Big Brother (Dickey Betts Remembers Duane Allman)
(first published in 'Guitar World', Vol. 28 / No. 4, April 2007)
Duane Allman led the Allman Brothers Band to success with his
brilliant guitar work and supremely confident attitude. On the
35th anniversary of the group’s greatest album, At Fillmore
East, Allman Brother Dickey Betts shares his memories of the
late great guitarist and the album that made them famous.
“People always ask me what Duane was really like,” says Dickey
Betts. “It says a lot that his hero was Muhammad Ali. That kind
of supreme confidence that Ali had – that’s where Duane was
Sitting in his beautiful home in Spanish Key, a suburb of
Sarasota, Florida, Betts is in the midst of his annual winter
break from touring with his band, Dickey Betts and Great
Southern. On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of At
Fillmore East, the most celebrated of the many essential
releases by the Allman Brothers Band – along with the recent
passing of what would have been Duane Allman’s 60th birthday on
November 20, 2006 – Betts has offered some of his time to share
his feelings and recollections of one of rock guitar’s true
“Duane was bursting with energy; he was a force to be
reckoned with. His drive and focus, as well as his intense
belief in himself and our band, was incredible. He knew
we were going to make it. We all knew we were a good band, but
no one had that supreme confidence like he did. And it was a
great thing, because his confidence and enthusiasm were
infectious. He helped us all believe in ourselves, too, and that
was an essential key to the success of the Allman Brothers
Betts, born in West Palm Beach, began playing in rock bands in
the mid Sixties while in his early teens. It was during this
time, as a regular on the club circuit that included popular
nightspots in Daytona Beach and Sarasota, that he first
encountered Duane and his keyboard-playing brother, Gregg. In
early 1969, the three, along with Berry Oakley on bass and Jai
Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Butch Trucks on drums, formed the
Allman Brothers Band.
Duane Allman earned his stripes as one of the true legends of
rock guitar via his soulful slide and standard guitar work on
such Allman Brothers releases as The Allman Brothers Band,
Idlewild South, At Fillmore East and Eat A Peach, as
well as through his magnificent contributions to Derek and the
Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs; it’s not
commonly known, but on Layla, Duane devised the title
track’s dynamic primary riff while also contributing brilliant
slide work to the song’s coda. His meteoric rise to fame ended
tragically, at the age of 24, in a motorcycle accident on
October 29, 1971. He was soon to be hailed as one of rock’s
greatest guitarists, alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric
Clapton, and Jimmy Page.
In the wake of Allman’s death – which was followed soon after by
the death of bassist Berry Oakley – leadership of the Allman
Brothers fell to Betts, under whose stewardship the band
achieved their greatest success with the release in 1973 of
Brothers and Sisters, which included the Betts-penned No. 1
single “Ramblin’ Man” as well as his classic rock instrumental
In this candid interview, Betts gives us a personal and intimate
view of the real Duane Allman and tells the inside story behind
what many consider to be the greatest live rock album of all
time, At Fillmore East.
Of all the rock guitar legends, Duane Allman remains the most
enigmatic. In your words, what was Duane like?
Duane was a “triple Scorpio.” In astrology, triple Scorpios are
people that are on fire – just blasting straight –ahead.
There must be something to that, because if anybody ever acted a
triple Scorpio, it was Duane.
Now that I look back after all these years, it was like he knew
that he only had a certain amount of time to get things done. If
you weren’t involved in what he thought was the big picture, he
didn’t have any time for you. A log of people really
didn’t like him for that. It’s not that he was aggressive; it
was more a super-positive, straight-ahead, I’ve-got-work-to-do
kind of thing. If you didn’t get it, it was like, see you later.
He always seemed like he was charging ahead.
Duane also had the respect of so many people; he was a natural
leader, but if he got knocked down, you’d feel compelled to do
everything you could to get him back up and going again. In
fact, he and I talked a lot about that, and we decided that
would be the difference in our band as compared to every other
band we’d ever been in: when someone falls, instead of kicking
him, or talking about him or taking advantage of him, we’d help
him and pull him back up.
How did the strength of Duane’s positive attitude impact the
He believed in what we were doing so much that, to him, it
could not fail. The rest of us knew what we had, but the
kind of confidence Duane possessed was something else entirely.
Duane didn’t plan the formation of the band. It was really a
joint effort, but Duane was definitely the spearhead. The
comments we heard at the time were that we were too good
to make it as a commercially successful band.
