“Gregg Allman has decided to try to justify this thing by running around the country claiming I’m strung out on drugs and too drunk to play music. It’s just ludicrous.”
By phone from a hotel room in Chicago
I spoke to Dickey Betts in the midst of what must have been six of the worst months of his life. The Allman Brothers Band guitarist was making news and for all the wrong reasons.
In May of 2000 Betts was kicked out of the Allmans after more than 30 years as a founding member. A few weeks later local police took a distraught Betts to a treatment center for a psychiatric evaluation after he threatened his wife and wrecked the living room of his home near Sarasota, Florida. He pulled himself together soon enough and started a new group, the Dickey Betts Band. But by October he was in trouble again: Betts, 56 at the time, was arrested for domestic battery after attacking his wife, Donna. His lawyer told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the altercation was “a misunderstanding” that had been “blown out of proportion.” Betts’ rift with the Allman Brothers has never healed. The guitarist continues to tour off and on with his band, now called Dickey Betts and Great Southern, which includes his guitarist son Duane Betts (named after Duane Allman, natch). But as far as I know, he has not recorded any new music since leaving the Allman Brothers Band. When we spoke he didn’t sound at all like the drunk, drugged madman he was rumored to be. Betts came across as sane, sincere, and – to state the obvious – deeply hurt by the bandmates who’d turned against him.
So how’s it going with your new band?
The band is doing wonderful. They sound great and people are loving it. I hear the Allman’s Brothers website, which is really the fan clubs, is lit up with good things to say about the band.
Have your thoughts changed in the months since you were bounced out of the Allmans?
I don’t have much to say about it. What I mean to say is I don’t have anything to do with what happens. I didn’t have anything to do with them sending me the fax that threw me out of the band and I don’t have anything to do with what they decide to do. In the meantime I have my band on the road. I’m not going to sit home and wait for those guys to decide whether I can play with them or not.
The whole thing is really a sad situation. It’s not just because of what I took out of the deal. The fans out there, somebody ruined their band. They’d like to hear why and nobody is saying. Gregg Allman has decided to try to justify this thing by running around the country claiming I’m strung out on drugs and too drunk to play music. It’s just ludicrous. It’s just an outright lie. The whole thing is a damn fraud. as far as I’m concerned. Just go ahead and tell the people why they did this and everything would be a lot clearer. But they not only don’t tell the press what’s behind this, they don’t tell me either. So I’m just throwing my hands up and saying the hell with it until these guys come to their senses. I’m really disappointed in them. Allman and [Butch] Trucks chose not to come to Allen Woody’s funeral [Woody was the Allmans’ bassist from 1989 until 1997, when he and guitarist Warren Haynes left the band to play full-time in Gov’t Mule; Woody died at age 44 of undetermined causes in a Queens, NY motel on August 25, 2000, two weeks before this interview took place]. That was the last straw with me. You try to hold out some hope of these guys coming around but…Derek Trucks was there. Jaimoe, Kirk West [tour manager and the Allman’s so-called “spiritual advisor” until Gregg Allman fired him in 2010 after 30 years on the job]. But Gregg and Butch were obviously missing. It’s just an insult. I don’t know how they find themselves too busy to pay respects to people who are supposed to mean something to them. What they did to me was bad enough. After 32 years of working with these guys and then they just cold-heartedly send me a fax saying I’m not going to be playing with them. I just don’t know what the hell is going on with them to tell you the truth.
I’ve read that the members of the Allmans aren’t close and that it’s been a long time since you spent time with each other aside from performing. Did you stop being friends?
We’re not a band that just started out. After 30 years you find yourselves living in different cities and things. But up until about three years ago the band was doing quite well as far as dealing with these jealousies and resentments. But it seems like in the last two or three years, the top was just blown off of it. I wish I could say in print exactly what is going on, but I really don’t know because nobody is talking to me either.
I was told they didn’t like the way I played anymore [laughs]….that I was strung out on some kind of drugs. But I can tell you that is not what’s behind this. I was playing well. I’ve got the tapes of every show and I’ve listened to them all. There were mistakes made, sure. Some shows don’t come off as good as others. But that’s the way music is. It’s just a dirty deal and I don’t know what’s at the bottom of it. I could guess and throw accusations around but that’s not really fair to do. But I guess we’ll find out sometime. Sooner or later the truth will come out about the whole thing. In the meantime, I’ve got a good band together and I’m out here playing music, which is what I should be doing.
When you received the fax firing you, did it come completely out of the blue or were there signs that something was going wrong?
I knew that Butch Trucks was not speaking to me on this last tour that we did. It was so obvious that I came home one night and talked to my wife about it. I said, “That guy is really mad about something.” But I didn’t know what it was. For all I knew he was having domestic problems. I didn’t know. As far as this being out of the blue, blindside, shock, yes. There were no arguments with anybody in the band. We talked music, we played music, everything was going smoothly. Derek Trucks called me and he was appalled. He said, “I had no idea this was going on.”
Did you talk to Jaimoe at Woody’s funeral?
Well, I did through the attorneys. I pressured the guys to have a meeting with me about a month ago in New York. Jaimoe told me that I’d better reassess my playing, that my playing wasn’t any good and I couldn’t play. Well, that’s about all I need to hear out of Jaimoe.
