Dickey Betts, who revolutionized the twin-guitar approach in rock before helping lead the Allman Brothers Band out of unspeakable tragedy, has died. The 80-year-old had been suffering from cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

He never quite secured individual fame, despite having been such an important part of the Allman Brothers Band. After all, Betts kept nagging the late Duane Allman until he finally recruited younger brother Gregg to sing in their fledgling outfit. By then, he and Duane had already created a collaborative style that made the traditional roles of rhythm and lead guitar utterly obsolete.

"We'd sit and talk about how screwed up it is that every good band you get together, the guitar players start getting jealous of each other and start trying to hotdog out each other and ruin the whole thing,” Betts told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2014. "Duane and I had an understanding, like an old soul kind of understanding, of let’s play together."

READ MORE: Top 10 Dickey Betts Songs

Idlewild South, released in 1970, features the Allman Brothers Band's first charting single: "Revival," written by Betts. His instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" provided a key moment on their breakthrough album, 1971's At Fillmore East. Then the Allman Brothers Band suffered the losses of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, who died in consecutive motorcycle crashes. Betts was left as the group's de facto leader, in particular during the hard-living Gregg Allman's relapses.

Betts' song "Ramblin' Man," a 1973 No. 2 smash, created a new foundation for the Allman Brothers Band to continue forward. They endured breakups later in the '70s and again in the early '80s. By then, Betts had already released his debut solo album Highway Call. Then the band mounted a celebrated reunion in 1989, and Betts stepped back toward center stage. He wrote the title tracks to 1990's Seven Turns and 1994's Back Where It All Begins. Trouble loomed again, however, and Betts was abruptly shown the door in 2000.

He returned to solo work, but somehow still struggled to find his own audience, playing clubs and honky tonks while his old group continued to sell out larger venues through their retirement in 2014. "Dickey wrote a lot of key songs and all those great instrumentals," latter-day group member Warren Haynes told Rolling Stone in 2017, "but because the band was called the Allman Brothers Band, it was confusing for people."

Watch the Allman Brothers Perform 'Ramblin' Man'

The Allman Brothers Band Comes Together

Forrest Richard Betts was born on Dec. 12, 1943, in West Palm Beach, Fla., and raised in Bradenton. Part of a musical family, young "Dickey" took to stringed instruments right away, playing a ukulele, mandolin, banjo and then guitar. The Jokers, one of his early bands, was famously name-checked in Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo." Later, Betts formed a Jacksonville, Fla.-based band called Second Coming with Oakley in 1967, and the first seedlings of the Allman Brothers Band were planted.

"Berry Oakley and I inspired each other's improvisational creativity while we were in Second Coming, the band that presaged the Allman Brothers," Betts told Guitar World in 2017. "One of our favorite things to do was to jam in minor keys, experimenting freely with the sounds of different minor modes. We allowed our ears to guide us, and this type of jamming served to inspire the writing of songs like 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed' and 'Les Brers in A Minor.'"

Soon, they connected with Duane Allman, who was holding open jam sessions in Jacksonville in the hopes of starting a new band. They all moved to Macon, Ga., where manager Phil Walden was establishing a new label. Something sparked, as their blended influences of rock, jazz, blues and country music helped establish a brand-new amalgam called Southern rock.

Dubbed the Allman Brothers Band, they released a self-titled album in 1969, opening with a cover of the Spencer Davis Group's "Don't Want You No More" from Second Coming's old setlists. But the group didn't catch fire until they were finally able to stretch out on 1971's million-selling double-live album At Fillmore East: There were only seven songs on all four sides combined.

Then Duane was suddenly gone, followed by Oakley. Betts helped them forge ahead, first with 1972's Eat a Peach and then 1973's Brothers and Sisters. They became the Allman Brothers Band's second and third platinum-selling releases, after the Fillmore record. Eat a Peach was only partially completed when Allman crashed, and eventually became home to Betts' "Les Brers in A Minor" and "Blue Sky." Brothers and Sisters, their first album without Allman and Oakley, was more than "Ramblin' Man." Every song on side two, including "Jessica," was a Betts original.

All of that success masked deepening fissures within the group. They didn't return until 1975, and Win, Lose or Draw only limped to gold-selling status. A year later, the group broke up. "We were frustrated," Betts told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. "The music had grown stale. We were confused. Drugs were a problem and some of us had to overcome that. It wasn't just Gregg, but his problem was more obvious and newsworthy."