Following the lead of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream,
the Allman Brothers Band took the concept of free-form group
improvisation into uncharted territory and, ultimately, set a
very high musical standard. Was there a feeling among the band
members that the group had developed something groundbreaking
The feeling was that we had discovered the very thing that we’d
all been looking for, even if we didn’t really know beforehand
what that was. We could all feel that something really good was
Did Duane function as the bandleader?
He didn’t see himself as the bandleader; he led by example. And
you gained a lot of respect from Duane if you earned it, if you
proved you could keep up with him. If you couldn’t, you’d either
end up in awe of him or you might not even like him.
He was very different from Jerry Garcia [guitarist/leader of
the Grateful Dead], who was very easy
going. Duane didn’t have time to be easy going; there was much
more urgency to his personality.
Do you remember first hearing of Duane Allman?
It was around ’65, ’66. I kept hearing from different people
about this hot guitar player named Duane Allman over in Daytona.
I started going out with a girl that had dated Gregg, and she
told me about the brothers. I had a pretty good band at the time
[the Jokers, name-checked famously in the Rick
Derringer-penned hit “Rock’n’Roll, Hoochie Koo”]. We had the
biggest crowds in Sarasota.
So my girlfriend took me over to Daytona to see Duane and
Gregg’s band, the Allman Joys, and introduced me to them. I
thought they were real good, but to tell you the truth, we
didn’t get along right away. I thought they were stuck-up, and
they thought I was some hillbilly hayseed. [laughs]
A couple of years later, they came by a club I was playing in
Winter Haven [Florida] and sat in with me. Duane came up onstage to play
and I showed him the amp to plug into, which was on the dark
corner of the stage. It was hard to see, so as he was plugging
in, I tried to help him, saying, “This here is the bass and
treble, and here’s the volume,” and he looked at me and said,
“Man, I know how to run an amp by now, I think!” And I
was just trying to be nice! So I said, “Okay, well, fucking have
at it then.” So we didn’t get along that time either.
Before the formation of the Allman Brothers Band, you and
bassist Berry Oakley had forged a tight musical relationship
from playing together in a variety of different bands.
Berry and I started with a band called the Soul Children, which
later became the Blues Messengers. By 1967/’68, we moved to
Jacksonville and our band had become the Second Coming, so named
by a club owner because he thought Berry looked like Jesus
Christ. We thought that was corny as sh!t, but the club owner
offered us double what we were making in Tampa, and he had a new
club with a wild psychedelic light show, which nobody had in
Florida; that was “California” stuff. The club was called the
Scene, and it was the only place in Jacksonville like
that, and we were the only people in town with long hair.
We’d drive somewhere and people would throw sh!t at us!
At that time, nobody was coming to the club to see us, and the
ones that did had “white-wall” haircuts [buzz cuts]. So
we started to play for free in the park, and got some guys to
put a little makeshift stage and a generator together for us.
Was this Willow Branch Park?
I’m not sure of the name; it was by a place called the Forest
Inn, a BYOB after-hours joint on 10 acres, and we’d set up
outside on Sunday afternoons. Berry would say things like,
“We’ve got to get our people together,” and I’d say, “What
people?” [laughs] He’d say, “They’re out there; they just
don’t have any place to congregate.” Pretty soon, the people’s
hair started getting long, and we started to see tie-dye shirts
and beads. We started to get really good crowds, a couple
thousand people. Then the police decided to run us out of town.
By late ‘68/early ’69, Duane started showing up and he’d sit in
with us. That was when I really started to get to know Duane,
and we hit it off great then.
Did this lead to the formation of the Allman Brothers Band?
It was around that time that Duane, Oakley, and Jaimoe decided
to put a trio together, and Duane’s manager, a guy named Phil
Walden, got them a record deal. So Berry started going up to
Muscle Shoals to record with Duane. Ironically, Duane was
helping to bust up our band, which I knew was bound to happen.
What I didn’t know was what it would eventually lead to.
Their group was supposed to be a power trio, like the Jimi
Hendrix Experience and Cream, but Duane had to sing, and Jaimoe
doesn’t play drums in that style at all. Berry brought back some
demos of the stuff they were doing, and even though it was good,
they weren’t going to be able to stand up next to Hendrix and
guys like that.
