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Author: Subject: Dickey Betts interview from 2003

True Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 06:32 AM

This months interview is with one of the all time greats. If you remember any of my older articles, you will remember the guitarists that influenced me the most were Jimi Hendrix, Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and six more greats. We are lucky enough to have Dickey Betts sit down and answer some questions. Dickey Betts is known for having great guitar tone and some of the greatest all time licks ever heard. He has also written some of the most memorable Allman Brothers tunes of all time. Most guitarists wish they had just one great memorable lick. Dickey can have several in the same song. He is definitely a Guitar Great Hall of Famer. Great licks, great tone, great jams, great shows, and just some good time
music. You can't ask for more.

Charlie Daniels sang about him and his red guitar. He then immortalized the Les Paul Gold Top, "Goldie" which Gibson has finally made a reissue of and a Marshall amp are his tools of trade. Dickey is the name and music is the game and for over thirty years, no one has done it better. He is now on the road with his own band Dickey Betts and Great Southern. I have seen this band several times and it is great to say that Dickey is playing as good as ever. I always hear people walking out at the end of the show saying it was the best show ever. He is playing like a young rising musician having fun on stage and jamming on even longer and putting more in to the songs than has ever been heard. Dickey Betts and Great Southern is a show that all guitar players must see if they want to see how the guitar is really supposed to be played. Just like all the greats, it's not speed, it's pure tone and perfectly played notes.

BG: What is the history of the guitars you have and why did you choose those guitars?
DB: The History of the guitars I have, let me see, I have about 30. The one that I play is a '57 Les Paul. I bought it back in the '70's in New York and actually Gibson started making this Custom Shop guitar. They can only make 500 of them a year and actually I am playing one of their new ones. Believe it or not it sounds better than my original '57. You know they are all a little different. I've got a Gold Top that they made for me that just sounds beautiful, so my original '57 Gold top I leave at home now.

Then I've got (strums the guitar) this 1929 Gibson L-50 I think they call it. I like to play acoustic slide on it. I have one here (strums theguitar)it's a National Steel body, an O series. I found that one in New York in of all places an antique store and then this one (strums the guitar), Elvin Bishop gave me and it is a National Tri-Cone steel body

BG: Is that what you played on Little Martha?
DB: No actually this guitar here is what Duane played on Little Martha. This one is actually a Dobro. It's got a wooden body with the metal resonator in it and that was Duane's old guitar that he played on Little Martha. I was actually playing a Martin on that and Duane played the Dobro.

BG: Which Martin did you play?
DB: I don't have it anymore, I gave it away. It was a 1970 D-28. I've got guitars all over the house, but you know that I am a Les Paul man for the most part. I've got a 1956 Fender Hardtail, one that's never had a tremolo bar put in it.

BG: Is that the one you were playing slide on?
DB: Yeah, that's the one I am playing slide on. That's a really fine guitar.

BG: Did you do any modifications to the Les Paul at all?
DB: The new ones that Gibson made for me, I didn't do anything to, but my '57, the pickups went bad in it and I put a set of Seymour Duncan copies that they hand wind them just like the Gibsons. They are the copy of the P.A.F. Humbuckers.

BG: When you chose the pickups for your Gold Top that Gibson remade, why did you choose the '57 Classics over the Burstbuckers?
DB: I didn't choose the pickups they just sent it to me with the '57 Classics in it. You know they are selecting the wood and drying the wood in a computerized kiln dryer and they are putting nitro cellulous lacquer on them and that's what makes the difference more than anything else, I think it's the wood and the kind of paint they use on it. Nitro Cellulose is what they put on violins. It's a real crispy sound. It lets the wood vibrate. Gibson has got a deal worked out with the E.P.A. I think they pay them a $10,000.00 fine right off the bat and then the E.P.A. allows them to make I think 550 guitars a year. This is the Custom Shop, not the Historics. The Historics are different. The Custom Shop is something that they just started doing. The reissues do not have the nitro cellulose on them.

