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Betts answers new highway call with new band

| Thursday, May 10, 2001

If you go
  • What: Volunteer Jam (Charlie Daniels Band, Dickey Betts Band, .38 Special, Trent Summar, New Row Mob)

  • When: 6 p.m. Saturday

  • Where: Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown

  • Cost: $15 to $32

  • Details: (412) 323-1919

  • There have been times, Dickey Betts acknowledges, when he felt as if he were nearing the end of his long career.

    This is not one of those times, the reluctant alumnus of The Allman Brothers Band assures as he tries to make sense of the events of last summer. He was unceremoniously booted out of the legendary group that he helped put on the musical map.

    The disagreements that are at the heart of the matter still play out as a 'He Said/They Said' soap opera. An outsider's retelling seems to clear up nothing.

    What is known is that the Allman Brothers Band and Betts, for now, have gone their separate ways.

    'I'm kind of back where I started,' the guitarist, now fronting the Dickey Betts Band, says through bemused laughter. 'I'm trying to just play the music people want to hear. It really kind of goes in circles. I'm writing more music than I have in years.'

    The artist who wrote Allman classics such as 'Jessica,' 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed' and 'Blue Sky' is learning to put a positive spin on things.

    Sometimes, he says, change is good. 'When we do things for a long period of time that are successful, you can get complacent,' he says. 'Sometimes when you do that, the creative energies aren't what they could be. This thing that happened with the Brothers last summer was quite a shock, but sometimes things happen for the best.'

    So, the highway call for Dickey Betts is down a new road he says he is eager to explore with his new group of enthusiastic musicians.

    'It's a lot of fun with this band, one of the best I've ever worked with. Everybody is just really enjoying themselves and working as hard as they can to make it go,' he says.

    Betts calls a new solo album, 'Let's Get Together,' set for release in early July, 'one of the best pieces of work I've done since 'Brothers and Sisters.' '

    It was time for a change, Betts says. 'I didn't know it, but it was. Once I got working with the new band I realized, 'Wait a minute, I'm having a lot more fun and making a lot better music. Maybe this is a good thing.' '

    Solo outings are nothing new for members of the Allman Brothers. Betts' first was with his band Great Southern. He always liked a big band, because he believes his writing style lends itself to a lot of lead instruments. His new band is seven pieces.

    Betts prefers to refer to his music simply as 'rock.'

    'People still want to call it Southern rock, but nobody in a, quote, 'Southern Rock band' likes that term,' Betts says. 'We all like to think of ourselves as progressive rock,' he says.

    'My band could easily turn into a big jazz band, but we don't want to do that. We like the people who come out to see us. We just push toward that jazz line, which creates interesting rock 'n' roll: a lot of melody and big band licks, (Charles) Mingus influences and blues influences.'

    The New York Times has praised Betts as 'one of the great rock guitarists who thinks like a jazz improviser.'

    Taking his music to the people is still what brings enjoyment, he says. 'It's the people that make the show. It doesn't mean anything if it's just a bunch of musicians getting together to try to impress one another,' he says.

    Come to see him and his new band, and expect to have a good time, he says. 'If you listen to us and don't feel better, you need to see a doctor.' He laughs.

    Betts will be showcasing his new attitude as he and his band join the all-star cast on the Charlie Daniels Band's Volunteer Jam 2001 concerts.

    The Jam is successful, he says, because of Charlie Daniels' magic. 'He conceived the thing, and he has the personality to draw all these players together to do it for good old Charlie.'

    Daniels began the Jam in 1974 to celebrate his band's first hometown sell-out concert in Tennessee, the Volunteer State.

    Through the years, the Jam has drawn artists from jazz to heavy metal, honky-tonk to blues and country to rock. Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd have been among the guests. Betts, who played at the first Jam, has returned many years.

    'I've known Charlie for 30 years. He's just what I guess you would call a good old boy, a country boy,' he says. 'He is a very imaginative and creative fellow.'

    Betts knows it was a good band he left in the Allman Brothers.

    The memories are more good than bad, he assures. 'The band was together for 30 years, for gosh sakes. It just comes to a point where all good things must end.

    'To stay together 30 years and keep producing music, I think was wonderful. The way the thing ended was heartbreaking for me. As it turns out we are just regular people, and the band ended like regular bands ended.'

    The Allmans have been a pioneering band, he says. 'We were kind of the flagship for a lot of groups. I guess that's where the term ÔSouthern Rock' came from.'

    They also were surprised they were so successful, he says, laughing. 'We didn't think we would do as well as we did, because we wouldn't go along with what the corporate record companies wanted to do. During the disco period, we just dropped out of sight for a while instead of trying to do disco. I thought that was a very classy thing for us to do.'

    Betts understands that there are fans rooting for him to return to the Allman Brothers Band.

    He won't say that will never happen. 'But not with the current environment,' he says. 'Things change. I don't want to predict the future. I would not quit this band now to go back to the Allman Brothers at this point. I'm not going to predict the future.'

    For now, though, the 'Ramblin' Man' has new avenues to explore.

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