Were these the tracks “Happily Married Man,” “Going Down
Slow,” and “Down Along the Cove,” which were, at the time,
supposed to go on Duane’s solo album? [The tracks were
eventually released on Duane Allman: An Anthology Vol. I and
Yeah, and they recorded some Chuck Berry stuff, like
“Maybellene” and “No Money Down,” too. Duane could sing, but he
wasn’t a “singer,” and the stuff didn’t have the power trio kind
of sound. It wasn’t making it. So it was around that time that
Berry and Thom Doucette, who played harmonica with them, started
talking to Duane about getting me into the band. They said, “You
and Betts together – this is too interesting to let it slide by.
Fuck this trio! Let’s get Betts and also get your damn brother
Gregg in here!”
At that point, Gregg was out in L.A. and they were mad at each
other. It was just a brotherly thing; they fought all of the
time. Duane said, “Oh, he ain’t coming,” but we knew Gregg was
going to have to come. And as soon as I got in there, Oakley and
Doucette and I started harping about getting another drummer,
because we felt one drummer couldn’t carry the band. Berry and I
had been playing six nights a week with our band, and Duane was
sitting in with us every night, plus we did the jam on Sundays
as an unnamed band, which would soon be called the Allman
Our drummer at the time was great, but he wasn’t the kind of
drummer we wanted for this new band with Duane and Jaimoe. His
name was “Nasty” Lord John. [laughs] He played like
Ginger Baker; he hardly ever played a straight beat. But when
Butch [Trucks, drummer] came along, he had that freight train, meat-and-potatoes
kind of thing that set Jaimoe up perfectly. He had the power
thing we needed.
Now we had a five-piece band that really started to sound like
something. And when Duane and I really started to play together
all of the time, it was like [jazz violinist] Stephan
Grappelli and [jazz guitarist] Django Reinhardt, because
we played together and complemented each other as best we
When did Gregg come into the fold?
We kept nagging Duane to call Gregg, and finally he did. Gregg
showed up in the beginning of ’69, and when he heard the band
play, he was floored. He walked in during a rehearsal,
and he said, “I can’t play with this band!” We were really
blowing; we’d been playing those free shows for six weeks by
We had songs like “Don’t Want You No More” completely down, just
the way it is on our first album. When Gregg got with us, we
added the 6/8 part to it for the organ solo, and the segued into
his song, “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” to make it like one big
Once Gregg sang and played with the band, was it obvious that
the ingredients were all in place, and this was something
We knew that what we were doing was the thing. We
all had been bandleaders, we were all very experienced as
musicians, and we knew what we now had.
And Duane was such a great guy for keeping things positive. He
would talk about all of the things that we all had been thinking
about and gave us what were, essentially, pep talks. He’d often
say, “I’m not the leader of this band, but if and when we need
one, I’m a damn good one!” And he was.
An essential part of the Allman Brothers story that is often
neglected is an acknowledgement of Berry Oakley’s many musical
contributions to the band.
Absolutely. I bring up the importance of Berry Oakley in every
interview, but it doesn’t always get printed. For one thing,
Berry was the social dynamics guy: he wanted our band to relate
to the people honestly. He was always making sure that the
merchandise was worth what they were charging, and he was always
going in and arguing about not letting the ticket prices get too
high, so that our people could still afford to come see us.
And he also played a big role in shaping the band’s
Oh yeah. “Whipping Post” was a ballad when Gregg brought it to
us; it was a real melancholy, slow minor blues, along the lines
of “Dreams.” Oakley came up with the heavy bass line that starts
off the track, along with the 6/8-to-5/8 shifting time
signature. When he played that riff for us, everyone went, “Yeah!
That’s it!” In fact, Oakley called a halt to the rehearsal
and said, “Wait a minute; let me work on this song tonight and
let’s get back to it tomorrow.” By the next day, he had that
intro worked out.
Oakley morphed a lot of those songs into something different
than the way they had started. And the arrangement on “Hoochie
Coochie Man” [from Idlewild South] was all me and Oakley.
Is that “Hoochie Coochie Man” arrangement a good example of
the way you’d been playing in Second Coming?
Yes, it was. That was the way we played together, with all of
the constantly evolving unison licks.
What were the things that Duane brought to the table,
arrangement – or composition-wise?
Duane and Gregg had a real “purist” blues thing together, but
Oakley and I in our band would take a standard blues and do what
we did with “Hoochie Coochie Man” to it. We were really trying
to push the envelope all of the time, and we didn’t care about a
purist blues attitude. We loved the blues, but we wanted
to play in a rock style, like what Cream and Hendrix were doing.