BG: I wanted to ask you about Jim Wagner of WCR that is making the Fillmore pickups, have you heard of them yet?
DB: I have heard his name, I haven't heard about the pickups yet. I have heard about him when the techs talk about that guy.

BG: What amps did you use with the Allman Brothers and what are you using now?
DB: I've got two sets of amps. With my band I am using one 50 watt Marshall and it's the vintage Marshall, the reissue and I think they quit making them again already. They make them for a little while and then they stop. I've got four of those. I use one 50 watt Marshall with one Marshall cabinet with JBL Lansing 120's in it and I use an old Ibanez digital echo. I try to get it to sound as close as I can to the tape echo and it seems to work great.

With the Allman Brothers I used two 100 watt vintage Marshalls with two cabinets with the Lansings in them. The Allman Brothers Band is a lot louder band than this band is.

BG: Is that why you dropped down to 50 watts?
DB: Yeah, all I need is like 50 watts and I run it on like four. It's loud. We play loud enough for rock and roll. Even outdoors, I just use one 50 watt head.

BG: One of the things that you are known for is your tone.
DB: Well you know the Lansing speakers have a lot to do with it and I don't use any distortion at all. I just use the natural distortion. If I can overdrive the tubes in the amp that's what I try to do. I put the amp just loud enough to overdrive the tubes in the amp.

BG: How do you set your guitars and your amps to get that tone?
DB: On that Marshall, depending on the room, but on the average, I usually set treble on about two-thirds and the bass and the middle on about one-third. My guitar, I usually play on the front pickup.

BG: Most of your leads are on the front pickup?
DB: Yeah and sometimes I split it between the two pickups, add a little bit of the treble pickup to it. I kind of like a thicker sound than most people do.

Duane used to play all of his stuff on the treble pickup. It was nice playing with Duane. He was one hell of a player and one hell of a person. He was a great guy.

BG: How do you think you influenced Duane's playing?
DB: Duane was more of a real purist blues man and well my dad and all my uncles were fiddle players. I think growing up hearing the melodies and things, I think that with Duane and I, it was the chemistry. I was more of a melody kind of guy. I would just start a melody and Duane would jump on it and play the harmony to it. That doesn't explain the whole thing between me and Duane, but that's basically what we did. I think he picked up the idea of playing melody in rock and roll and I picked up a lot of stuff from him on how to pour your heart in to playing a blues line. We learned a lot from each other.
Part II of the Dickey Betts interview continued from the October/November
2003 issue of Musicians Hotline.

BG: What scales do you use for your leads?
DB: When I play blues, I play out of a dominant 7th kind of chord. It's basically that scale, but when I'm playing Blue Sky or Jessica or that kind of song, it's a pentatonic scale, it's got that 7th left out.

BG: Is Jessica played mainly with two fingers, like a Django Rheinhardt thing?
DB: I was thinking about Django Rheinhardt when I wrote that thing. Well, I still listen to Django, but at that particular time that's all I was listening to. I was trying to get that Django sound, that real happy kind of a thing that he does. I was playing it like a two finger thing because you know Django only had two fingers because his hand was burned, so yes you can play that tune with two fingers, but I don't do it that way. When I was writing it I was kind of playing it with two fingers to try to get that sound. The skip hop sound.

BG: When I listen to One Way Out on Eat a Peach, it's one of the greatest solos I have ever heard, how did you get all those great riffs in one lead?
DB: I don't remember exactly what I did on that record. That is a fun song to play, but I probably put a little western swing kind of thing to it. Duane was more of a spitfire kind of a player and my playing was more western swing type. I grew up with a guy that was and still is a great, great western swing player, in fact he is on the acoustic album that we did this past winter. That's Dave Lyle sitting to my right on that little couch and I learned an awful lot from him. He is a great player.

