Allman Brothers Band, B.B King, Berry Oakley, Buddy Guy, Cream, Dickey Betts, Howlin' Wolf, Jack Casady, Jeff Beck Group, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Reed, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, Richard Price, Second Coming, The Load, The Unbroken Circle, Willie Dixon
Dickey Betts is usually associated with the country influences on the Allman Brothers Band, and with songwriting contributions such as “Rambling Man” and “Jessica” it is clear that Dickey brought country to the band. Less frequently acknowledged are his blues and jazz influences.
I spoke with Richard Price, bass player for the The Load, and later for Second Coming (the band that contributed both Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley to the Allman Brothers Band), who talked about the early musical influences of the Allman Brothers Band and some of the “Jacksonville Jams” that gave birth to the band.
“I have tapes of a really early live show that Dickey did in a band called the Jokers in 1963, where he was already doing some blues stuff, even though his father came from a country background. He studied country, ’cause there was nothing he could do about it; it was all around him with his family, sitting around picking, bluegrass and country. He had one band called the Jokers, one band called the Jesters; he was in one band called the Dynamics. He was doing Jimmy Reed pretty early, and he was goofing around with whatever blues stuff he could find. I know for sure that we did ‘Born in Chicago’.”
Dickey has called the Allman Brothers Band a “progressive rock band from the south” and was clearly influenced by the developing “psychedelic” music scene of the time.
“Berry and Dickey both were being influenced by the San Francisco hippie scene. For Berry the band that influenced him the most would have been Jefferson Airplane, because he was a big fan of the bass player’s (Jack Casady, later of Hot Tuna) work. You can here that in those early Second Coming tapes.”
In 1968 The Second Coming cut a 45 with Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars” on the A side, and Cream’s “I Feel Free” on the flip side. The single was included 21 years later on The Allman Brothers Band “Dreams” box set.
While the integration of musical styles was one of the hallmarks of the Allman Brothers Band, other musicians were exploring similar ideas: “The Jeff Beck Group’s record that came out with Rod Stewart, that album was very influential for all of us because it was blues based, but it was psychedelic rock influenced too.” That album was the debut album by the Jeff Beck Group, “Truth” with the lineup of Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, future Rolling Stone Ron Wood, and drummer Micky Waller, released in 1968. The album featured psychedelic interpretations of Chicago blues classics by artists including Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, and B. B. King.
Exploring beyond his country roots, playing the blues and psychedelic wasn’t enough for Dickey, who was expanding into jazz too: “Dickey was actually a little ahead of Duane as far as jazz licks, or scales that were leaning more towards jazz.”
All of these musical influences came together at the Jacksonville Jams, a series of jams held in Jacksonville, Florida in later 1968 and early 1969:
“I remember one of the jam nights when Duane was starting to jam with us, and by us I mean the Load and the Second Coming. We were throwing the jams, we were already playing the blues based stuff but playing it bigger and louder with giant amps and closer to Cream and Zeppelin and Peter Green and all them guys, and all the Brits. I would say it was the 60s that really took blues from the quieter volume levels and the clear tones into the more distorted and power approach to the blues. We did all of that stuff before Duane was in the picture. But needless to say, since him and Gregg were both heavily influenced starting very young, by the time they broke up their band in California and Duane moved to Muscle Shoals, literally slept out in the parking lot trying to get his foot in the door there. By the time they recognized him there, where he was actually getting sessions playing with all those black artists that he worked with there, he was already playing very well, and playing blues and stuff. So the thing that was cool was when he came down to our scene, I wouldn’t say we played blues all night by any means, but we did a good chunk of it, and so immediately when Duane hit, it was not a problem for him to be sitting in or jamming with us. And for him to take off on a tune, or calling out a tune, and the rest of us jumping in on it and see where it went. Like he used to play a psychedelic blues rock version of ‘Hey Joe’, used to whip out ‘Happily Married Man’. He played ‘Hey Joe’ before he came to Jacksonville. So I would say Dickey, even though Duane was a little closer to the center of blues in everything he did, as far as his touch and the way he approach things, Dickey was someone who would step outside the box a little more when it came to scales and jamming, and was a little ahead of Duane in jazz. Once they formed the band and the jam mentality kicked in, and the arrangements for everybody to solo and jam out, obviously Duane was influenced by Dickey and vice versa. Duane would pull out all kinds of tunes. We would try ‘Sweet Little Angel’ by BB King.”
Richard talked about some of the tapes that have been circulated over the years:
“There was a jam tune that was recorded, and one time Dickey wasn’t on the guitar, Duane was on the guitar and Rhino (Larry Reinhardt, guitarist for The Load and Second coming, who went on to form Iron Butterfly and Captain Beyond, and played with Bobby Womack as well as releasing his own solo material) was beside me, so Dickey went up to the mike, and we just launched into a slow blues progression and Dickey made up the words on the spot. It didn’t even have a title; it was just a slow blues thing. Of course it’s been passed around and fans have put titles on things.”
“Dickey was no blues slouch when Duane showed up; he could cook. And I think that’s why they liked each other immediately and they also immediately in the jams, one of them would hit a riff and the other would just find the harmony for it. This was spontaneous, this was way pre the formation of the Allman Brothers Band and them starting rehearsals and doing original tunes written by Gregg or whomever, and before the harmony guitar work became part of the arrangements. In the jams they weren’t arrangements, in the jam they were like boom, it was just spontaneous. Once they formed the band and they were working on tunes to be the way they wanted them, they would plan the harmonies to be part of the arrangements.”
“Listen to ‘Liz Reed’, listen to all of those beautiful instrumentals that Dickey wrote. Every one of them is heavily jazz influenced. And the weirdness of the melodies, of the scales and stuff. Those were pretty much in Dickeys head, and Duane just loved it and he would add to it. And Dickey influenced him with the jazz side, more than the other way around. All of them are beautiful melodies, and some of the intervals that stepped out of the regular scale, that stuff was from Dickey. They just kind of grew together like two circles standing side by side and the two circles overlap a ways, and there’s that space in there where the two of them are overlapping that created this strange guitar duo. They both brought a lot to the table.”
Those “two circles overlapping” was the foundation for one of the greatest rock bands and the birth of what came to be known as “Southern Rock” (or as Dickey would say, “a progressive rock band from the south”).