Watch Dickey Betts Perform 'Bougainvillea'

Dickey Betts Splits With the Allman Brothers Band

Betts bounced back with 1977's self-titled Dickey Betts & Great Southern, establishing a new solo anthem with "Bougainvillea." He followed that up with Atlanta's Burning Down in 1978, before his old group tried to put things back together. A pair of Great Southern members ended up as part of this short-lived new Allman Brothers Band lineup. He released 1988's Pattern Disruptive with the Dickey Betts Band before the Allmans got together for Betts' final stint. Once again, two musicians of Betts' band – pianist Johnny Neel and second guitarist Warren Haynes - helped jump-start things.

Bad feelings remained, however, and the scrappy Betts certainly wasn't blameless. He was never one to back down – from the authorities, from well-heeled strangers and especially from his bandmates. He took a swing at cops more than once, knocked a guy in a three-piece suit into Bob Dylan backstage in 1993, and led to a brawl in the Allmans camp a few years later. In fact, he'd quarreled with Duane and Gregg Allman from their first meeting – when the siblings were still part of the Allman Joys. "To tell you the truth, we didn't get along right away," Betts told Guitar World in 2007, laughing. "I thought they were stuck-up, and they thought I was some hillbilly hayseed."

That combination of deep emotion and mercurial danger sparked hit songs, and also inspired Cameron Crowe to create the character Russell Hammond, played by Billy Crudup in 2000's Almost Famous. But it probably led to Dickey Betts' undoing, too.

Everything came to a head that same year, when Rolling Stone magazine charitably noted that Betts "unamicably parted ways" with the Allman Brothers Band. At the time, Gregg Allman, Jaimoe and Trucks said they asked Betts to step aside so he could get sober after a series of less-than-stellar shows. Betts argued that he was thrown out after asking for more details about the band's finances.

Whatever the case, Betts was eventually asked to leave – reportedly by fax – and an ugly lawsuit followed. He received an undisclosed severance package, but Betts never returned to the group he co-founded. "Yeah, there's a million things that happened," he told Relix in 2001. "The social dynamics, I guess you would call it, became so pressurized and stressed that it just finally blew up."

Betts quickly reformed his self-titled solo group, releasing Let's Get Together in 2001. Later, he collaborated with a reformed Great Southern on several projects, including 2006's The Official Bootleg. Betts was invited to play a few songs during the Allman Brothers Band's 40th-anniversary run shows in 2009, but declined.

Watch the Allman Brothers Band Perform 'Seven Turns'

How Health Problems Slowed Dickey Betts

By 2014, he was slowing down, fighting back problems, carpel tunnel, depression and other maladies. Betts played a final date at a 300-seat club in Mill Valley, Calif., then called it quits for a while. "It's a little bit of burnout, a little sour grapes, a little bit like a boxer who gives it up," Betts told Rolling Stone. "It's pretty tough, to tell you the truth. Everyone wishes they could be young forever. But I feel like I did my work, and I'm not gonna do anything that's gonna top what I'm known for. So, why don't you just stay home?"

Allman and Betts nearly reunited before Gregg's death. There was talk, at one point, of a joint tour after Allman made a public overture. The dam broke: Betts later said they spoke many times in the weeks before Allman succumbed to cancer, the first conversations in a very long time. "We knew he was sick. We had hopes he would get over it," Betts told Billboard in 2018. "Most of us knew he had cancer, but we didn't let that get out because he didn’t want the public to know that. But we knew. In the end, when he got really sick, of course I called him about every other day."

Allman reportedly left a space for a solo from Betts on Southern Blood, Gregg's final studio effort, but passed before asking his old bandmate to take part. Allman's death followed Butch Trucks' earlier in 2017, leaving Jaimoe and Betts as the Allman Brothers Band's final living founding members.

Betts then made a surprise announcement: He planned a return to the road; he also released the Dickey Betts Band's Live at the Lone Starr Roadhouse in 2018. A new seven-member group lineup included his son Duane.

After more than four years away, Betts seemed to have gained some perspective. "I've had a great life and I don't have any complaints," he told Rolling Stone. "I don't know what I would've done to make it different. There are lawsuits I probably could have dealt with better. But so what? You do the best with your amount of time."

In August 2018, however, doctors recommended a lengthy break from the road after he showed "post-stroke repercussions." They reportedly assured Betts that he would get back to 100 percent thereafter, according to his website. A series of dates were scrubbed, including a stop at the Great New York State Fair.

The concerts produced 2019's Ramblin' Man Live at the St. George Theatre. Other than a 2021 compilation titled Official Bootleg Vol. 1, however, Betts then fell silent.

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Gallery Credit: Allison Rapp

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