BG: When I hear that lead, it is pure tone, I can actually smell the fresh cut wood when I hear it.
DB: I think as far as my sound goes, I try to keep the effects out and I am not being derogatory about people that use effects, I don't mean it that way at all, but for my sound, I just want the speakers, the guitar, and piece of wood, I get a pretty truer sound that way.

BG: What guitar players influenced you the most?
DB: Well Dave Lyle, the fellow I was just talking about probably influenced me the most. I think my favorite blues player was Freddie King although I really studied BB King a lot. My vibrato or shake, I think I got from listening to BB so much. BB has got a wonderful vibrato. I listen to Django a lot and I listen to Charlie Parker, the horn player, but I don't really sit and try to learn the licks. I just listen to it and let it influence me naturally. I really enjoy just sitting back and listening to the music. Paco DeLucia is, Good God that thing he did with Jon McLauglin and Al Dimeola is just a wonderful CD. Probably right now I listen to that more than anything else.

BG: When you pick out a guitar, what is most important, the neck, the sound or the body?
DB: Well it's interesting because when Gibson came to me with these new Custom Shop guitars and I had left Gibson, because the people that were building their guitars they just didn't care what people like me had to say to them, so I just left Gibson. Anyway they approached me like two or three years ago and brought me these Custom Shop guitars and it tickled the hell out of Michael McGuire that builds the guitars, it really tickled him because they brought a little amp on the bus and I said I don't want the amp, I just want to listen to it. What I am getting at is if I am looking at an electric guitar, I would rather just play it and hear what it sounds like right off the wood without putting it in to the amp. If it sounds good right off the amp, you know it's gonna sound great with an amp. Acoustic guitars, you know I'm not a big acoustic player, although slide guitar I look for a real sharp hard sound like these little 3/4 bodies, a good sharp edge to it for slide. I've got a Gibson 1950 J-50, regular guitar and I love that thing, it's a slope shouldered thing, doesn't have the big rounded curves. It's built more like a Martin, almost squared off. This little thing here, this 1929, listen to this sound (Strums the guitar). I mean that's got such a nice hard sound to it.

BG: I spoke to Dan about guitars.
DB: Dan Toler? Boy it's great being back playing with him again. You know we have a long history together. You know the way we met was when I was putting the first Great Southern Band together back in the mid 70's and then he came with The Allman Brothers after we regrouped. Actually Danny was the first guitar player we had after Duane died. We never had another guitar player. It was just Chuck Levell you know and we kind of doubled up the harmonies with the piano and keyboards.

BG: Now when I see you, it's almost like you are back in your 20's again you look like you are having fun on stage like it's not really a job.
DB: We have really got a lot of nice creative enthusiasm going with this group. They are a great bunch of guys. They are all just heavy hitters. They all can play their ass off. But it does take more than just getting a bunch of good players together. There is a real nice understanding about what we are trying to do. It's really coming along really nice. It's a great experience.

BG: I saw you up in Dover, which was the last concert of the year for you and you were only supposed to play for two hours and you guys played for about 3 and half hours, like the old Fillmore days. How do you explain after being on the road, the last show and you just went on playing?
DB: The hard work on the road is not the playing. The hard part is the traveling and getting up. The odd hours sleeping. You know you sleep three hours on the bus then you get up and you go in to the hotel and you sleep for another three hours there and you get up and go to the show. The show part is the fun part of being out there. We try to get the most out of it and I think the audience appreciates us giving them a good long show.

BG: I hear a lot of people coming out of your shows saying, "That's the best show I have ever heard."
DB: Oh my (Very appreciative). We are just trying to be the best that we can.

BG: The two main things that you are known for is tone and that you don't play fast leads, every note is just right where it belongs. When you hit a good note, you hold it for everyone to hear instead of rushing on to the next note.
DB: I try to play fast, but just not a real fast player (With a laugh)

BG: If you played fast, it just wouldn't sound right.
DB: I really put a lot of stock into the tone of my guitar and try to get the emotion. That's what it's all about. Whether it's happy or you're talking about a busted up love affair or whatever, you just pour it all in to it. You are right. It is not how fast you can play, like Django Rheinhardt for instance, he got the same thing I am talking about by playing fast. He'd get you real excited and everything by playing fast, but everybody doesn't play fast to play good.
Part III of the Dickey Betts interview continued from the November/December
2003 issue of Musicians Hotline.

