After a mild stroke and surgery following a fall at home last summer, Dickey Betts may be down — but the Allman Brothers Band co-founder hardly sounds out as he prepares to release Ramblin’ Man: Live at the St. George Theatre, whose rendition of the ABB’s “Hot ‘Lanta” is premiering exclusively below.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” Betts tells Billboard with matter-of-fact calm from his home near Sarasota, Fla. “I’m still (recovering) from that accident I had; I fell in towards the brick steps and busted my head open and I had to have brain surgery and all kinds of stuff. But we’re fine.” And the Southern Rock guitar hero is even itching to get back on stage after having to cancel 10 scheduled shows post-surgery.
“The problem is just getting my health back together,” Betts acknowledges. “I’ve been laid up for a few months and not able to do anything, so you can’t just jump up and hit the road as soon as you are able. We’re talking about going out and playing a few dates — I probably will in two or three months, or next summer, if I’m still wanted out there.”
That will no doubt be the case, of course, and Ramblin’ Man shows why. Recorded on Staten Island in New York City at one of the seven shows Betts did play last year, the 17-song set — out July 26 on CD, vinyl, digital and home video — is brimming with Allmans favorites delivered by Betts and a tight band that includes his son Duane Betts sharing lead guitar duties as well as a guest appearance by Gregg Allman’s son Devon on “Midnight Rider.” Betts remembers it as “a good show, a nice place to play, a good crowd,” and he says the mission was to give that audience what it came for.
“If the audience likes them, then they’re my favorite songs,” Betts says with a laugh. “It’s nice these things have stood the test of time. Gregg wrote some awfully good stuff back in the old days — ‘Midnight Rider,’ ‘Whipping Post,’ ‘Melissa,’ a lot of stuff. We’re playing all of those; We have to, ’cause the Allmans are in complete demise. I’m kind of the last one standing; (drummer) Jaimoe’s got a nice band together, but we’re the ones out there playing them like the way everyone knows them.”
The Betts band isn’t the only one at the moment, however. While the guitarist is on the mend, the void is being filled by his son and Devon Allman, as well as fellow Allmans progeny Berry Oakley Jr., in the Allman Betts Band. The group has released its debut album, Down to the River, and incorporates plenty of vintage Allmans material in its live shows. “That’s kind of the role they’ve accepted — they’re the next generation, so why not?” the elder Betts says. “People still like that stuff, and it’s a nice niche for them to have — an inheritance, sort of. I think it’s wonderful, and they’re doing a helluva job with it, too.”
And while Betts waits for his own return to the stage, he can also ponder the 50th anniversary of the Allmans’ first album — being commemorated this year with the recent release of the four-disc Fillmore West ’71 live set. “Oh God, I’m SO old,” Betts says with another laugh. “It feels like a long time ago, but I remember most of it well. All of those record companies were turning us down, saying we didn’t dress right and we didn’t have a frontman and all our songs sounded alike and were too long. We were just getting all this negative stuff, so we just figured, ‘The hell with it. We’re not gonna be a big success, but we’re gonna play the way we want to play.’ Pretty soon the gears came together and the crowds caught on first and then the record companies, duh, came along and said, ‘Hey, they’re pretty good.’ So, yeah, we didn’t think we’d ever make it big in the music business the way we did — but we did.”