Dickey Betts, co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band, dies aged 80

Dickey Betts, co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band, dies aged 80

Guitar legend and Allman Brothers Band co-founder Dickey Betts has died. He was 80.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who wrote the band’s biggest hit, “Ramblin’ Man”, died on Thursday (18 April) morning at his home in Osprey, Florida, his manager of 20 years, David Spero, confirmed.

According to Spero, Betts had been battling cancer for more than a year and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Betts’ family announced his passing on Instagram, writing: “It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that the Betts family announce the peaceful passing of Forrest Richard ‘Dickey’ Betts (December 12, 1943 – April 18, 2024) at the age of 80 years old. The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader and family patriarch passed away earlier today at his home in Osprey, FL, surrounded by his family. Dickey was larger than life, and his loss will be felt world-wide.”

Betts shared lead guitar duties with Duane Allman in the original Allman Brothers Band to help give the group its distinctive sound and create a new genre – Southern rock.

Founded in 1969, the Allmans were a pioneering jam band, trampling the traditional notion of three-minute pop songs by performing lengthy compositions in concert and on record. The band was also notable as a biracial group from the Deep South.

Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, and founding member Berry Oakley was killed in a motorcycle crash a year later. That left Betts and Allman’s younger brother Gregg as the band’s leaders, but they frequently clashed, and substance abuse caused further dysfunction. The band broke up at least twice before reforming, and has had more than a dozen lineups.

The Allman Brothers Band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and earnt a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2012. Betts left the group for good in 2000, and also played solo and with his own band Great Southern, which included his son, guitarist Duane Betts.

Born Forrest Richard Betts on 12 December 1943, he was raised in the Bradenton, Florida, area, near the highway 41 he sang about in “Ramblin’ Man.” His family had lived in the area since the mid-19th century.

Betts grew up listening to country, bluegrass and Western swing, and played the ukulele and banjo before focusing on the electric guitar because it impressed girls. At 16 he left home for his first road trip, joining the circus to play in a band.

He returned home, and with bassist Oakley joined a group that became the Jacksonville, Florida-based band Second Coming. One night in 1969 Betts and Oakley jammed with Duane Allman, already a successful session musician, and his younger brother, and together they formed the Allman Brothers Band.

The group moved to Macon, Georgia, and released a self-titled debut album in 1969. A year later came the album Idlewild South, highlighted by Betts’ instrumental composition “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, which soon became a concert staple.

The 1971 double album At Fillmore East, now considered among the greatest live albums of the classic rock era, was the Allmans’ commercial breakthrough and cemented their performing reputation by showcasing the unique guitar interplay between Allman and Betts. Their styles contrasted, with Allman playing bluesy slide guitar, while Betts’ solos and singing tugged the band toward country. When layered in harmony, their playing was especially distinctive.

The group also had two drummers — “Jaimoe” Johanson, who is Black, and Butch Trucks.

Duane Allman died four days after Fillmore was certified as a gold record, but the band carried on and crowds continued to grow. The 1973 album Brothers and Sisters rose to No 1 on the charts and featured “Ramblin' Man”, with Betts singing the lead and bringing twang to the Top 40. The song reached No 2 on the singles charts and was kept out of the No 1 spot by “Half Breed” by Cher, who later married Gregg Allman.

Betts also wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s other best-loved songs, including “Blue Sky” and “Southbound.” In later years, the group remained a successful touring act with Betts and Warren Haynes on guitar. Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks died in 2017.

After leaving the Allmans for good, Betts continued to play with his own group and lived in the Bradenton, Florida area with his wife, Donna.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press