Dickey Betts Discusses Comeback Tour, Gregg Allman and More

Dean Budnick on May 17, 2018

Matt Houston/Herald Tribune Archive

For a long while, it appeared that Dickey Betts had delivered his final public performance on Nov. 1, 2014, during a charity event at Robarts Arena in Sarasota, Fla. Betts seemed to confirm this in a November interview, then changed course (as is his wont) on Dec. 12, his 74th birthday, with the announcement that he would indeed return to the road for a series of dates in 2018. His manager, David Spero, characterized Betts’ surprise decision as “a present to himself.”

Betts told his local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “Everywhere I go, fans keep saying they want me to get out and play again. I think the time is right.” He decided to take things “back where it all begins” by opening his first run of shows at the Macon City Auditorium in Macon, Ga., where the Allman Brothers settled down together in 1970.

After acrimoniously parting ways with the band in 2000, Betts formed a new solo outfit and even returned to the studio for the first time in years. He eventually brought in another ABB alum, “Dangerous” Dan Toler, for a few years and revived his ‘70s solo band moniker Great Southern. Though the Brothers continued to play Betts’ music, especially his instrumentals, Great Southern became the most reliable place to hear his vocal songs, including some of the group’s biggest hits.

The new version of the Dickey Betts Band also features his son Duane on guitar, along with three other longtime members of Great Southern: Frankie Lombardi (drums), Mike Kach (keyboards and vocals) and Pedro Arevalo (bass). Betts has completed the collective with second drummer Steve Camilleri and a third guitar player, Damon Fowler. (Duane Betts, who has toured with his father and had a stint on the road with Dawes, will open the Macon gig and many of the dates to follow as a featured player with the Devon Allman Project.) The tour will kick off almost exactly a year after Gregg Allman’s passing; the ABB co-founders reconnected shortly before the singer’s death and Betts stepped back into the spotlight for the first time in a while to attend his funeral.

As for the group’s repertoire, Betts suggests that, along with his songwriting staples, which include classics like “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Blue Sky,” “Southbound,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “Jessica,” “High Falls” and “Back Where It All Begins,” he will also dip into the late Gregg Allman’s catalog. Beyond the initial round of announced gigs, Betts promises “a few more” are in the mix as well.

Was there a specific moment that made you decide it was time to return to the stage?

It just kind of happened. I do miss playing and hanging with my band, and now I have an opportunity to add in a few of Gregg’s songs, as well. I’m looking forward to it.

Was there a particular song that you especially missed playing?

All of them, and some I haven’t played in a while.

Have you been writing songs over the past few years and have you been tempted to record again?

No, the business has changed so much. I wasn’t interested. We may do a live album of this tour.

You’ve performed with your son Duane for many years. Can you talk about his development on guitar?

Wow, he has grown so much. He has really come into his own and has a valued opinion when it comes to the arrangements.

Duane has been gigging with Devon Allman as of late. Have you seen them perform together, and what are your thoughts on that collaboration?

No, but they have talked about it for so long that I’m glad to see it happen. They will be on almost all of my shows this year.

Damon Fowler will be the third guitarist onstage with the Dickey Betts Band. What led you to add him?

Duane saw him play and sat in with him. We were only going with me and Duane for this band but, after we saw Damon, it was a natural fit.

Over the years, Gregg sang a number of compositions that you wrote. Did you tailor those tunes for him in any special way, and can you talk about his gifts as an interpreter of songs?

No, they just seemed right for him. He had a knack for making a song special.

In recent years, there were rumors that you and Gregg might return to the stage together. How close did this come to fruition?

Our managers had discussed it, but life just kind of happened and we never got to play. We did talk a lot before he passed.

Do you have a favorite original song that you’ve written over the years?

No, not really. They all have a special meaning for me.

Fans were excited to see you perform with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Beacon Theatre a few years ago. How did that come about and do you have any particular memories of that night?

Derek called David Spero, my manager, and invited me. I’ve loved him as a player since he was 12. Susan used to watch us play from the side of the stage. I think it’s how they met. They are both very special to me. I mostly remember the introduction they gave me that night: “Please welcome the great and loveable Dickey Betts.” I’ve never been called loveable before. I laughed all the way to my amp.

This article originally appears in the June 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here