two studio albums received moderate notoriety and commercial success, it was their reputation as a live act which propelled them to stardom and for which they are most remembered today. Their towering reputation as unparalleled live performers was catapulted to worldwide attention via their third album release, At Fillmore East (1971), which is commonly regarded as one of the very best live albums from the 1970s, or from any decade, for that matter. Heavily improvisational (some of their live jams were know to stretch out for 30 minutes or more), the band’s signature sound represented a fusion of rock, blues, jazz, and country, with the legendary interplay of Duane Allman’s and Dickey Betts’ lead guitars representing a high water mark for rock and roll musicianship.

While Duane Allman’s untimely death in a motorcycle accident in October, 1971 certainly put a tragic end to that collaborative aspect, the band agreed to continue under the same name, releasing the hugely successful double album Eat a Peach less than 6 months after Duane’s demise (and featuring a mixture of material recorded both before and after his passing, including “Blue Sky,” another Betts song with a countrified lilt that became a signature number for the band). At the same time, Dickey stepped up to share creative direction for the band alongside Gregg Allmann, writing many of the songs and occasionally singing lead vocals. Their next album, Brothers and Sisters, reached Number One on the US charts and includes two of the group’s most well-known hits: the country-leaning “Ramblin’ Man,” written and sung by Betts, and the instrumental “Jessica,” also penned by Betts and named for his infant daughter, whose playful ramblings were the source of the tune’s inspiration.

Following this apex of success, The Allman Brothers Band went through a series of breakups and reunions over the next several decades, including a resurgence of commercial and touring success in the 1990s. During the 1980s, Betts spent considerable time in Nashville, pursuing songwriting and recording interests as a solo artist. His last appearance with The Allman Brothers Band was for a performance in Atlanta, GA, in May, 2000.

The Allman Brothers Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2003, Rolling Stone placed Dickey Betts at No. 58 on its list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (with Duane Allman claiming the No. 2 spot – both had fallen only slightly in a 2011 re-publication of the same list.)

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