Happy 50th Anniversary The Allman Brothers Band: Dickey Betts Discusses The Group’s Birth
Fifty years ago today in Jacksonville Gregg Allman walked into a rehearsal for a band his brother, guitarist Duane Allman, put together, sat down at the organ and joined the group for a rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More.” On that fateful day The Allman Brothers Band was born and went on to embark on a legendary career and influenced multiple generations of musicians. Guitarist Dickey Betts, a co-founding member, recently spoke with Wade Tatangelo of the Sarasota Herald Tribune about that first rehearsal and 50 years of The Allman Brothers Band.
The original lineup featured Gregg, Duane and Dickey along with bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Betts recalled everyone but Duane wanting Gregg to join their fledgling project. “Yeah, Duane and his brother were having an argument and Duane didn’t want Gregg,” Betts recalled. “We had five of us, and Duane was singing and there was me singing and Berry Oakley singing but we were guitar players; we weren’t really singers. We knew Gregg and we kept trying to get Duane to call him.
“We finally talked Duane into calling Gregg one night and when he came down I think we were in the middle of ‘Don’t Want You No More,’ the instrumental version we did of the Spencer Davis Group song. Gregg walked in on that and he was saying, ‘God, what a band!’ He was just really blown away, which made us all proud. We were real glad to see Gregg.”
The group took the stage within a few days; moved to Macon, Georgia; signed with Capricorn Records and put out their self-titled debut studio album by the end of 1969. “Dreams,” “Whipping Post,” “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” and “Every Hungry Woman” were among the songs Gregg brought to the band in that first year. The group toured relentlessly in 1970 and released Idlewild South, a studio album which contained such gems as “Revival,” “Midnight Rider,” “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and “Please Call Home.” While the first two albums weren’t commercially successful upon their release, the group became known for their outstanding live performances. So it’s only fitting they broke through with the 1971 live album At Fillmore East.
Just as the sextet was on the verge of becoming a top touring group, tragedy struck. Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971 and Berry Oakley met the same fate on November 11, 1972. However, The Allman Brothers Band continued on with a new lineup and scored a hit single with Dickey’s “Ramblin’ Man.” The initial lineup change wouldn’t be the last as the ABB went through various incarnations and survived a few breakups through their final show on October 28, 2014.
“We had some real tragedies losing Duane and losing Berry Oakley and we had to keep the band together, had to keep it effective, and viable through all that period,” Betts told Tantangelo. “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.”
Betts parted ways with The Allman Brothers Band in 2000. He retired in 2014 and then reformed The Dickey Betts Band for a series of shows last year. Sadly, a string of health issues ended the comeback after three months. “Two weeks before I went on the road I had a stroke. It was a mild stroke, thank God, but it did impair my right hand some,” Betts said. “I went and did those shows and then about halfway through those I was washing my Labrador and she yanked me into the steps trying to get back in the house. I had to have brain surgery so I had to cancel my remaining dates. I don’t know if I’m even going to go back out this year. It’s not very exciting but it’s the truth.” Tantangelo reports that a new CD/DVD entitled Rambling Man: The Dickey Betts Band Live At The St. George Theater recorded last year is due in June.
The musical circle of life continues as tonight the sons of Dickey, Gregg and Berry (Duane Betts, Devon Allman and Berry Oakley Jr.) launch The Allman Betts Band with a showcase in New York City ahead of their public debut on Wednesday at NYC’s Brooklyn Bowl. As the ABB once sang, “the road goes on forever.”