Friday, July 19, 2013

My First Guitar Hero: Dickey Betts

by Chris L Clifton

It was 1972, and a teenager who had just started playing guitar sat down to watch a new live TV/Music format called a "simulcast". It was a Monday night, the ABC show was called "In Concert".

It was the first of a series where the concert was broadcast both on TV and a local FM radio station at the same time. Today, it would be no big deal, but then it was special, MTV didn't come along until years later.

My Dad had reluctantly agreed to let me have control of his TV and stereo for one hour, and I sat impatiently on the carpet in our living room waiting for the show to start.

The Allman Brothers walked on to the stage. I did not know at the time who Duane Allman was, or that he had just died months before. They were originally a two guitar band and hadn't replaced him, so the remaining guitar player had to just wing it and play both parts by himself as best he could.

I sat with eyes and ears wide open as Dickey Betts started clicking off the opening riff for "One Way Out". I had never heard the song before, and it would be years later before I would come to know that it was actually an old blues song.

There was just something about the rhythm and the structure of it that grabbed me by the insides, and has never let go. His solo playing seemed as if he were making it up as he went along, but it was also clear that he knew exactly where he was going and how he wanted it to sound.

And that rhythm! It was like nothing I had ever heard before. It was only recently that a drummer friend of mine explained to me just why their percussion sound was so unique.

There was something new and something old about the whole thing. I had been listening to the Beatles, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc. for years, but had never heard anybody do anything like what this guy was doing on guitar.

It was blues, rock, and melodic all at the same time. Dickey Betts instantly became my first guitar hero, and they way he played this song became my first "Vision quest". I went out the next day and bought the LP "Eat a Peach" with my allowance.

I must have played "One Way Out" dozens of times that afternoon, over and over. Today, when I play this song live, the first guitar solo is as close as I can get to note for note with what Dickey did on the "Eat a Peach" album. My personal homage to my first guitar hero.

Although Dickey is best known for writing and singing the song "Ramblin Man", and the instrumental "Jessica", my favorite of his work is on an early Allman Brothers instrumental called "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed".

This song features he and Duane Allman playing twin lead guitar, and with Duane actually playing without his signature slide. It sounds, to me, like a perfect union of blues, jazz, and rock-jam all in the same tune.

One of the most significant contributions the pair of Betts and Allman made is in the way they rewrote the roles of a two guitar line up.

Up to that point, traditionally, any time there were two guitars in a band, one played rhythm and the other played lead. Think of the Beatles with John on rhythm and George playing lead.

But, in the case of Dickey and Duane, although each would play rhythm behind the other at times, for the most part their signature sound was when both of them coordinated their lead parts together.

They were famous for playing dual parts simultaneously, many times with harmony or octave intervals coordinated between the two.

Two of the most talented guitarists who ever lived, each with his own unique style, playing together as one unit. Although they only played together for a short time, their legacy only grows stronger as the decades pass.

If you want to hear what many have termed "Blues Rock" at its finest, check out the early recordings of the Allman Brothers Band, you will not be disappointed.

Next time ... just how and why Dickey's sound is so different from other guitar players of the same era. Later ... how an aspirin bottle made music history!

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