Former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts has lived a life that seems stereotypically “Behind The Music.” Betts, along with Duane and Gregg Allman, drove the band, writing some of its most memorable songs in the process, including “Ramblin’ Man,” “Blue Sky,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and “Jessica.”
He endured the tragic deaths of great friends Duane Allman and Berry Oakley almost one year apart. He endured the drug-induced trials of Gregg Allman, the breakup and regeneration of the band, addictions of his own and changes in the music industry landscape that saw Southern rock and the Allman Brothers fall in and out of favor. And then finally, several years back, he endured a vicious feud with Gregg Allman during which Allman accused Betts of being a drug addict and unceremoniously kicked him out of the band. While it seemed a not completely surprising tirade considering the history of the Brothers and Gregg Allman, the split was permanent, and marked the end of both Betts’s tenure with the Allman Brothers, and his longtime friendship with Allman.
But with all the ins and outs the Allman Brothers had experienced over the years, Betts was not unaccustomed to going it alone. He reformed his early band, Great Southern, and has settled into the role of band leader. The risk is all his: He dictates the musical direction and finances the band.
With radio and record companies focused on teenie-bop pop, old-style musicians such as Betts have found little support from the conglomerates, and so they have been turning to do-it-yourself solutions. Dickey Betts and Great Southern’s latest album, “The Collectors #1,” is an all-acoustic record that Betts recorded, released and distributed himself. It’s for sale exclusively at his concerts and on the Internet at www.dickeybetts.com. The record is a combination of many of Betts’s favorite styles, including Western swing jazz and Delta blues. While releasing and distributing it himself dampens the prospects for sales, it allows him the freedom of creating the type of record he wants without letting marketing barriers impede his creativity.
Bankrate spoke with Betts about the money side of rock ‘n’ roll.
Bankrate: Some rock stars who have been around awhile saved their money, while others spent it all. How are you set for funds these days?
Dickey Betts: When we went through the period where we had all the trouble with management with Phil Walden (the Allmans’ former manager and owner of their label, Capricorn Records), and we all ended up broke. We were all back to square one. I took that to court with an audit and won a million dollars from Phil Walden that he owed me. Unfortunately, Phil filed bankruptcy and I didn’t get any of it. So I had to work my way back up again. I became financially successful again and remained that way up to now. I don’t want to sound pompous, but I wouldn’t have to work if I didn’t want to right now.
Bankrate: Are you an investor?
Dickey Betts: I’m involved in the stock market, but not personally — I have a team that does it. I have my safe players in New York, Neuberger Berman, and then I have some high-risk stuff with Robertson Stephens that does emerging growth things. Of course, everybody’s seen some trouble in that. I did pretty good with the high-risk stuff, though. I only lost about 30 percent.
Bankrate: Any particular stocks that did really well for you?
Dickey Betts: I don’t follow the particular stocks. Jim Callahan with Robertson Stephens in San Francisco does the emerging growth high risk, most of it tech stocks. I hung around with him for a couple of years, played golf with him a few times, said this guy doesn’t seem to have any great vices or anything. He’s a pretty solid guy. So I just turned over a certain amount of money to him. And that’s the way I do things, even with my band. I don’t just come in and tell everybody what to do. Even though I am the leader of this band, and am responsible for its survival financially, I’m still a team player kind of guy. I look at it like a baseball team. You can’t play all the positions. You have to get people who are heavy hitters in other areas, like Danny Toler (his guitarist). You can’t do it all. And that’s what I do with the stock market. I’ve got Neuberger Berman, who’s been in business 75 years, and I don’t feel like I need to tell them how to do business. They’ve done well for me over the years.
Bankrate: What is your greatest source of income these days?
Dickey Betts: I would say right now it’s probably half publishing and songwriting money, and half road money. But when I was with the Brothers, I would say at least 3/4 was road money. That’s merchandising, and actual receipts from what you get paid to play. For my last tour, I bought $30,000 worth of T-shirts. So money goes out, and then money comes back. I’m trying to keep all my guys working. I’ve got 15 guys on the road working. A seven-piece band, and six road crew people, and my wife, and two truck drivers. It’s a nice small business.
Bankrate: And you’re the CEO.
Dickey Betts: Yup.