It’s just cold-hearted malice behind the thing. You as a writer have to look for someone besides me for answers because I’m not getting any answers. In the meantime, I’m not going to sit home and wait for Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks to decide what they’re going to do with my life. I called Gregg twice when this happened to try and get an explanation. He told me he didn’t owe me nuthin’, that the band had voted me out. I said, yeah, but you can’t have a vote without inviting all the principals. You can’t secretly have these meetings and vote somebody out of a band when there’s four owners of that band. You can’t have secret meetings and vote somebody out without them. If we would have had those meetings maybe we could have worked things out. But I was just excluded from any of this. Gregg hung up on me the two times I called and told me he didn’t own me any explanation. That’s about all I can tell you. I’m not really that angry, I’m more disappointed in them and disgusted with them to tell you the truth. It’s a funny thing that they throw me out of the band and choose to keep my music in the band. I’m responsible in part for creating that model and that presentation of music and of writing over half the music. How they can stand up there and play the songs I wrote after doing this to me is even more appalling. If they want me out of the band, then kick me out and let me take my music with me. It’s just unfair to the fans and me and everyone else. They may have thought that since they got Derek Trucks in the band and everybody liked him they could give me this dirty deal. But their ticket sales are off and promoters are dropping them all over the country.
About a month after you were tossed out of the band, the police were called to your home [in Florida] because of a domestic dispute.
Sure, I had a helluva time for about a month after this went down. This was a cold-hearted, premeditated betrayal. It pretty much shook the foundation out from under me. I had to go see a doctor for depression and try to get back on my feet. I was in the hospital for one night and he told me to get back to work and put this behind me. And that’s what I’ve done.
By starting a new band?
I’ve been playing music since I was 16 years old and you learn how to survive. You learn when things go wrong to start a new direction. I’ve got a unique sounding band. I’m playing a lot of the things I’ve written over the years. I have a fellow who’s opened shows for the Allman Brothers, Mark May, who has three CDs out on a small blues label, and he has a lot of material we can do. And we’re mixing that with “Jessica” and “Elizabeth Reed” and “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man” and “Nobody Knows” and “Nobody Left to Run With [Anymore]” and “Back Where It All Begins” and a lot of the stuff I’ve written over the years. It’s a nice mix. I also have a horn player from the Bronx, Kris Jensen. The horn is playing the third part harmony with the two guitars, it’s a real nice sound. That frees my keyboard player to do chord work. I have the drummer from Roomful of Blues, Mark Greenberg from Boston. Junior Ortiz is playing Latin percussion, he’s from Hartford, Connecticut. David Stoltz is playing bass. He auditioned for the Allman Brothers when Allen Woody and Warren Haynes left the band. Obviously Oteil [Burbridge] got the job, but David was very impressive. Matt Zeiner is playing keyboards. So it’s a seven-piece band, a strong, strong band.
Do you plan on recording?
I’m sure we will this winter. I’m tangled up with this Sony deal. When the Allman Brothers signed with Sony, Gregg and I got included in the deal for our solo projects, so I’m trying to get out of that before I do any new recording.
Gregg was quoted saying that you can return to the Allmans if you take care of yourself. Do you believe him?
If something happened and these guys woke up one day and said, “Y’know, we made a terrible mistake,” and called me and wanted to talk about it, there’s a possibility we could play. But I don’t see these guys doing that. I haven’t heard one word from any of them except when I forced a meeting and their attorneys had to advise them that it wouldn’t be in their best interests if they didn’t show up at this meeting. And that meeting was pretty bitter, just a lot of accusations being thrown around. So I wished them well, thanked them for coming and that was that. Nothing positive came out of it at all. But you never know what will happen down the road. I don’t see any indication of the thing coming back together. Boy, Gregg Allman traveling around the country accusing me of being incapacitated is just beyond bizarre. Anybody that knows Gregg Allman and how supposedly sober and straight he is has to sit down and take a moment to laugh. It’s just delusional, this whole thing. I read an interview that Gregg did, he said he doesn’t cuss, he wasn’t raised that way and he actually turns down movie scripts because they have these cuss words in there. I think the guy is on the wrong medication or something. It’s just bizarre.
Are you pursuing legal action?
Defamation, for one thing. It’s bad enough to blindside somebody like this and another to go around the country publicly defaming them. I’m a rock and roll guitar player, but for chrissakes, if anyone thinks there is justification for this I’d like to hear it. The only ones trying to justify it is Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, and they don’t want to say what’s really on their mind. Which I think is dirty business. Just dirty business. If they can get me out of the way, they can do some things they know I wouldn’t agree with business-wise. But hey, I just have to sit around here and guess. Because I don’t know. They’re saying I’m some kind of drug addict, which is a damn lie. That’s all I can tell you about it.
I’d rather not even talk about this Allman Brothers thing, but I have to defend myself with all the things that have been thrown around in the press about me. I’m not blaming the press, they’re just printing what they’re being told by some people. So I have to talk about it in my own defense. I think next time I take this [new] band out, this will be behind us and I can talk about the band and the music.
As far as I’m concerned, I wish the guys would just come to their senses and figure out what went wrong. Because something definitely went very bad wrong. It’s a shame. I told ‘em when I met with them they oughta be ashamed of themselves. I said if you wanted to change this band, why don’t we do a farewell tour, get out of this gracefully and then you guys can do what you want to do. But they didn’t think that was a very good idea.
It seems strange for this to happen when the Allman Brothers band is so popular again.
[Laughs] Yeah, right at the top of our game. That’s why all of this is just so stupid. You’re right at the top of your game and what do you do? Throw one of the corner posts of the band out? I don’t get it. Hey, give us a good writeup. We’re trying to get started and overcome some of this negative stuff that’s being said.