Forrest Richard Betts (December 12, 1943–April 18, 2024)


Forrest Richard Betts (stage name Dickey Betts) was an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, composer and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. He assumed sole lead guitar duties during the peak of the group’s commercial success in the mid-1970s and was the writer and singer on the Allmans’ biggest hit single “Ramblin’ Man.” Betts was inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He was ranked No. 58 on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list in 2003, and No. 61 on the list published in 2011.

Early in his career, Betts collaborated with Duane Allman to introduce melodic twin guitar harmony and counterpoint which “rewrote the rules for how two rock guitarists can work together, completely scrapping the traditional rhythm/lead roles to stand toe to toe.” Betts is considered a very important figure & formative influence in the Southern Rock genre. Following Allman’s death in 1971, Betts assumed the sole lead creative position during the peak of the group’s commercial success during the mid-1970s.

The band went on hiatus in the late 1970s, during which time Betts, like many of the other band members, pursued a solo career and side projects under such names as Great Southern and The Dickey Betts Band. The Allman Brothers reformed in 1979, with Dan Toler taking the second guitar role alongside Betts. In 1982, they broke up for a second time. A third reformation occurred in 1989, with Warren Haynes joining Betts on guitar.

Betts married his fifth wife, Donna, in 1989. He had four children: Kimberly, Christy, Jessica and Duane. Christy is married to Frank Hannon of the band Tesla. Jessica is the namesake of Betts’ instrumental. Duane is named in tribute for Betts’ former bandmate Duane Allman, is also a musician and performed and recorded with his father.

Betts could be wild, moody and volatile. In 1976, he was arrested for drinking and clashing with police. That side of him resumed in 1993, when he was arrested in Saratoga Springs, New York, after getting into a shoving match with police. His drinking also led to missed shows because of fights with fellow band members.

Betts was finally ousted from the band in 2000 over a conflict regarding his continued drug and alcohol use. He never played with them again, nor would he appear with any other former band members for reunions or side projects.

Betts was born in West Palm Beach on December 12, 1943 and raised in Bradenton, Florida. He grew up in a musical family listening to traditional bluegrass, country music and Western Swing. He began playing ukulele at the age of five; and as his hands grew larger, he moved on to become proficient with mandolin, banjo and guitar.

In an interview with Rollong Stone, Betts said, “When I finally got to about seventh grade, I discovered girls, Rock & Roll and Chuck Berry.” As a teenager, Betts put together his own band while earning a living as a house painter and mail carrier.

At age sixteen and feeling the need for something “a little faster,” he played in a series of rock bands on the Florida circuit, up the East Coast and into the Midwest, before forming Second Coming with Berry Oakley in 1967. According to Rick Derringer, the “group called the Jokers” referenced in “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” was one of Betts’ early groups.

In 1969, Duane Allman, a successful session player, gained a contract with Southern Rock impresario Phil Walden, who had plans to back a new power trio featuring Allman. The ensuing Allman Brothers Band eventually grew to six members, including Duane’s brother Gregg, Betts and Oakley.

After Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, Betts became the band’s sole guitarist and assumed a greater singing and leadership role. In the course of one night’s traveling, he practiced slide guitar intensively in order to be able to cover the majority of Duane’s parts. He wrote “Jessica” and the Allmans’ biggest commercial hit, “Ramblin’ Man.” “Jessica” was inspired by his daughter of the same name.

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Betts’s first solo album, Highway Call, was released in 1974. After the Allman Brothers fell apart in 1976, Betts released more albums, starting with Dickey Betts & Great Southern in 1977, which included the song “Bougainvillea,” co-written with future Miami Vice television star Don Johnson. In 1978 he released the album, Atlanta’s Burning Down.

However, after Gregg Allman testified in a drug trial involving a band employee, which infuriated Betts, the Allman Brothers Band fell apart for the first time. Betts recorded two albums with his own band, Great Southern, which although well received, failed to match his earlier success with the Allman Brothers Band.

The Allman Brothers reformed in 1979 for the album Enlightened Rogues. Several albums and personnel changes for the band followed, until declining record and concert ticket sales and management problems finally led the group to disband again in 1982. Betts returned to his solo career performing live at smaller venues, and released the album Pattern Disruptive in 1989.

Betts was replaced on numerous Allman Brothers tour dates throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, for what were reported in the media as “personal reasons.” While remaining active as a touring band, the Allman Brothers did not release another album of original studio material after 1994’s Where It All Begins for nine more years, when they put out Hittin’ the Note in 2003. 

Betts’ last show with the Allman Brothers was at the Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 7, 2000. A breaking point was reached in 2000 when the remaining original Allman Brothers members – Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe – fired Betts (reportedly via a fax) before the launch of the band’s Summer Campaign Tour. According to Betts, the band told him in the fax to “get clean” (presumably from alcohol and/or drugs).

When Betts filed suit against the other three original Allmans, the separation turned into a permanent divorce. Betts was subsequently ordered out of the band after the dispute went to arbitration. Although they were separated personally and as musical bandmates for over 15 years, Betts and Gregg Allman did reconcile before Allman’s death in 2017.

Betts’ final album release was Dickey Betts & Great Southern Official Bootleg Vol. 1 (2021), a two-CD live album of performances from the 2000s.

Betts resided briefly in Georgia during the formative years of the Allman Brothers Band. However, he lived in Florida’s Sarasota metropolitan area for most of his life.

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Although his falling out with the Allmans left a bitter taste in his mouth for years, Betts told Rolling Stone that in the end, he looked back fondly on his decades with them. “I would’ve done something else,” he said. “I would have worked for somebody landscaping. I was very pragmatic and industrious. But it wouldn’t have been as nice as what happened when I met up with that bunch of guys.”

In August 2018, Betts suffered a mild stroke and had to cancel tour dates with his Dickey Betts Band. He was taken to hospital and was in a critical but stable condition at a hospital, following an accident at his home in Osprey, Florida. On September 20, 2018, he successfully underwent surgery to relieve swelling on his brain. In a statement posted on his website, Betts and his family said the “outpouring of support from all over the world has been overwhelming and amazing. We are so appreciative.”

Betts died from cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease at his home in Osprey, Florida, on April 18, 2024, at the age of 80. Betts is interred at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia ✪

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