Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band founding guitarist, dead at 80

Dickey Betts in 1980
(Image credit: Kirk West via Getty Images)

Dickey Betts, the founding guitarist of Southern rock lynchpins The Allman Brothers Band, has died at the age of 80 following a battle with cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The news was confirmed in a statement from the band.

The statement read: "With deep sadness the Allman Brothers Band learned today that founding member Dickey Betts has passed away peacefully in his home in Sarasota, Florida, following a period of declining health. 

"Dickey wrote quintessential Brothers songs including Blue Sky, Rambling Man, Jessica, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and many others. His extraordinary guitar playing alongside guitarist Duane Allman created a unique dual guitar signature sound that became the signature sound of the genre known as Southern rock.

"He was passionate in life, be it music, songwriting, fishing, hunting, boating, golf, karate or boxing. Dickey was all in on and excelled at anything that caught his attention.

"Betts joins his brothers, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman, as well as ABB crew, members Twiggs Lyndon, Joe Dan Petty, Red Dog, Kim Payne and Mike Callahan in that old Winnebago in the sky touring the world taking their music to all who will listen."

The statement finished by passing on condolences to Betts' family, before adding, "Play on Brother Dickey, you will be forever remembered and deeply missed."

Betts was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and grew up in a musical family. He hooked up with Duane Allman in 1968 after his band, the Cream-obsessed Second Coming – who also included future Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley – backed Wilson Picket on his cover of The Beatles' Hey Jude. Gregg Allman joined, and the lineup was completed by drummers Jai ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson and Butch Trucks.

Their First Album, The Allman Brothers Band, in 1969, laid the foundation for a whole new style of rock music, blending bluesy, jazz-tinged soul with a progressive Southern vibe. Betts contributed a couple of gems: the opening, stirring Revival and the towering instrumental In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, which quickly assumed more than double its seven-minute length on stage.

After the death of fellow guitarist Duane Allman in October 1971, Betts rose to the musical challenge and came up with two outstanding songs for the Brothers And Sisters album – the gorgeous country ballad Ramblin’ Man, which was the Allmans’ first and biggest hit, and the instrumental Jessica, which was later used for the theme to TV motoring programme Top Gear.

Betts continued to play with the Allman Brothers Band until their first, temporary split in 1976. He rejoined in 1978 and again for a subsequent reunion in 1989, and last played with the band in 2000 before before fired, a despite he took to court. He also enjoyed a lengthy solo career, from 1974's Highway Call – released under the name Richard Betts –  to his final release, 2021's Official Bootleg Vol.1, as Dickey Betts & Great Southern.

In 2018 he was ordered to rest after suffering a stroke. "Dickey really regrets that he can’t be there for his fans," said his manager, David Spero, "but he has to take care of his health first."

"I’ve had a great life and I don’t have any complaints,” he'd told Rolling Stone the previous year. “If I could do it again, I don’t know what I could do to make it different. There are lawsuits I probably could have dealt with better. But so what? You have to get in there and fight and do the best with your amount of time."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.