Allman Brothers Band Co-Founder Dickey Betts Dead at 80

He died from cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Photo: Simone Berna

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Apr 18, 2024

Dickey Betts, co-founding singer-songwriter/guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, has died. He was 80.

The musician, whose Southern rock style defined a movement (and inspired a character in Almost Famous), died this morning due to cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his manager confirmed to Rolling Stone.

"It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that the Betts family announce the peaceful passing of Forrest Richard 'Dickey' Betts (December 12, 1943 – April 18, 2024) at the age of 80 years old," Betts' family said in a statement. 

They continued, "The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader, and family patriarch was at his home in Osprey, Florida, surrounded by his family. Dickey was larger-than-life, and his loss will be felt worldwide. At this difficult time, the family asks for prayers and respect for their privacy in the coming days. More information will be forthcoming at the appropriate time."

Although brothers Gregg and Duane Allman may have given the band its namesake, Betts was vital to its spirit. He wrote their biggest hit, 1973's "Ramblin' Man," as well as memorable cuts like "Crazy Love," "Jessica" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."

The musician's iconic moustache and devil-may-care demeanour inspired the character of Russell (played by Billy Crudup) in Cameron Crowe's cult classic film, Almost Famous.

In the late '60s, the Floridian formed a band called the Second Coming that included bassist Berry Oakley. The two met and jammed with Duane, who then asked them to join his new project, the Allman Brothers Band. Although Betts's initial role in the group was co-lead guitarist alongside Duane, he really made his mark as a songwriter by contributing "Revival" on the band's 1969 self-titled debut LP.

After Duane's death in a motorcycle accident in 1971, Betts became the Allman Brothers Band's de facto frontman. But when Gregg testified in a drug trial involving one of the band's employees, they broke up for the first time. Betts released two albums with his own band called Great Southern before the Allman Brothers Band regrouped in 1979. They broke up again a few years later, then regrouped in 1989.

The '90s proved to be a career rebirth for the band, but both Betts and Gregg faced their own struggles in this time period. By 2000, Betts left the band, always insisting that he had been fired despite drummer John Lee "Jaimoe" Johnson's claims that he had quit. Gregg Allman died in 2017, and Betts said that, despite the turbulence, he had spoken to his bandmate just prior to his death. 

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