Dickey Betts, co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band, dead at 80

CNNDickey Betts, a guitarist and the co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band, has died, according to a family statement shared with CNN on Thursday by his longtime manager.

Betts was 80.

“It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that the Betts family announce the peaceful passing of Forrest Richard ‘Dickey’ Betts,” the statement reads. “The legendary performer, songwriter, bandleader and family patriarch passed away earlier today at his home in Osprey, FL., surrounded by his family. Dickey was larger than life, and his loss will be felt world-wide. 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.”

Betts’ manager David Spero told Rolling Stone the guitarist had cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A native of West Palm Beach, Florida, Betts’ early musical influences included bluegrass, country music and later rock and roll. Credited with helping define the sound and of Southern rock genre of the ’60s and ‘70s, Betts, bass guitarist Berry Oakley, drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe joined brothers Gregg and Duane Allman to form the Allman Brothers Band in 1969.

Betts wrote and sang on the group’s biggest hit, “Ramblin’ Man.” Initially, he wrote the song and intended for it to be sung by another artist entirely.

“I was going to send ‘Ramblin’ Man’ to Johnny Cash,” Betts said in 2020, later adding that he “thought it was a great song for him.”

“But everybody liked that song. Even my dad liked the song, before we recorded it or anything. And I’m thinking I’m going to send this to Johnny Cash and see if he wanted to do it,” he continued. “The producer (Johnny Sandlin) said we needed another song for the record and asked if I had anything. I said, ‘Well, I got one but I was going to send it to Nashville for Cash to record.’ He said, ‘Let’s hear it.’ And then, ‘No! we gotta do that.’”

Other big Allman Brothers songs written by Betts were “Blue Sky” and “Jessica.”

Tragedy struck the group when Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971 and Oakley was killed in a motorcycle crash a year after. Betts and Gregg Allman became the band’s leaders, but creative differences and substance abuse in the group caused them to break up and reform multiple times.


In 1973, a then-16-year-old Cameron Crowe followed the Allman Brothers Band while they toured for a Rolling Stone cover story, which would eventually provide the inspiration for Crowe’s Oscar-winning 2000 movie, “Almost Famous.” In 2017, Crowe said Billy Crudup’s central rock star character is “a tribute” to Betts.

In an email sent to CNN later on Friday, Crowe called Betts “a guitarist for the ages, the musical glue that held together The Allman Brothers Band for many years.”

“Dickey’s quiet warmth, and his timeless contribution to American music was a big inspiration for our film,” the filmmaker added.

Betts left the Allman Brothers Band in a highly publicized split in the year 2000. While the band continued touring for almost 15 more years and released one additional studio album, Betts toured with his Great Southern group, featuring his son Duane, and released another studio album of new material. Betts retired in 2014.

Also on Friday, the Allman Brothers Band released an official statement, writing that Betts’ “extraordinary guitar playing alongside guitarist Duane Allman created a unique dual guitar signature sound that became the signature sound of the genre known as Southern Rock.”

“He was passionate in life, be it music, songwriting, fishing, hunting, boating, golf, karate or boxing,” the statement continued. “Dickey was all in on and excelled at anything that caught his attention.”

When asked what he loved most about music, Betts told the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 2020 that it was primarily the effect it had on his audience.

“I like the crowds mainly, and what the music did for them,” he said. “They got more out of the music than I did. … I just really get a kick out of the audience and how they could just kind of drift away to another world in a concert.”

CNN’s Phil Gast contributed to this story.

This story has been updated with additional information.