Dickey Betts: Good Times, Bad Blood and Delta Style (Relix Revisited)
Today Dickey Betts celebrates 70th birthday. In honor of the occasion, we revisit this interview with Betts, which originally appeared in the December 2001 issue of the magazine.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dickey Betts will inevitably go down in history as the fringe rogue of Americaās top 20 guitar heavyweights. With his razor tremolo and vicious shuffling blues attacks, tossed up with poignant acoustic balladry and raw rock-jazz improvisations, the 57-year-old delta crooner has played it all, and played it with gravity. For the man who largely defined the Southern Rock phenomenon, on stage Betts is the life of the party. People close to him, though, know his humble candor and introspective nature.
Despite getting canned last summer after a 31-year roller coaster career with the Allman Brothers Band, along with a savage barrage of recent media hamstrings with far-flung rumors of drug abuse and a couple of misdemeanor domestic violence arrests, Betts is shining through with an iron will, some homegrown guitar genius, and a little help from friends and fans. In one of his sporadic interviews, the guitar legend discusses life after the Allman Brothers, the new Dickey Betts Band and his latest solo release, Letās Get Together.
Dickey, howās the tour going?
Betts Itās going great. Iām in Columbus, Ohio now. We just played the second show of the fourth leg of the tour. You know, weāre building momentum; our crowds are getting stronger. They love the CD. Once they hear the band, they really get into it.
How does this incarnation differ from previous Dickey Betts Bands?
DB: Thereās a whole lot of difference with personality dynamics. The main and most obvious sight and sound is the tenor horn with the two guitar players. Kris Jensenās such a great horn player. Heās got a Charlie Parker thing going on that finds a way to fit into what weāre doing. Well, weāre not too far from jazz anyway on most stuff. Iāve wanted to have a horn in one of my bands for a long time. When I was working with the Brothers, if you think about it, I never did any side projects. You know, I havenāt had a band together since way in the hell back there during the ā80s.
It seems like youāre revisiting the past while moving forward with the new song āLetās All Get Together.ā Is this your answer to āRevivalā [Betts' first song written and recorded with the Allman Brothers in 1970], and is it a symbolic revival for yourself?
DB: Well, you know thatās exactly what that song was written for. In fact, I told my wife, Dona, I said, āThis is my new āRevivalāā [laughs]. Itās one of those songs played for the audience, and they know itās written for them. Itās telling them, āCome on, letās have a good time.ā But I wasnāt revisiting older ideas with anything else. It takes a lot of balls to put a song like āTombstone Eyesā on a record, but I thought it was a message that needs to be told because of the problems everybodyās having with this heroin and stuff. You know, dead is dead and itās final. Thatās what that songās basically saying.
Is this mostly newer material youāve been working on?
DB: None of the songs have been recorded before. I wrote āTombstone Eyesā four or five years ago when I was with the Brothers. Gregg didnāt want to sing it, so I did. But I sang it so damn cold and straight ahead, you know. It was too damned depressing the way I sang it, so I just kinda put the song away. When I put this band together, Matt Zeiner, the keyboard player, has kind of a Delbert McClinton-Ray Charlesy gravelly voice, and I asked him to try it. God, he did a wonderful job! So we went ahead and recorded it. āOne Stop Be-Bopā and āRave Onā were written at the Beacon rehearsals on that last Beacon thing I did [March, 2000], right before I got thrown out of the band.
How did you piece together this band?
DB: The first thing I did was call Mark May, the guitar player. Iād been watching him for about five years, enjoying his CDs with Icehouse [Records]. There are a lot of good guitar players around, but I liked his playing and the way he sang, and I needed a good blues singer. I knew Brother Dave Stoltz from when he auditioned with the Allman Brothers Band after Allen Woody and Warren [Haynes] left. He didnāt get the gig, Oteil [Burbridge] got it, but I thought he was good, so I called him for bass. Then I sent out word on the streets to different people I know. After carefully looking through about seventy-five applications, I selected ten and flew āem down to my house and came out with the six I needed. Itās a seven-piece band with me.
So you werenāt waiting around for anything after the Allman Brothers?
DB: No, you know what my idea with that was. Gregg was, and still is, kinda running me down in the press real bad. So I knew I needed to get out very quickly before that touring season was over and let everybody see that I was, indeed, okay and a lot of these things werenāt true. Because I think if I would have just disappeared with all that bad press out, people would have said, āWell, I guess heās not playing anymore.ā So I worked hard to get the band out quick. So things are cooking along good; weāre just trying to gain ground. You kinda gotta go back and start over when these things happen.
The media has always had this scandalous infatuation with the Allman Brothers. Gregg and Cherā¦ the drugsā¦ It seems like itās Dickey Bettsā turn these days.
DB: I will say about this bad ink Iāve got here on this domestic thing. Once the story comes outāI canāt talk about it now because itās pendingābut you know my wife and I have been under a hell of a lot of emotional stress from this stuff that happened with the band, plus my workload has tripled by trying to get this new band off the ground, and itās been kinda hard on us. My wife and I love each other very much. You know how the press likes to pick up on these matters and blow things up, but you only get part of the story. When the truth comes out, people will see itās not what it appears. You know, it aināt me babe, and I hope people will understand.
So what actually happened with the Brothers gig? Got anything you want to say about that?
DB: Yeah, thereās a million things that happened. The social dynamics, I guess you would call it, became so pressurized and stressed that it just finally blew up. Butch Trucks decided thatāand I donāt mean to say this in a vicious kind of way, but it is trueāButch Trucks about three years ago decided he was the leader of the Allman Brothers Band. Thatās basically when all the problems started.
You two locked horns?
DB: Well, he wanted to get the Allman Brothers to promote his private business affairs. We didnāt want to do that. So he took offense. Anyway, thatās basically what happened, at least from where I was standing.
Any hard feelings?
DB: I donāt like the words āhard feelingsā because I think all of us practice every day not to hold bitter feelings, but yeah, to be honest, yeah, thereās some pretty raw feelings still about Gregg and Butch. Iām not surprised about Butch, but Gregg selling me out really, really hurt. I didnāt think heād ever turn on me like that. You know, I hope those guys do good, thatās all I can say.