He was inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and also won with the band a best rock performance Grammy Award for his instrumental "Jessica" in 1996. Recognized as one of the greatest rock guitar players of all time, he had early on in his career one of rock’s finest guitar partnerships with Duane Allman, introducing melodic twin guitar harmony and counterpoint which "rewrote the rules for how two rock guitarists can work together, completely scrapping the traditional rhythm/lead roles to stand toe to toe". Dickey Betts was ranked #58 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list in 2003, and #61 on the list published in 2011.
Born in West Palm Beach and raised in Bradenton, Florida, Betts grew up in a musical family listening to traditional bluegrass, country music and Western swing. He started playing ukulele at five and, as his hands got bigger, moved on to mandolin, banjo, and guitar. At sixteen and feeling the need for something "a little faster," he played in a series of rock bands on the Florida circuit, up the East Coast and into the Midwest before forming the Second Coming with Berry Oakley in 1967. According to Rick Derringer, the "group called the Jokers" referenced in "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" was one of Betts' early groups.
As of 2017, Betts and his wife reside in Osprey, Florida.
In 1969, Duane Allman had parlayed success as a session player into a contract with former Otis Redding manager Phil Walden. Walden planned to back a power trio featuring Allman, who needed to put together the rest of the band. When Allman organized jam sessions as part of his effort to recruit Oakley for the group, Betts sat in. During those jam's twin guitar parts, influenced by the harmonized fiddle and guitar parts Betts had heard on bluegrass and Bob Wills records growing up, their playing began to emerge and give the sound a unique flavor. Those harmonies gave the putative power trio an additional guitarist (the band eventually grew to six members) and Dickey Betts the opening for stardom as a co-founder and key contributor to the Allman Brothers Band. In addition to the harmonies, his melodic, country-esque lead guitar style contrasted perfectly with Duane's fiery, blues/jazz-based style. He also wrote songs including "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Blue Sky" that became radio and concert staples.
After the death of Duane Allman in late 1971, Betts became the band's sole guitarist and also took on a greater singing and leadership role. Betts, over the course of one night's traveling, practiced slide guitar intensively in order to cover the majority of Duane's parts. He went on to write such Southern Rock classics as "Jessica" and the Allmans' biggest commercial hit, "Ramblin' Man."
Jessica was inspired by his daughter, Jessica Betts, born on May 14, 1972 to Betts' third wife, Sandy Bluesky Wabegijig, a Native American whom Betts married in 1973. The pair were divorced in 1975 and Betts married Paulette, a close friend and personal assistant of entertainer Cher (to whom Gregg Allman was married during the mid-to-late 1970s). Betts has four children: Kimberly, from his first marriage to Barbara Hudgins; Christy, from his second wife, Dayle; Jessica, from his third union to Sandy; and his only son, Duane, from his marriage to Paulette. Betts is currently wed to Donna. They have been married for over twenty years.
Betts's first solo album, Highway Call, was released in 1974, and featured fiddle player Vassar Clements. After the Allman Brothers fell apart in 1976, Betts released more albums, starting with Dickey Betts & Great Southern in 1977, which included the song "Bougainvillea," co-written with future Hollywood star Don Johnson. In 1978 he released an album entitled Atlanta's Burning Down.
The Allman Brothers reformed in 1979 for the album Enlightened Rogues with two members of Great Southern replacing Allman Brothers members unwilling to participate in the reunion: guitar player Dan Toler (for pianist Chuck Leavell) and bassist David “Rook” Goldflies (for bassist Lamar Williams). Several albums would follow with various personnel changes until steadily declining record and concert ticket sales and tensions around management issues led the group to again disband in 1982.
Betts returned to his solo career, performing live at smaller venues and releasing the album Pattern Disruptive in 1989. When a one-off reunion tour was proposed in support of the Allman Brothers' Dreams box set released in 1989 to commemorate the band's 20th anniversary, Betts's solo band again supplied the Allman Brothers' other guitarist, this time slide guitarist Warren Haynes. The one-off tour's success resulted in a permanent reunion which absorbed Betts's energies for the remainder of the '90s. This band lineup went on to release three acclaimed studio albums between 1990 and 1994.
Betts was replaced on numerous tour dates throughout the mid-to-late '90s for what were reported in the media as "personal reasons." While remaining active as a touring band, they failed to release an album of new studio material after 1994's Where It All Begins until 2003's Hittin' the Note. Haynes and Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody formed Gov't Mule with former Dickey Betts Band drummer Matt Abts as a side project in 1994 and left the Allman Brothers for Gov't Mule full-time in 1997. Betts' last show with the Allman Brothers was at the Music Midtown Festival in Atlanta, Georgia on May 7, 2000.
Things reached a breaking point when the remaining original Allman Brothers members – Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe – suspended Betts (reportedly via fax) prior to the launch of the band's Summer Campaign Tour 2000. According to Betts himself, the band told him in the fax to get clean (presumably from alcohol and/or drugs). Betts was subsequently ordered out of the band after the dispute went to arbitration.
Betts was temporarily replaced for the 2000 tour by Jimmy Herring, formerly of the Aquarium Rescue Unit. When Betts filed suit against the other three original Allmans the separation turned into a permanent divorce. Betts re-formed the Dickey Betts Band in 2000 and toured that summer. The band reassumed the name Dickey Betts & Great Southern and added Betts' son Duane (named after Duane Allman) on lead guitar.
In 2005 Betts released the DVD Live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Betts announced that a performance of December 17, 2009 in New York City, on his 66th birthday and at the site of many of his greatest achievements, would be his last touring date. "I'm not retiring from playing. I'm sure there will be some great special events that I'll be at in the future. But for now, I look forward to waking up tomorrow with nothing on my schedule." However, Betts resumed performing with Great Southern in the early 2010s before officially retiring from touring in 2015.
Although he briefly resided in Georgia during the formative years of the Allman Brothers Band, he has lived in the Sarasota metropolitan area for most of his life.
The style of Betts's name (actually his middle name, as his given name is Forrest) varied throughout the years:1969: "Dick Betts" in the jacket of The Allman Brothers Band self-titled album.
1970–72: "Dicky Betts" in the jackets of Idlewild South and Eat A Peach.
1973–74: "Richard Betts" on Brothers and Sisters and his first solo album, Highway Call.
Afterward: "Dickey Betts."
In the early days of the Allman Brothers, Betts played a 1961 Gibson SG, given to Duane Allman in 1971 to use as an all-slide guitar. He then used a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, calling it "Goldie." Early on in the Allman Brothers days he occasionally played a Fender Stratocaster, and has been an on-and-off endorser and player of PRS Guitars. In 1974 Betts procured an Alembic custom guitar inlaid with his name "Richard Betts" up the fretboard. He is pictured with it in a guitar magazine article from around that time. As of April 2009, Betts is using a red Fender Telecaster with a pearloid pickguard. In pictures posted on his website he is playing a Gibson Les Paul most of the time. Betts can also be seen playing a cherry red 1961 Gibson ES-335.Highway Call (1974) (as Richard Betts)
Dickey Betts & Great Southern (1977) (as Dickey Betts & Great Southern)
Atlanta's Burning Down (1978) (as Dickey Betts & Great Southern)
Night (1982) (as Dickey Betts)
Pattern Disruptive (1988) (as Dickey Betts Band)
Let's Get Together (2001) (as Dickey Betts Band)
The Collectors (2002) (as Dickey Betts & Great Southern)
The Official Bootleg (2006) (as Dickey Betts & Great Southern)