ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 30, 2001
By Steve Newton
On the cover of his latest CD, former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts is pictured standing in the entranceway of his Florida home, surrounded by his six bandmates, a small dog leaning against his denim-clad leg. The 57-year-old southern-rock hero looks contented in his snakeskin boots and white cowboy hat, but the image on his T-shirt makes you realize that things haven’t been all rosy for him.
It’s a colour picture of Allen Woody, the long-time Allman Brothers Band bassist whose body was discovered in a New York hotel room last August. Woody was the third ABB member to die before his time, following in the tragic footsteps of guitar legend Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, who were killed in separate motorcycle accidents in the early ’70s. Sometimes it just seems as though that band is cursed. “It’s not just the band,” Betts counters on the line from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio, “it’s this goddamned heroin, killin’ everybody, man.”
Betts might consider himself lucky to have gotten out of the Allman Brothers fold in one piece. He abruptly left the group last summer, amid claims that he was kicked out for excessive drinking. Betts has his own take on the breakup, though.
“You know, I refused to get into this dirt-throwin’ contest,” he contends, “but I don’t know how else to put it: it was a dirty little business deal, is what it was. You know, [founding drummer] Butch Trucks decided about three years ago that he was the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, and ever since he had came to that epiphany, there’s been nothing but trouble, so… You know, I begged those guys, ‘If we’re gonna blow the band up like this, let’s do a farewell tour and end a great history and leave it on a good note.’ But they wouldn’t do it.”
Shortly after his acrimonious split from the Allmans, Betts formed his own group and recorded Let’s Get Together in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida. He’s on a North American tour that hits the Commodore Ballroom on Tuesday (September 4) for an early (7:30 p.m.) show. “I’m really makin’ some great music with these guys and enjoyin’ it,” Betts reports. “The only difference is I’m not makin’ anywhere near the kind of money that the Allman Brothers Band makes. But my house is paid for, you know, and I’ve got a little bit of money in my retirement thing, so I did manage to plan for the future.”
Judging by the potency of his patented Les Paul wail on the steamy, 10-minute–plus jazz-rock workout “One Stop Be-Bop”, Betts won’t be retiring anytime soon. He wrote seven of the 11 tracks on Let’s Get Together, and trades fiery licks throughout with guitarist-vocalist Mark May, who also handles slide guitar on the CD. May’s not professing to be the next Duane Allman, though. Or even the next Warren Haynes.
“Mark doesn’t claim to be a slide player,” Betts notes. “He’s not tryin’ to really burn it up or anything, you know. His thing is that Albert Collins–style, real stingin’, trebly kinda fast stuff that you hear on there—that’s him doin’ that. And he sings. I love his voice. He’s got kind of a Freddy King–sounding voice.”
Another Betts-penned opus on the new disc is the Santana-flavoured “Dona María”, which clocks in at more than 12 minutes. “I didn’t just do it for the sake of havin’ it long,” Betts notes, “but the guys were playin’ so good, and things flowed well. I did edit some places that needed editing, you know; I clipped off a few of the vamps that I thought were too long. Plus, when we got ready to mix we had 80 minutes, and you can’t get 80 minutes on a CD.”
When the Dickey Betts Band plays the Commodore, don’t expect any concise, AM radio–sized ditties to make the set list, ’cause these guys love to jam. That said, there could be room for the odd hit single. “I do about a two-and-a-half- to three-hour show when time allows,” Betts points out, “and I’ve got so much stuff that it changes from here to there. But I always do either ‘Jessica’ or ‘Elizabeth Reed’, and sometimes I do ‘Ramblin’ Man’. And I always do ‘Blue Sky’. I mean, if I bought a ticket to go see Dickey Betts and I didn’t get to hear ‘Blue Sky’, I’d be a little disappointed.
“So I do all the stuff that I wrote. I don’t do anything that Gregg [Allman] wrote, and I don’t even do anything that we covered, like ‘Statesboro Blues’ and ‘Stormy Monday’—that was Gregg’s kind of signature. So there’s plenty of music out there for me to do without havin’ to take ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘Melissa’ and put it in my show.”