Having been a long time Allman Brothers fan, it was a thrill to get to interview Dickey Betts. My big sister Jody was the first person to get me to listen to the Allman Brothers, playing Eat A Peach and The Fillmore East albums for me. Then on June 8, 1974, we got to go see our first real concert. My parents allowed each of us to bring two friends to the concert. So my mother, father, my sister's friends Barbara Seel, Tammy Chandlee, myself and my friends, Liz Sawyer, and Mark Needle got in to my dad's Chrysler Newport and off to Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City we went. Dickey is now touring with his own band and is playing better than ever. He was a great interview, telling me a lot of the secrets of his guitars, equipment and the scales that he uses. Instead of being tired at the end of his tour, he seemed to want the tour to never end. He loves his music and has a great time making people happy. He did mention that One Way Out is a fun song to play. I think itıs a fun song to listen to. How about adding it back to the set list? Next time Dickey Betts and Great Southern are in your town, donıt miss the show. At the end of the interview, Dickey said how he loves his fans and that they seem like they are all a bunch of his friends. Then he thanked me for doing the interview and told me that he would love to have me stop up on the tour bus so he can check out some of my guitars. Iıll see you next time you are back in New Jersey.

BG Do you think your leads out, or do they just come naturally while you are playing?
DB Oh no I don't think them out. That's the last thing I want to do. I think one of the best expressions that has come along lately is to describe a lot of these kind of bands as Jam Bands. I mean that's really what we have all been doing for so long.Southern Rock is a great way to describe a certain bunch of bands, but it didn't really have much to do with the music.

BG It's just where you grew up
DB Yes, they are all influenced by a little country, a little jazz and some urban blues. Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers are totally different sounding bands. The Jam Band thing explains it a lot better. We always used to try to call it progressive rock.

BG When I look at the Allman Brothers, it is almost one of the biggest mismatches that shouldn't have worked but did. The two drummers have totally different styles, I never would have thought of putting them both together.
DB To me it does make sense. Butch was the real pile driving freight train kind of drummer, where as Jaimoe would put all the nice colors and effects in around Butch. Actually Duane and I weren't as different as one might think. We both had the same idea about playing. We just went about it differently. He had a totally different tone than I did, but we both had the same idea about how to get a song across.

BG How did you put your harmonies together?
DB We play a 1-3-5. Usually Danny plays the third over me and the horn plays the fifth under me.

BG When you and Duane were playing you were one of the first bands to put the harmonies together like you did.
DB There were a lot of bands that had two guitar players in them, but I think that the Allman Brothers really used them playing at the same time together more than I had seen anybody else do at the time.

BG Usually it was one rhythm and one lead guitar, where you both played the leads together.
DB Like Jerry and Bob Weir, one would play rhythm and the other one would play lead whereas Duane and I, or really the band even before that the band Second Coming, you know we had two guitars in that band with Berry Oakley, myself and Larry Reinhardt. Actually in that band, Reese Weyman played in that band and he went on to play with Jerry Jeff Walker and Stevie Ray Vaughn

BG They came out with a second signature guitar for you, the red one. What specifications did you give them for that one?
DB Well see what happened, my '57 I loaned it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a couple of years and when it just sat there, the paint, you know that metal flake oxidized so terribly that it had this green squish looking stuff all over it. It didn't have anything to do with the Hall of Fame it was just when the air starts getting to the Nickle metal flake that they put in it, it starts to turn to this putrid looking green. I took some real light 0.015 grit almost like steel wool and tried to get it out, but the more I messed with it, the worse it looked, so I just took it down myself. I just took it down to bare wood and refinished it myself using nitro cellulose. Then I took a belt buckle where you plug it in and I put a concho where the toggle switch is and Gibson saw it and they loved it so the decided they wanted to make another guitar.

