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R.I.P. Dickey Betts: Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter and Founding Member of the Allman Brothers Band, Dead at 80

Betts also forged a solo career, starting with 1974's 'Highway Call,' which climbed into the top 20 of the Billboard 200.

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Source: DPA Picture Alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

Dickey Betts became an iconic guitarist as a result of his work with the Allman Brothers Band.

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Dickey Betts, the American rock guitarist and singer-songwriter who helped found the Allman Brothers Band and powered such classic singles as “Melissa,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “Jessica,” and “Crazy Love,” has died at the age of 80.

Betts, whose death was announced by his family via his official Instagram account, passed away after a battle with both cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, per Rolling Stone.

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Source: Capricorn Records

The cover art for the Allman Brothers Band's 1971 live album, 'At Fillmore East.'

“It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that the Betts family announce the peaceful passing of Forrest Richard ‘Dickey’ Betts (December 12, 1943 – April 18, 2024) at the age of 80 years old,” wrote Betts’ family on Instagram. “The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader, and family patriarch passed away earlier today at his home in Osprey, FL, surrounded by his family. Dickey was larger than life, and his loss will be felt world-wide. At this difficult time, the family asks for prayers and respect for their privacy in the coming days. More information will be forthcoming at the appropriate time.”

Betts, who had the advantage of being born into a family that loved music, was raised on country music, traditional bluegrass, and western swing, but his first instrument was actually a ukulele. From there, however, he shifted to a series of different stringed instruments, learning to play banjo, guitar, and mandolin. As he grew older, his musical tastes shifted somewhat as well, taking him in more of a rock direction, playing in a variety of bands before forming Second Coming in 1967 with a bassist by the name of Berry Oakley. Within two years, both musicians would find themselves in the founding lineup of the Allman Brothers, with Betts sharing guitar duties with Duane Allman.

In the wake of Duane’s death in 1971, Betts’ role within the Allman Brothers Band expanded considerably, a situation which ultimately led to him writing two of the band’s best known hits: "Ramblin' Man," which became the band's biggest hit, climbing to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and an instrumental which he named after his daughter, “Jessica."

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Betts kicked off his solo career in 1974 with Highway Call, an LP which was actually credited to Richard Betts, and it helped cement his reputation outside the Allman Brothers Band, taking him to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. As a result, when the band split in 1976, it put Betts in a position to keep on recording material on his own, issuing two LPs in rapid succession: 1977’s Dickey Betts & Great Southern, and 1978’s Atlanta’s Burning Down.

Betts would continue his solo career sporadically for the remainder of his life, but in 1978 he was responsible for reaching out to his former bandmates and suggesting the idea of a reunion. This led to a new album – 1979’s Enlightened Rogues, released on Arista – and a tour, after which they recorded a second new album, 1981’s Brothers of the Road, but they broke up again after realizing that Arista wasn’t interested in the same sound for the band as its members were.

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Thankfully, the Allman Brothers Band got back together again in 1989 to celebrate their 20th anniversary, which led to further touring as well as recording. Betts, however, left in 1993 to seek counseling for problems with alcohol after being arrested in Saratoga Springs after a concert. He returned the following year, and he managed to remain in the lineup despite a further arrest in 1996, but in 2000, he was fired from the band, which issued a press release at the time citing "creative differences." In the wake of the release being issued, Betts promptly contacted Entertainment Weekly to offer his side of the story, which involved befuddlement over a fax he'd received from the band.

”It says, ‘We hope that you will seek treatment and return to us happy and healthy in the fall,”’ said Betts. ”I did have a problem [with substances]. I did bow out for a while and I fully admit that I needed help. I was out of line. But not this time. That’s why this [fax] is so confusing. I really don’t understand what’s gone wrong. I called Gregg, and he was very short with me. He said, ‘If you don’t know I ain’t going to tell you. Just listen to f—ing tapes [from our last show]. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, you’re the best,' but I listened to those tapes and I thought they sounded pretty good!”

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However they might've sounded, it soon became clear that Betts was very much not over whatever demons he'd been battling: in 2001, he was arrested again, once more charged with domestic battery, and while he did eventually get his act together again, he would never again play with the Allman Brothers. He did, however, send his blessing when his health prevented him from participating in a concert event to commemorate 50 years of the Allman Brothers Band, and he was able to mend fences with Gregg Allman before Allman's death in 2017.

“It’s too soon to properly process this,” Betts said in a post on his official Facebook page. “I’m so glad I was able to have a couple good talks with him before he passed. In fact, I was about to call him to check and see how he was when I got the call. It’s a very sad thing. I, along with the entire Great Southern family, pass along my deepest sympathies to Gregg’s family, friends, and fans.”

Betts continued to tour up through 2018, when he suffered a stroke that took him off the road permanently.

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