5 Must-Hear Songs from Dickey Betts’ Solo Career

Dickey Betts was a man with an outlaw heart, yet an outlaw who wrote beautifully tender songs.

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He played earthy and cosmic guitar melodies, and his songwriting lifted The Allman Brothers Band to a wide commercial audience. He and Duane Allman’s weaving guitar style established Southern rock and forever changed music. Following Allman’s death in 1971, Betts’ role within the band grew, and he wrote their only Top 10 hit, “Ramblin’ Man.”

He’s also responsible for the Florida group’s well-known instrumentals “Jessica” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Betts died on April 18 at age 80. Though he lived as hard as anyone, Betts outlived every founding member of The Allman Brothers Band except drummer Jaimoe.

Following the Allmans’ hiatus in 1976, Betts focused on a solo career with his band Great Southern. Later, he’d form The Dickey Betts Band. However, guitarist Warren Haynes said, “Dickey had so much reverence for the Allman Brothers’ music. He looked at it as a sacred thing.”

Casual fans may have missed Betts’ work outside The Allman Brothers Band. The collection below is a good way to begin your Dickey Betts playlist. It highlights essential moments from the late singer, songwriter, and guitarist’s solo work. Though not as well-known as the band that made him famous, the songs remain important parts of the Southern rock canon.

“Good Time Feeling” from Atlanta’s Burning Down (1978)

“Good Time Feeling” begins with Betts improvising alone before his band Great Southern enters with a Southern boogie. Atlanta’s Burning Down is Betts’ third solo album, and his tender voice is at odds with his hard-living reputation. Betts infamously threw punches at cops in 1976, which is only one of his many drug-fueled tales. The Allman Brothers Band eventually fired Betts in 2000 due to his behavior, which is quite a fact considering the wild history of the band.

Well, I’ve been around
For a pretty good while
I’ve been on the move
Since I was just a little baby child

“Duane’s Tune” from Live from the Lone Star Roadhouse New York City (1988)

Betts’ ode to his late bandmate and friend Duane Allman appears on his 1988 studio album Pattern Disruptive. But it’s the live version recorded at the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York City where the Southern rock jam sounds the most inspired. Like The Allman Brothers Band’s historic live recordings at the Fillmore, Betts’ playing on the New York rendition of “Duane’s Tune” has a fiery intensity expanding the more controlled studio version.

“Long Time Gone” from Highway Call (1974) as Richard Betts

“Long Time Gone” opens Betts’ solo debut and expands the country rock sound he made famous on the Allmans’ Brothers and Sisters. You can hear echoes of “Ramblin’ Man,” which Hank Williams’ song of the same name inspired. Betts’ soft singing resembles Bob Dylan’s country croon on Nashville Skyline (1969). The Allmans’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell appears on the album with Vassar Clements on fiddle and Jeff Hanna (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) on acoustic guitar.

Having fun, son of a gun
I ain’t fit to be tied
I’m on my way back to Georgia
Won’t you give me a ride?

“Bougainvillea” from Dickey Betts & Great Southern (1977)

Betts co-wrote “Bougainvillea” with actor Don Johnson (from Miami Vice). The song combines the sweetness of Highway Call and the lonesome blues of Gregg Allman. Guitarist Dan Toler accompanies Betts for the kind of dual, harmonized guitar style Betts and Duane Allman made famous. Toler later became a member of The Allman Brothers Band in the late ’70s following their first hiatus.

Bougainvillea, sing your song
For my lover, for my love, I need
Sweet Bougainvillea, let her wear your flower in her hair
You will always be, always be our love song

“Highway Call” from Highway Call (1974) as Richard Betts

The title track to Betts’ debut solo album, credited as Richard Betts, is a country rock masterpiece. “Highway Call” is a wistful song in which Betts glimpses a simple past before his life as a touring musician. Though the road feels lonely, Betts resigns to rolling down the highway—a call he cannot refuse. Betts’ restrained guitar theme is a beautiful, buoyant melody showcasing the emotional instincts of his songwriting.

Sometimes, I feel so all alone
That ain’t no place to be
Wish I had my feet under her table
And a little child on my knee

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Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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