Today marks The Allman Brothers Band co-founding guitarist Dickey Betts‘ 78th birthday. Born Forrest Richard Betts in West Palm Beach, Florida on December 12, 1943, Dickey began his musical journey at an early age, playing just about anything with strings he could get his hands on, and went on to form the band Second Coming with future ABB founding bassist Berry Oakley in 1967. Berry would bring Dickey into a fledgling group spearheaded by guitarist Duane Allman who already had a drummer named Jaimoe. Another drummer, Butch Trucks, joined and when Duane’s brother Gregg Allman returned from Los Angeles, The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969.
While ABB soon found success, tragedy struck the band time and time again in the 1970s beginning with the death of Duane in a motorcycle accident in October 1971 and Berry’s similar death a year later. The group brought in bassist Lamar Williams and Dickey stepped into the sole guitarist role, no easy feat in a band famous for its double guitar attack. As the story goes, Dickey learned Duane’s slide guitar parts over the course of a night’s traveling.
Betts also leaned more into a songwriting role along with Gregg and composed some of the band’s most well-known tunes including the instrumentals “Jessica” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” Dickey also penned the classics “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man,” the latter the band’s most commercially successful hit. But success could not stop the group from growing apart and The Allman Brothers Band disbanded in 1976.
A reunion came in 1978 with Betts bringing in new members guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies from his group Great Southern to round out out the lineup as Williams and keyboardist Chuck Leavell remained in their band Sea Level at the time. The reunion was short-lived, however, and ABB broke up once again in 1982.
1989 marked 20 years since The Allman Brothers Band formed and the group decided to give it another go. Betts once again brought in another talented player from his Dickey Betts Band, guitarist Warren Haynes, to round out the band’s lineup. ABB also added bassist Allen Woody. Woody and Haynes (who later co-founded Gov’t Mule) would form chemistry and ABB began touring hard in the 1990s.
ABB released their 11th studio album, Where It All Begins, on May 3, 1994. On August 29 of that year, The Allman Brothers Band appeared on Late Night With David Letterman. The lineup featuring Allman, Betts, Haynes, Woody, Trucks and Jaimoe along with percussionist Marc Quiñones and Late Night bandleader Paul Shaffer on piano performed the Dickey Betts-penned “Back Where It All Begins.”
ABB returned to Letterman in 1995 around their live album An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set and Gregg led the lineup through the blues standard “You Don’t Love Me,” which appeared on ABB’s landmark 1971 live LP At Fillmore East. The Allman Brothers Band took the Late Night stage once again on Leap Day (February 29) in 1996 and delivered Betts’ classic instrumental “Jessica” complete with killer guitar harmonies from Dickey and Warren.
To celebrate Dickey Betts birthday, check out the aforementioned ABB Letterman performances and more below: