by Stephen Peeples


Rock Around The World • July 1977   15

Forrest Richard Dicky/Dickie/Dickey Betts and his new guitar partner Dan Toler are onstage at the Roxy in L.A., building a crucial solo-change passage in “High Falls.” Weaving well the famous harmonic lines, Betts pushes the rest of Great Southern through final measure before he roars into a solo of his own. The frets on his goldtop Les Paul are frying as he builds the band and the tune to a screaming climax, and zot! blows a circuit breaker, silencing the band’s top end.

Betts, dressed in a clean-cut denim outfit, undergoes guitarus interrupt us. Lone Great Southern kitman Doni Sharbono and brand-new-that-show bassist David Goldflies keep it going until Betts overloads the circuits again. When the s:,me thing happens a third time, Betts is looking to kill, ut he aborts delivering a rapier-like coup de gras to hv dead amp with the neck of his dead guitar. Instead, he unstraps his axe, holds it up to shoulder level, and lets it fall to the Roxy stage. Amazingly, only a few tuning pegs suffer damage.

Dickey charges toward the stage door. “Get that straightened out, and I’ll come hack,” he tells road manager Billy Meyers, Tycobrahe Sound is called on the spot; rewiring the equipment takes nearly an hour, but the patient-as-hell audience goes wild when Dickey and the band plug in again. The show goes on as if nothing had happened …

* * * * * * * * * *

A fetv weeks later he was in West Palm Beach, wondering rhetorically if he’d ever be able to live down the short-tempereLi, rowdy image reported by the press. Shaking that tag is no easy task, especially when technical problems leave him with bluefingers. Or duke-outs like the one that ensued between Dickey’s ex-bassist Ken Tibbets, and ex-drummer Jerry Thompson in a Chicago Holiday Inn hallway. (Seems the departed didn’t approve of an in-progress writing session between Billy Ray Reynolds and Dickey because the departed thought new material should come from the band.) Or the disrespectful treatment from coordinators handling several Betts and Great Southern openers for Peter Frampton stadium dates, which prompted Dickey to walk offstage at one and cancel the rest. Twenty-minute sets? Not for Betts.

But there he is, leaning his smallish frame against a West Palm Beach Auditorium dressing room wall, looking remarkably serene, not at all violent after an atrocious gig plagued by sound and amp problems. Not to mention the high-domed, poured-concrete basketball barn/echo chamber he’d just played in. Or the lousy turnout, probably because the locals know the place sucks for live rock and roll.

Dickey Betts has a tendency to get ornery after extended periods on the road (even though he prefers the road to the studio), and he and Great Southern have been on the road since they finished their debut album at Criteria in Miami early this year. He’s happy that people have responded well enough to keep him on the road for that long, though it was a slow start, but the man and the band need a break.

But don’t let me jump too far ahead. A couple of weeks before the early May Roxy dates, Betts and his manager Steve Massarsky spent more than an hour with guitarist Jon Thomas and myself at Betts’ Beverly Hills Hotel-bungalow. The album had been out only a few days,

and it was still too early to take a reading on it. “I’m not real sure how this album is going to be received,” he says slowly, softly, “but if the live shows are any indication of what the acceptance will be, the people will really get off to it.”

Does being a front man instead of a sideman make him uncomfortable? “I’m pretty comfortable with it. I think the weakest thing in the band, though, is the singing. Right now it’s more into solos, and I’m not talking about a 12-bar blues, I’m talking about something like ‘High Falls,’ where you’re really put on the fuckin’ spot. It’s almost like creating a piece of music during a solo like that. So the band’s essence really is with the two guitars and the two drummers.

Twin guitars playing parallel lines came about in country and jazz during the couple of decades after Jimmie Rodgers–a great Betts influence–died of tuberculosis in the early Thirties. For Dickey, the fascination with twin leads goes back at least as far as the early Sixties (he’s in his early thirties now) when he and one of his early guitar teachers (Jerry Paramore) played together in a band hack in Florida. Band’s name? “Aw, who cares?” he blushes. It was just a little beer bar band.”

Betts was playing in another beer joint band several years later with Berry Oakley and the guy who was known to the public as El Rhino (check the Iron Butterfly) Metamorphosis album). Muscle Shoals/Macon session players Duane Allman and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny

Johanson) had been persuaded by Phil Walden to form a band, so Duane looked up Oakley and went to Florida so that the two of them could get used to each other’s playing.

Had he known Duane before? How did that situation settle with Betts and El Rhino?   known Duane for several years before that, says Dickey, “so I didn’t really think of him as a hot session player coming down to steal our bass player. It wasn’t that we hung around together a lot, but we had played and sung together before, so he wasn’t like a stranger to me.

“He and I played really well together onstage,” Betts quietly understates. “But it wasn’t until later that they asked me to join the band. It wasn’t the ABB at first, it was to be something else, called the Duane Allman Band or something like that. The three of them (Jaimoe, Duane, and Berry) did some sessions too, but it really wasn’t talked about too much. I think ‘Coin’ Down Slow’ was one of the tunes they recorded before Butch, Gregg and I joined.

Betts shifts in his tuck-and-roll hotel room chair, thinking for a moment. “I’ve always enjoyed playing with another guitarist, and I think that’s part of the reason Duane came down to play in our band. It’s hard to put two guitar players together–it takes two guys who really know how to work together, really know each other’s style. My style of writing was formed during those early days with the Allman Brothers–I kind of wrote around two guitar players. So now, I had the chance to put something new together, and it just seemed best to have another guitarist.

“I like somebody on my ass, too,” he confides, prompting belly laughs from the room’s population. “I work a lot better, come up with twice as much stuff when

somebody’s pushing me. Like George Terry pushes Eric Clapton? “Yeah, same situation. Like last night we played in Scranton, and Dan was getting standing ovations for his fucking guitar solos!” More hysterics.

Betts actually beams with pride as Toler blitzes 32nd notes on his Les Paul. so facetiously I ask if all that response for Toler worries him. “It does to a degree, to the point that it makes me work harder. He’s pushing me –that’s why he’s in the band.”

At this point, Dickey’s old friend (and co-writer “Bogainvillea”) Don Johnson walks through the bungalow door, and a lot of back pounding follows. He hasn’t seen his credit on Betts’ new album, so he grabs a copy and hurriedly scans the sleeve. “Jeeeee-zus!” he yowls, twice. “That’s great. Hey, look at the collage–there’s you, me, and your Mom. Hey, wait a minute–that damn barracuda you’re holding up-1 caught that damn fish!”

Last show last night at the Roxy, old picking partner (“Ramblin’ Man”) Dudek got onstage with Dickey and Great Southern for one hell of a “Southbound,” part of the encore. Next gig was at the Aladdin Theater in Vegas, set up so Dickey and Paulette (Cher’s former secretary) could get hitched.

Both were backstage in West Palm a few weeks later, and at Paulette’s prompting. he’s telling me about their rather unusual honeymoon night: “Yeah, I was on the blackjack tables until eight o’clock the next morning.” When the laughter subsides, he takes a sip of beer and lays the hook on us. “Those dealers looked so poor I decided to leave them $1200 of my money!” Paulette says she made about $12 on the slots, and cracks everybody up relating how hotel security in Vegas almost busted her for hooking, because she was wandering down the wrong hallway.

After the Aladdin, the band (still light one drummer after Chicago) picked up drummer Dave Toler (Dan’s continued on pg. 30