Dickey Betts: Ramblin’ Man Jams with Great Southern (1977)

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The article “Dickey Betts: Ramblin’ Man Jams with Great Southern” written by Stephen K. Peeples first appeared in Gainesville, Florida’s “Great Southern” magazine in late 1977. This was after the Allman Brothers Band‘s acrimonious split over Gregg Allman turning state’s evidence against former road manager “Scooter” Herring in a drug case. The short-lived magazine was created by local music fans and Great Southern Music Hall regulars, but not otherwise connected to the venue or the band of the same name.

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Fade to the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel (aka Hotel California). West Palm Beach local Dickey Betts and his manager Steve Massarsky introduce themselves to guitarist Jon Thomas and myself, and the four of us wander slowly through the garden pathways to Betts’ bungalow. Dickey’s wearing a nice western shirt and jeans, and a pair of two-tone brown and white boots. Massarsky, with omnipresent clipboard in hand, wears an ankle-to-knee cast on one of his legs. “Awww, it happened during a baseball game with some Arista (Betts’ label) people in New York,” Massarsky somewhat sheepishly replies to the obvious question.

Dickey doesn’t say much until we settle into a few of those tuck-and-roll hotel chairs inside his room. Our bull session takes place early in October 1977, a few days after his “Dickey Betts and Great Southern” LP hit the airwaves and the stores. None of us knows what to expect, save the unexpected, so we hit the record button and rambled with a Ramblin’ Man named Forrest Richard Betts . . .

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DB: Would either of you guys like a beer?

SKP: Sure, I’ll take a Coors. (koosh!) Aah. Okay, first of all, I know a lot of people in the press have really had a field day with you and Gregg, so it doesn’t bother me if we skip it.

DB: Yeah, I was really more a part of that than I actually wanted to be. A lot of people caught me right when it happened and got the anger. (Gregg Allman had turned state’s evidence against former ABB road manager “Scooter” Herring in a drug case the previous year, and Allman’s testimony fractured the band.)

SKP: How’d you couple up with Great Southern?

DB: When I did the “Highway Call” solo album in ’73 with Vassar Clements and a few guys from Nashville, I had a bass player named Ken Tibbets. Kind of a Macon session guy. Ken and Jerry Thompson (one of Great Southern’s original two drummers, since replaced by Dave Toler) had a band with Dan Toler (Dickey’s present guitar partner). So when I contacted Ken and Jerry, they recommended Dan.

bettsThen the keyboard player Tom Broome and the other drummer, Doni Sharbono came into it. Both Ken and Terry had done some session work, but they’d never recorded an album that was going to be their own. So in essence, this is like their first album.

JT: How much material did you take with you into the studio (Criteria in North Miami)?

DB: I’d written all the songs for the Allmans, but we never got a chance to record any of them. So this album wasn’t something we had to struggle with. It was a pretty easy situation.

SKP: The new album’s a shade different from “Highway Call,” wouldn’t you say?

DB: Yeah, a lot of the guys who played on that album were pretty much country-oriented, but it wasn’t meant to be a rock and roll album. It was a matter of, well, I had money falling out of my ears and I just wanted to do something on the side, something I couldn’t do with the Brothers, and it turned out all right.

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Dickey Betts & Great Southern, 1977.

SKP: You were playing in a band back in Florida when the Brothers were forming, weren’t you?

DB: Yeah. Berry Oakley and a guy named Larry – who was publicly known as ‘El Rhino’ . . .

SKP: As in Iron Butterfly?

DB: Yeah. Anyway, the three of us were in a band when Duane and Jaimoe were interested in Berry playing bass with them, and Duane used to come down to sit in with us so he could get used to playing with Berry. Duane, Berry, and I found that we really liked Berry playing bass with us. I had known Duane for about six years before that, so I didn’t think of him as hot Macon session guy coming down to steal our bass player. Duane and I hadn’t really hung around together a lot, but we’d played and sung together before, so he wasn’t a stranger to me.

SKP: Was Gregg in the picture then?