BG Do you play the red guitar that Gibson made for you?
DB Gibson gave me two guitars, a red one and a gold one. I play both of those and I leave the '57 at home now. Well, it's almost 50 years old now. I tell you the custom shop guitars that they are building sound so good. Actually, I play the gold one more than I play the red one, because it sounds better.

BG Could it be because they scarfed the back of the red one?
DB I asked them to scarf the back for me. Real friendly (Laughs)

BG Do you think that might be the difference in the tone? The missing wood?
DB I don't think so. It could be, but it sounds better than my '57. You sound like you're a guitar player. You can take five vintage Fender Stratocasters and five vintage Les Pauls and they can all sound different. It's just how the wood happens to turns out.

BG Do you like big necks or little necks?
DB I like a medium sized neck. Not the real big baseball bat neck.

BG Did your Gold Top have a big neck?
DB With my original Gold Top, Gibson said that they think they ran out of Les Paul necks and put a SG neck on it. It has a real thin neck on it, but on the ones that they make for me, I have them put a thicker neck on it. The neck that is on my '57 is kind of like the neck that you would get on an ES-335. I just don't use a lot of effects and I try to get my amps biased just right. I always have them put a little more treble into those Marshalls than they come with. You know. Try to find a good piece of wood.

BG What do you have done to the amps?
DB They just bias the tubes and tune it with a little more treble. I don't beef them up or anything.

BG So they are totally stock?
DB Yeah. Totally stock. Like I said, the cabinets aren't stock, they have JBL 120's in them.

BG Didn't you cut half of the backs out?
DB You know sometimes I do cut just one third out of it like a twin amp. The ones that I am using now do not have the backs cut out. For outdoors you don't want to do that. You want solid backs. If you are playing a club or a theater, it's nice to have the backs cut. Actually Jerry Garcia turned me on to that. Just take one-third out of the middle. What it does is it kind of flowers the sound up on stage. It makes it kind of come up on stage, instead of shooting it straight out. Of course outdoors, you want to get the sound out there in front of you.

BG Do you use anything different in the studio than on stage?
DB Yeah, I experiment quite a bit in the studio. Probably most of my stuff is done with my stage amp, but I have used little Fender amps, Pro Juniors. It's a great little amp. I've got a couple of old vintage Fender amps and I've got a Gibson Ranger. It's got a twelve-inch speaker in it. I experiment around in the studio with different amps.

BG If someone wanted to learn your style or copy you, what would you suggest that they do?
DB The thing that is most indicative of my style is the pentatonic scale. It's a real melodic six note scale. Just listen to Rambling Man. I think it is probably the most revealing of that scale, but it's a nice melodic way of playing. Then I have stuff like Elizabeth Reed which is a minor scale, so there is a lot more to my playing than just the pentatonic scale, but I think when people think of my style, I think they think of Jessica, Rambling Man and Blue Sky and that's all the six note scale.

BG Listen to those songs?
DB Yeah, for that part of my playing. Elizabeth Reed is totally different than that. I've been doing it a long time. I guess a twenty year old guy is going to learn a lot by the time he is thirty or forty. I think everybody does the same thing that I have done, just listen to other players and pick up things here and there.

BG Now you are the guy they are listening to.
DB I think Garcia, Santana and I have a lot in common.

BG Where do you see yourself going from now? Do you see yourself doing some more acoustic or stick with electric?
DB I'm not planning on doing any more acoustic. We play an acoustic set for about a half an hour or forty minutes, but my main thing is with the electric guitar.

