EW Online was the first publication to report (last Thursday) that founding member and lead guitarist Dickey Betts has been fired from the Allman Brothers’ summer tour, which is set to begin June 16 in Virginia Beach. The next day (Friday), the Allmans released a statement confirming that Betts has been replaced by guitarist Jimmy Herring, citing ”creative differences” as the reason. On Sunday, Betts phoned EW Online to share his side of the story.
Betts tells us he received a fax last week informing him that the other band members had voted him off the summer tour. Betts says the fax implied he needs help with a substance abuse problem. ”It says, ‘We hope that you will seek treatment and return to us happy and healthy in the fall,”’ says the guitarist, reading from the fax. Betts stongly denies the accusation. Several years ago, he admits, ”I did have a problem [with substances]. I did bow out for a while and I fully admit that I needed help. I was out of line. But not this time. That’s why this [fax] is so confusing. I really don’t understand what’s gone wrong.”
Substance abuse has always been a part of the Allman legacy, of course. In late 1996, for instance, Betts was arrested and charged with aggravated domestic assault, after allegedly putting a .44 caliber Magnum to his wife’s head during an argument about his drug use, according to Betts’ hometown Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Betts’ wife told police that her husband had been injecting heroin and cocaine before the quarrel, the paper went on to say. But Betts maintained his innocence and charges were dropped after he volunteered to enter a rehabilitation center.
But as far as Betts is concerned, his debauched days are now long over. ”We have no more drug problems in the band,” he says. For that reason, he remains confused by the band’s action and has sought further explanation from other members. After receiving the fax, he says, no one contacted him. So Betts phoned Allman, only to get a bewildering answer. ”I called Gregg, and he was very short with me. He said, ‘If you don’t know I ain’t going to tell you. Just listen to f—ing tapes [from our last show].”
Betts believes that Allman and the others decided that Betts’ playing has been compromised by drugs. But the group’s recent tour was lavished with glowing reviews, many focused largely on the guitarist’s signature style. ”Now, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, you’re the best,”’ says Betts, who subsequently reviewed the recording of their most recent performance. ”But I listened to those tapes and I thought they sounded pretty good!” (Band members and Allman management declined to comment on any of these events.)
For his part, Betts thinks there might be other reasons why the Brothers have locked him out. First, he says every member of the band except Betts and Allman are also part of a spin-off group called Frogwings. Jimmy Herring, the guitarist replacing Betts on this summer’s tour, plays with that band, which leads Betts to suspect that Frogwings agreed to get Herring in the Allmans. ”I don’t want to start making accusations,” he says. ”But, for God’s sake, if that’s what the problem is, somebody [should] come to their senses!” What’s more, Betts says that in the past he has suggested that the group cut their shows down from an exhausting three sets to two. ”Our tunes aren’t just sing-along tunes, they’re very complex. After a few days of that you gotta take a break.” But he says other members of the band disagreed about shortening their shows.
Despite the turmoil, Betts is optimistic about his future with the Allmans. ”These things happen in families. You get in an argument with your family and it’s over [something like] whose turn it is ride the bicycle,” he says. ”I don’t want you to think I don’t love these guys. They aren’t nasty guys.” Whatever the rationale, there’s no doubt that Allman Brothers fans would love to see Betts climb back on his bicycle soon.