- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000

Family feuds are ugly, and the Allman Brothers Band is embroiled in one ugly family feud.

In late May, as he was preparing to set out as usual on the band's summer tour, guitarist Dickey Betts received a fax effectively kicking him out of the Allman Brothers after 32 years.

"It was a coldhearted betrayal," says Mr. Betts, 56. "It's a sad situation, especially for the fans. Somebody ruined their band."

Now Mr. Betts has formed a new group under his own name and is back on the road touring. "When things go wrong, you start in a new direction," he says. "You learn how to survive."

The Allman Brothers ceased being a family band in a literal sense in 1971 when stellar guitarist Duane Allman, brother of singer and keyboardist Gregg, died in a motorcycle accident. The Georgia band's reputation had been built on its twin guitar attack, and after Duane's death, Mr. Betts had to shoulder the guitar load himself.

He did. He also stepped forward as a singer and, more notably, a songwriter. When Gregg battled well-publicized problems with drugs, alcohol and his celebrity wife, Cher, Mr. Betts became the unofficial leader of the Allman Brothers family.

Since then the Allman Brothers group has been an on-and-off and up-and-down affair. In 1976, when Gregg beat a drug arrest by testifying against a band employee, the other band members vowed never to work with him again. Two years later, he was back.

Largely inactive during the 1980s, they re-formed and, against expectations, became a headlining concert attraction in the 1990s. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even won its first Grammy in 1995 for Mr. Betts' instrumental composition "Jessica."

But if trouble doesn't find the Allman Brothers, the musicians inevitably create it themselves. Mr. Betts says he was stunned when his three fellow surviving original band members — Gregg and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe — told him he had been voted out of the band. Explaining the action in interviews, Gregg Allman said the Allmans took this drastic step to help Mr. Betts deal with drug and alcohol problems that were hurting his guitar playing and the band's performance.

"Gregg Allman has decided to try to justify this thing by running around the country claiming I'm strung out on drugs and too drunk to play music," Mr. Betts says from a Chicago hotel. "It's just ludicrous. It's just an outright lie. The whole thing is a fraud. I'm just throwing my hands up … until these guys come to their senses."

While he acknowledges drinking occasionally, Mr. Betts says he does not have an alcohol or drug problem. He also says he does not know the reason his band mates turned against him.

"I just don't know what is going on with them, to tell you the truth. I don't know what's at the bottom of it."

Surely he had some clue all was not well?

"I know that Butch Trucks was not speaking to me on the last tour. One night I came home and told my wife, 'That guy is really mad about something.' But I didn't know what it was. There were no arguments with anybody in the band. We talked music. We played music. Everything was going smoothly."

So how does he explain what happened?

"It's just coldhearted malice," he says. "You have to look for answers from someone else, because I'm not gettin' any. I called Gregg twice after this happened and he said, 'I don't owe you an explanation' and hung up on me. It's just dirty business. If Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks get me out of the way, they can do some things they know I wouldn't agree with business-wise. But I just have to sit around here and guess, because I don't know."

Mr. Betts doesn't deny that he has had personal problems in the past. In 1993, he left the Allmans for alcohol-abuse counseling after his arrest following a quarrel with his wife. History seemed to repeat itself when, shortly after his recent dismissal, Mr. Betts was taken by police to a crisis intervention center near his Sarasota, Fla., home after a domestic disturbance.

"Yeah, I had a [difficult] time for about a month after I got this fax," he says. "It pretty much shook the foundation under me. I had to go see a doctor for depression. I was in the hospital for one night. The doctor told me to get back to work and put this behind me.

"And that's what I've done. I've got a seven-piece band that I think is unique sounding. I've got Mark May, a fellow who's opened shows for the Allmans, singing and playing guitar with me. I also have a saxophone player, Chris Jenson, and he plays the third harmony part with the two guitars. It's a real nice sound."

Meanwhile, the Allman Brothers Band has ended what turned into a not-so-glorious tour of playing to half-filled houses. Whatever the problems with Mr. Betts, one has to question the wisdom of continuing without him. Seeing the Allmans without Mr. Betts is like paying to see the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards.

"It's funny that they throw me out and choose to keep my music in the band," Mr. Betts says with a bitter laugh.

LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

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