Top 10 Dickey Betts Songs
Our list of Top 10 Dickey Betts Songs tends to focus more on the rootsier side of the Allman Brothers Band's sound. It makes perfect sense, considering that was always Betts' principal legacy within the group.
The Allman Brothers Band likely would have stuck much more closely to Duane and Gregg Allman's penchant for blues and jazz if not for Betts, their endlessly inventive, compulsively scrappy foil. Influenced by the Deep South sounds of banjo and fiddle, he was raised in the same musical climate – but had an entirely different point of view. That provided the final needed ingredient to help the Allman Brothers Band establish a new genre that would become known as Southern Rock.
The group's intricate blending of styles was to be sadly short-lived. Duane Allman's untimely death opened the door for a bigger leadership role for Betts, and a more definitive shift toward country-inflected sounds. He started a solo career not long afterward, digging ever more deeply into these bedrock influences, but continued with the Allmans until a final split in 2000.
The following countdown of Top 10 Dickey Betts Songs takes in elements of both catalogs, though there's a justifiable bias toward his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame resume with the Allman Brothers Band.
No. 10. "High Falls"
From: Win, Lose or Draw (1975)
Momentum surrounding the Allman Brothers Band's chart-topping, multi-platinum comeback album Brothers and Sisters quickly dissipated. The subsequent Win, Lose or Draw, put simply, is not a good album, and there are many reasons for that – beginning with rampant drug use. Gregg Allman had also split for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and sessions were often completed piecemeal. Allman and Betts both released solo albums in the interim, and that created new external pressures. "It was rough for me, and it was rough for them," co-producer Johnny Sandlin said in One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. "It was just sad." Well, except for the ringing, quietly involving "High Falls." For these 14 shining minutes, at least, the group rallied together under Betts' faltering leadership.
No. 9. "Highway Call"
From: Highway Call (1974)
The always-restless Betts came to the rescue just when the Allmans were at their lowest ebb. He hadn't managed even one songwriting credit on the group's self-titled 1969 debut, but wrote four of the seven songs on 1973's group-saving Brothers and Sisters, their first album without Duane. Then he did what Dickey always did: went his own way. His introductory solo record shares the same yearning, country-inflected feel, but plumbed still deeper emotions. On its title track, Betts resigned himself to the road, to the musician's life, even as he was flooded with bucolic, sharply drawn memories of a simpler time. Unfortunately, Highway Call sparked something of a sibling rivalry with Gregg Allman, and everything began to fall apart.
No. 8. "Les Brers in A Minor"
From: Eat a Peach (1972)
The most sophisticated moment on Eat a Peach, a project pieced together through crushing tragedy, arrived early on courtesy of Betts' "Les Brers in A Minor." Situated immediately after the album-opening "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," this cinematic instrumental showed that plenty of wit, drive and ferocious imagination remained even after leader Duane Allman's death in a motorcycle crash. Betts took a bolder step forward on the Allman Brothers Band's next album, but the first inklings that the group might be able to carry on – different from before, but temporarily unbowed – can be found right here.
No. 7. "Revival"
From: Idlewild South (1970)
Dickey Betts' initial composing credit opened the Allmans' sophomore effort, and at first it seems like another of his now-patented country-inflected instrumental turns. In fact, "Revival" started out that way. Roughly a minute and a half in, however, the song swerves onto a more gospel-tinged side road, and Gregg Allman takes up the mic. He's soon joined by a rambunctious choir who clap and testify with ecclesiastical verve, giving the appropriately named track a soaring uplift. Still, those early moments – as Betts directs everyone through their determinedly down-home paces – say the most about where he would one day lead them.
No. 6. "Seven Turns"
From: Seven Turns (1990)
This rustic, unfussy title track from the Allmans' first album since 1981's utterly deflating Brothers of the Road could have been an outtake from Brothers and Sisters. Much had changed since then, not least of which was the arrival of youngsters Warren Haynes and Allen Woody. But Haynes had already established a striking new alchemy as part of Betts' breakup-era solo band. His slide snaked into Betts' leads with ease, and their vocal harmonies so inspired Gregg Allman that he spontaneously began answering their lines – completing this song, and the Allman Brothers Band's second comeback.
No. 5. "Blue Sky"
From: Eat a Peach (1972)
Betts took great care in crafting his debut vocal on an Allman Brothers Band record, though he still adhered to the improvisational style that Duane Allman favored. They came up with a dream-like, richly pastoral approach for a song Betts wrote in tribute to his wife, a woman of Native American descent who had "Bluesky" as a nickname. "Duane and I tried all different kinds of harmonies until we found the one that best suited the song," Betts told Guitar World. "We found that the softer-edged harmony was what worked best." There's no cloudy day that this song can't brighten.
No. 4. "Jessica"
From: Brothers and Sisters (1973)
Stuck with an unfinished song idea, Betts began playing for his young daughter Jessica, and the creative dam broke. He saw in her eyes an innocence, an openness and joy, that he began to incorporate into a new Django Reinhardt-inspired song. Titling it was far easier than anything else during these trying times, as the Allman Brothers Band put together their first album without Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, who also died in a motorcycle accident. Betts and Oakley had been part of several groups before joining the Allmans – including the Soul Children, which became the Blues Messengers and then the Second Coming – and Betts took his loss particularly hard. Oakley also played a key role on "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," found later in our list of Top 10 Dickey Betts Songs.
No. 3. "Bougainvillea"
From: Dickey Betts and Great Southern (1977)
A pastoral, sighing reverie, "Bougainvillea" is the best Dickey Betts song most Allman Brothers Band fans have never heard. It should have been much more famous, since it arrived as a reminder of their best post-Duane Allman record and also at a low ebb between 1975's Win, Lose or Draw and 1979's Enlightened Rogues. The song also presents a snapshot of where the Allman Brothers Band would go, since two members of Great Southern – Dan Toler and Lamar Williams – later joined a reformulated edition of Betts' main group. Fun fact: "Bougainvillea" was co-written by Don Johnson, long before he came to fame on TV's Miami Vice.
No. 2. "Ramblin' Man"
From: Brothers and Sisters (1973)
The Allman Brothers Band didn't rush into a foundational shift from blues- and jazz-tinged improv to a more rootsy direction. The lyrics for "Ramblin' Man" were written in about 20 minutes, while Betts was standing in Berry Oakley's kitchen. The song, however, took more than a year to develop – and it seems Betts' bandmates still weren't sold until an ending guitar solo with these gorgeous harmony lines began to unfold. "We actually went to the studio to make a demo of that to send to Merle Haggard," the late Allmans drummer Butch Trucks once told the Morning Call. "Even Dickey figured it was much too country for the Allman Brothers." Instead, "Ramblin' Man" became their only Top 10 hit single; it was also the last song recorded with Oakley.
No. 1. "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed"
From: Live at Fillmore East (1971)
Named for the inscription on a nearby tombstone in the graveyard where Betts used to like to write songs, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" traced back to a fascination he and Oakley had for minor keys and Miles Davis' modal Kind of Blue era. The song originally appeared on Idlewild South, but the brilliantly harmonized guitar lines between Betts and Duane Allman truly took flight during their legendary stand at the Fillmore East. Led by Oakley's insistent baseline, the Allmans have never been more fearless. By the way, both Duane and Oakley were buried in that same cemetery, Rose Hill in Macon, Ga. The song was actually in memory of a woman named Carmella, with whom Betts was in a kind of love triangle.
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