By Steve Newton
On April 2, 1989, southern-rock legend Dickey Betts brought his new band to Vancouver for a show at the 86 Street Music Hall. One of the coolest things about that gig was that it was the Vancouver debut of 28-year-old guitarist Warren Haynes, who would go on to huge acclaim as the driving force behind American blues-rock/jam band Gov’t Mule.
Betts was touring behind his first and only Dickey Betts Band album, Pattern Disruptive, which included “Duane’s Tune”, an instrumental tribute to his former coguitarist in the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman. When I interviewed Betts in advance of the show, I asked him what he thought Allman might be doing if he were still around today.
“He’d probably be pulling his hair out at some of the music that’s around,” replied Betts with a chuckle. “But most likely he’d be producing albums—he was always very strong in the studio. And hopefully he’d be playing with me once in a while.”
Needless to say, I journeyed out to the old Expo ’86 nightspot to see Betts a quarter-century ago, and according to this review that ran in the Georgia Straight newspaper the next week, was pretty impressed. The “wicked slide guitarist” I mentioned must have been Haynes.
Charlie Daniels once recorded a song called “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”, and he could be right. Judging by the way things went last Sunday at 86 Street, the sound of the south is alive and well and living in people like guitarist Dickey Betts.
The former Allman Brother brought his own band to town for the first time, and dealt a rip-snortin’ set of new tunes and old Allman classics that had the crowd in hog-heaven for nearly 90 minutes. Betts started off with “Rock Bottom”, the ballsy opening track from his new LP Pattern Disruptive, then quickly went back to 1972 for “Blue Skies”, the feel-good tune he wrote and sang on the Allman’s Eat a Peach album.
Wearing the typical southern rock garb of cowboy hat, jeans, and snakeskin boots, Betts seemed frustrated at first trying to get his gold-top Les Paul in tune, but by the time the band got around to Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” he was loosened up and ready to roll. His dead-on band featured a wicked slide guitarist and an exceptional keyboardist who’s been blind since birth.
After “Statesboro” the crowd was drawn toward the stage like filings to a magnet, and Betts rewarded them with another gem from Eat a Peach, Elmore James’s “One Way Out”. He played that one with real fury, enough to bust a string and keep his diligent guitar roadie on the go. But the finest moment of Betts’ show came during the three-song encore, when the band delivered his instrumental great, “Jessica”.
Betts didn’t play his best-known tune, “Ramblin’ Man”, which was rather surprising. But he’s probably sick of that one anyway. As if to make up for it, the 86 Street deejay flipped on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Good choice, pal.