Duane was smart enough to see what ingredients were missing from
both bands. We knew that we didn’t have enough of the
true, purist blues in our band, and he didn’t have enough of the
avant-garde/psychedelic approach to the blues in his band. So he
decided to try to put the two sounds together, and that was the
first step in finding the sound of the Allman Brothers Band.
Both you and Duane were very strong personalities, musically
and otherwise. It’s easy to imagine that it would have been
difficult for two such formidable guitar players to work
together as well as you two did.
We had an immense amount of respect for each other, to the point
where it was almost like, Don’t push me too far! I didn’t push
him and he didn’t push me. We talked about being jealous of each
other and how dangerous it was to think that way, and that we
had to fight that feeling when we were onstage. He’d say, “When
I listen to you play, I have to try hard to keep the jealousy
thing at bay and not try to out-do you when I play my solo. But
I still want to play my best!” We’d laugh about what a thin line
that was. We learned a lot from each other.
When you think about it, I was only 25 and Duane was 23, and the
things we were talking about were pretty mature for guys our
age. Duane was one tough, cocksure guy. He had a strong belief
in himself, and he was damn good. I was damn good too; I
just didn’t believe in myself the way Duane did. It wasn’t until
a few years later that I thought, Well, I guess I am pretty good
In April of ’69, the band moved up to Macon, Georgia, at the
behest of Phil Walden who had by then become the band’s manager
and had signed the group to his new Capricorn record label. In
August, the band cut the first album, and the second record,
Idlewild South, was recorded between February and July 1970.
Around this time, Duane talked about wanting the next record to
be a live album.
We were all real happy with the first two records, and I should
point out that Duane was a monster in the studio. [Duane
had been a session musician at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals,
Alabama, and played on numerous tracks for Atlantic Records
artists, including Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin]. He taught me, and all of us, a lot about having the proper mind-set
for working in the studio environment. He knew how to make a
record, and he taught me how to get into the game.
But it’s true; we all wanted to make a live record by that
point. I think it was Tommy Dowd that suggested the Fillmore
East, and we said, “Yeah!” The Fillmore was our Carnegie Hall,
and we loved [Fillmore manager] Bill Graham so much. He never gave us one grain
of bullsh!t, and he’d raise hell with other bands over all kinds
of things. On the closing night of the Fillmore East, he called
us the “best damn band in America,” and that floored us.
At Fillmore East is a magical record, one that is
widely regarded as the greatest “jamming” album ever recorded.
With many live records in those days, the joke was, “the only
live thing on the record is the audience,” because just about
every band would go into the studio afterward and fix the
tracks. On At Fillmore East, nothing was changed; the
only studio work that was done was that we edited down the
length of one or two tracks, and that was it. Also, the first
night we had some horn players come and sit in with us, and we
ultimately cut them out, too. So, there was some technical stuff
done, some solos cut down in length, but there is not one
The opposite end of the spectrum is “You Don’t Love Me,”
which goes on for nearly 20 minutes.
Yeah, we let that one go! [laughs] It’s great! The thing
is, I played sh!t in there that I’d never played before in my
life. Duane played his solo bit forever, so I thought, Well,
I guess I’m supposed to come up with something, too!
Another groundbreaking byproduct of the popularity of At
Fillmore East was that FM radio began to play album tracks
like “Whipping Post,” which was the length of an entire album
In those days, FM radio was an “underground” thing, where the
DJs would tell you who the players were and give you some
background on the music. They didn’t have to follow a strict
format the way AM did, so it was pretty open. There’s nothing
like that now, but we came along at a time when we could get our
stuff, even our live stuff, played on the radio, and that was
how a great many people found out about us and became fans.
What are your feelings about At Fillmore East today?
I think it’s one of the greatest musical projects that’s ever
been done in any genre. It’s absolutely honest; an honest
representation of our band and an honest representation of the
Why do you think it’s important for people to listen to Duane
Simply because he was one of the best there ever was. When you
listen to Duane, you are hearing a truly gifted individual
giving his all to the music, and there is nothing better than
Duane played music the same way that he rode his motorcycle and
drove his car. He was a daredevil, just triple-Scorpio,
God’s-on-my-side wide open. That was part of the romance. And I
loved Duane. I have nothing but admiration for him.