BD: No, not until later. It wasn’t originally going to be called the Allman Brothers Band – it was to be the Duane Allman Band or something like that. Originally, it was Duane, Jaimoe, and Berry. They did some sessions, too – it really wasn’t talked about much, but I think “Goin’ Down Slow” was on the tape. Anyway, the three of them asked me to join. Duane and I worked really well together.

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Center of the Allman Brothers Band’s gatefold debut album cover, 1969.

SKP: Which relates to you and Dan Toler in Great Southern’s makeup?

DB: Yeah, because I’ve always enjoyed playing with another guitarist, and I think maybe the twin guitar idea is part of the reason Duane came down to play in our band. It’s hard to put two guitar players together because one will usually try to outplay or out-volume the other. It takes two guys who really know how to work together, who know each other’s style. I kind of formed my style of writing during those early days with the Allman Brothers, writing around two guitars. So now that I had a chance to put something new together, it seemed best to have another guitarist, because the lines I wrote just worked better with two. I like somebody on my ass, too. I work a lot better that way.

SKP: Like George Terry and Eric Clapton?

DB: Yeah, same situation. I come up with twice as much stuff with Dan on my ass. Like last night we played in Scranton, and Dan was getting standing ovations for his fucking guitar solos!

SKP: (facetiously) Now, does that worry you at all?

DB: It does to the point that it makes me work harder. I’m good enough to handle it, though. But he’s in the band because he pushed me.

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SKP: Can you think of anything in particular that you and he have worked on that was kind of different from what you’d come up with for yourself?

DB: Well, now, wait a minute – I don’t mean to say that he’s influenced my writing.

SKP: No, I’m talking about playing – working out guitar parts and stuff.

DB: So far he’s not influencing me.

JT: Do you think Dan widens the range of what the band is capable of doing?

DB: Right now, any range widening is in solos. And I’m not talking about a 12-bar blues solo, I’m talking about something like “High Falls,” where you’re really put on the fucking spot. It’s almost like creating a piece of music while playing a solo like that. But Toler and I sit around in the hotel room a lot and come up with some real crazy lines, but there aren’t any of them on this album.

SKP: Why not?

DB: Because this album was recorded before we really had a chance to mess around like that. The band had only been together about two months, so we were busy putting together the tunes I’d already done.

JT: How long did the Great Southern album take to record?

DB: It went pretty quickly – six weeks at the most. We did the basic tracks and solos at the same time. It was a very rare occasion that we’d leave a blank spot to go back and overdub a solo. You can listen to the album and then come hear us live, and you won’t miss anything. But I like to use the recording studio – there’s millions of dollars of equipment in there, so why not use it? I think an album is sort of like a movie, you have to make it bigger than life, because when you’re sitting there listening to the album, you can’t see the band. So we used some doubling, and maybe added some fills here and there, but that kinda makes up for not being able to see it.

JT: Do you prefer the studio or the road?

DB: I prefer being on the road, but you can’t do without the studio. When you’re in a studio recording, you have to forget about feeding off an audience. You have to imagine your audience. In the studio, you can still harmonize and be able to hear it played back a few minutes later. But when I’m planning in the studio, no audience is coming through those little (headphone) wires. I’m trying to build a studio at home (near Sarasota), which may not help the audience situation any, but at least we won’t be pressed for time. We don’t want to be worried about – well fuck, you can’t spend more money than you’ve got to record an album. If you have your own studio, budgets become less of a problem.

SKP: The ABB recorded part of “Idlewild South” at Criteria – did that experience have anything to do with your decision to record this one there?

DB: We were in the process of moving from Georgia to Florida, so we just decided to do it down there. I like the studio.

SKP: What about the idea that you’re fronting a band now instead of being part of one?

DB: I’m pretty comfortable with the idea. I’m not real sure how the album will be received, but if the live shows are an indication of people accepting that idea, the album will get them off.

SKP: On the album, am I hearing a splice toward the end of “The Way Love Goes”?

DB: (rather surprised) Ahh, well, there are two drummers playing alternate bass notes…

SKP: No, I’m talking about something else.

SM: You’re talking about the place where it’s coming out of a long slow solo and then kinda speeds up?

SKP: Right.

DB: The one that goes . . . (he scats the guitar line)

SKP: Exactly.