BG You surprised me that you were playing a classical acoustic.
DB Yeah, that's a lot of fun. I just got started doing that when we did that acoustic album and actually we were only going play it on one or two songs. The difference between Danny's Ovation guitar with silk and steel strings on it, the way the tones blended sounded so nice, that I just stuck with the gut string all the way through and I kind of fell in love with it and the thing is that it makes me play different cause I can't bend any strings.

BG Is it because of the neck's width?
DB Those nylon strings don't bend like the steel strings.

BG They kind of roll.
DB Yeah, you can only get about a half a step out of them, so it makes me play different and it makes me learn new things. I'm getting a kick out of the nylon strings. I've got a Montero here that is made in Spain. It's not an assembly line. It is made by one guy.

BG I saw you last November in New Jersey and people came from all over to see you. There were even people from as far as Ohsweken Ontario Canada. They were following you all over the country.
DB Well, we are doing good and we are enjoying it incredibly. The people that come to see us are wonderful. It's like they are our best friends. We get to know everybody. Of course everybody wants to play the bigger places because that means that you are doing well, but I tell you what, it is nice to play the smaller places. I like that I really get to know the people on a personal kind of thing.

BG Your band acts like they are playing for a bunch of friends.
DB The music is what it's all about and if there wasn't anybody coming to see it, then the music wouldn't be worth anything. It's kind of nice the way it works out. I tell you these guys are a great bunch of guys. It's really a gas working with them.

[Edited on 9/12/2008 by OldDirtRoad]



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Peach Master

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 08:55 AM
Thanks!!! Great interview!


Sublime Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 09:06 AM
Thanks Kenny for posting.. I really enjoyed reading it.

Dickey Betts is da Man

BG: How do you think you influenced Duane's playing?
DB: Duane was more of a real purist blues man and well my dad and all my uncles were fiddle players. I think growing up hearing the melodies and things, I think that with Duane and I, it was the chemistry. I was more of a melody kind of guy. I would just start a melody and Duane would jump on it and play the harmony to it. That doesn't explain the whole thing between me and Duane, but that's basically what we did. I think he picked up the idea of playing melody in rock and roll and I picked up a lot of stuff from him on how to pour your heart in to playing a blues line. We learned a lot from each other.




Extreme Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 10:16 AM
That really is a great interview. Now I completely understand why he switched to PRS for a few years.


Giggidy Giggidy


Extreme Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 10:17 AM
.....well that and that PRS guitars are freakin' incredible instruments.


Giggidy Giggidy


True Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 10:43 AM

Dickey Betts is da Man

He sure as hell is !!!




Maximum Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 10:51 AM

Dickey Betts is da Man

He sure as hell is !!!
I second that!!!!!!!!


Danny Spell


Maximum Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 11:50 AM

Dickey Betts is da Man

He sure as hell is !!!
I second that!!!!!!!!

Motion passed.


Zen Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 12:00 PM
Great interview - thanks for sharing, Kenny!


"Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we'll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down..."


Universal Peach

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 03:15 PM
This is really a good read. Thanks for posting.


Lovin my Duane Allman music....everyday jamin' for Duane.

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A Peach Supreme

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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 03:25 PM
Well, I feel better now....... Dickey's TONE has always been the perfect thing to me. And when I make noise on the Gibson, I always play the "front" as DB calls it, or neck pick up. I try to mix in middle position with both pick ups, but it never sounds as good to me (muddier?), but works sometimes. I put it on bridge PU only and it sounds too thin and trebley to me...... so I always go back to only neck PU, which just seems "wrong" for lead, as it is the "rythym" PU. But it is the one I found that gets closest to the fat DB sound, and also sounds best to my ear for mean old blues.

I am vindicated! Thanks, Dickey, I can sleep at night now. Neck pick ups rule.

Opposite style:

Billy Gibbons. His new Les Paul model has a FAKE neck PU and only has a real bridge one. ("We don't need no stinkin' bridge pick-ups")......


Rage With Age


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  posted on 9/12/2008 at 05:34 PM
Yeah, I'm a neck pickup guy too, have to force myself to throw the switch just for variety, but never for too long.

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