DB: Well, this ain’t any of your business, but I’ll tell you. We had a 17-minute side and an 18 ½ minute side, and you get a much better recording if you can stay at 17 minutes. Especially on rock and roll albums because they’re louder – the grooves need to be wider. Any longer than 17 minutes and the grooves get compressed, and sound can bleed from one groove to the other, causing distortion. So anyway, we had 18 ½ minutes on the first side due to an extended guitar solo. We had a choice to crowd it all in there or splice something out, so we spliced out about a minute at that place you’re talking about. I assume you guys know what I’m talking about, or you wouldn’t be able to tell there’s a splice there to begin with.

JT: A guitar-playing question – I notice you’re doing a lot of hammer-ons, like tapping a string for a harmonic while you’re playing.

DB: Are you talking about pulling notes?

JT: That too – you seem to be playing more than just single-down straight lines. Is the string-tapping something relatively new?

DB: That’s something Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and I are doing. We were in a show in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Billy and I were doing some jams, and I was the one playing lead all the time. So I kept pulling that string and hitting a seventh with my little finger, and he says, “Ooh! Do that again, do it one more time!” So I pulled the string way up here and did it again. Since then, both of us have been doing it. It’s not like just a tap your finger on the string like that.

JT: You can create different feelings or moods.

DB: Yeah, I’m always lookin’. I’m trying to use some echo and phase shifter and stuff like that in a couple of songs. I had a lot of trouble with phase shifters in the studio – when it’s not turned on, it (affects) the tone, so I had to use a bypass to go around it, but I used phase shifters on a couple of things.

SKP: Did you find yourself restricted as a Brother?

DB: I can’t say that the ABB restricted me. I played everything I wanted to in the ABB. But sometimes it was harder to come across like you want when you’re playing a song that somebody else wrote. In that respect, I’m freer in this band. At least on this album.

SKP: A few years ago, Chuck, Jaimoe, and Lamar started messing around after ABB sets and during sound checks. We Three they were – what were your impressions about them jamming around with that jazzy stuff?

DB: I don’t really play that style of music, but yeah, I used to play with them. I play a certain kind of jazz, but it’s more of a Western swing type of thing. If I was going to try to play something comparable to “Elizabeth Reed” with John McLaughlin, I couldn’t play it.

JT: Steve was telling me you don’t have a good acoustic guitar right now.

DB: I’ve got some at home – a real good Dobro and a couple of National steel bodies. The Dobro was made in the Twenties and had been kicked around Nashville for years. But that’s right – I don’t have a good acoustic guitar. I gave the sons-of-bitches away. I had a good D-27 Martin and I gave that to Don Johnson, the guy who co-wrote “Bougainvillea.” I found a 1913 Martin not too long ago in New York City, but I gave that one away too.

SKP: I know you go through electrics about as fast. That’s about a ’56 gold-top Les Paul you’ve got, isn’t it?

DB: ’57. I’ve got a ’57, a ’58, and a ’59, and I’m looking to sell one of them, let one of ’em go. I use two – keep one tuned for slide to save time on stage. I like a Paul – one reason is that you can really bend the strings on ’em.

JT: They’re not always easy to keep in tune, though.

DB: Yeah, I’ve kinda developed a style of tuning while I’m playing over the last few years by reaching across with my right hand to the tuning pegs.

SKP: Looking at the sleeve from the Great Southern album, I see you’re spelling your name “Dickey” now. But the bass player in the collage is wearing a “Dickie” Betts and Great Southern t-shirt. It’s also been “Dicky” Betts and “Richard” Betts. What the hey? Is it “Dickey” from now on?

DB: I don’t know. Hell, I might call the next one “Forrest.”

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RIP, Forrest Richard Betts. Ramble on, brother:

New York Times 4/18/24
Rolling Stone 4/18/24

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bettsStephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multimedia writer-producer and award-winning radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles by career newspaper journalists and music lovers. Based in Santa Clarita, California, he semi-retired in 2021 after a 46-year media career. See the “About” page on Peeples’ website. More original stories and exclusive interviews are posted there and on his YouTube channel.


Article: Dickey Betts: Ramblin’ Man Jams with Great Southern (1977)
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: stephenkpeeples.com