Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Who - Who's Next

In 1969 The Who had finally broken as a big act with the rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy named TommyTommys success created a problem for the band what to do next?  Until Pete Townshend [hereafter referred to in this piece as PT] could find inspiration for a Tommy follow-up, the band released Live at Leeds.  Then PT got an idea an idea that today, 40 years later, is still hard to explain.  PTs idea was called Lifehouse.

How could I make my subject of this new piece, this Lifehouse piece?  I want the story to be about music, I want it to be about the future, I want it to be about hope and vision, but its got to be rooted in realityhow could I make my character effectively deaf, dumb and blind without doing it again?  Ill make him live in the future, and Ill put him in a suit.  And hell be in the suit and he wont live real life, hell live pretend life, hell live spoon-fed life, hell live couch potato life, hell live the life that filmmakers, storytellers, advertisers, political manipulators and brainwashers want him to live.  And thus hell be effectively deaf, dumb and blind to his spiritual potential, which is his freedom to congregate with other human beings, interact with other human beings and live what we now call life. 

The reason people had to live in the suits [the Lifesuits] was because the environment had become so polluted the people needed the suits to survive.  The suits were connected to The Grid, which is similar to todays Internet.  In this dystopia, rock and roll didnt exist.  But a guru [like PTs own spiritual avatar, Meher Baba] emerged to tell the people of rock and roll.  He told of how people could reach a certain Nirvana by listening to it.  And there was a guy named Bobby who hacked The Grid and advertised to all who wore suits about a rock concert where all the concertgoers can have all their personal information programmed into a computer.  Each individuals information then created their own personal song.  As the band [The Who] is playing, everybodys individual songs also get played by the computer simultaneously, and in one magical moment everybodys songs combined to make that one note, what PT would call a celestial cacophony.  Once that one note was struck, all the participants would disappear into Nirvana.  The concert would be broadcast like pirate radio to those who wore the Lifesuits, and they too would achieve the musical Nirvana.  Got all that?  The group didnt get it not many people did.  Roger Daltrey picked up on one of Petes ideas, that being if you were going to find the meaning of life it would be a musical note.  The story of Lifehouse was told in the song Pure and Easy There once was a note pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling byThe note is eternal, I hear it, it sees me, Forever we blend and forever we die.

Baba ORiley This is one of the best opening songs on any album by any recording act.  Few if any are better.  Carol and I have a running argument on the best Who song ever she thinks its Baba ORiley, while I think its Wont Get Fooled Again.  From the opening notes of the synthesizer you know that this is going to be a much different Who album than anything that came before it.  As part of the Lifehouse story, its sung by Ray, who wants to take his wife Sally and the kids and head south from London to Scotland [to travel south cross land].  Ray and his family make their living growing produce for the urban areas of the UK that are still polluted [Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals, I get my back into my living].  This song shares a lot with the song Teenage Wasteland, hitherto unreleased by The Who but is part of PTs DVD Music From Lifehouse.  The song itself was a nine-minute synthesizer demo.  PT originally wanted to input information of Meher Babas life into a synthesizer.  PT had come up with the idea that one could have all the facts and figures of ones life fed into a computer to generate a persons unique personal song.  This is what he calls the Lifehouse Method.  PT revisited that theme on the song Fragments on the Endless Wire album [2006].  PT took his inspiration for this piece from minimalist composer Terry Riley.  His name and that of Meher Baba are the origins of Baba ORileys name, a tribute to both from PT. 

Bargain This is the most spiritual song on Whos Next.  Im not sure where it fits into the Lifehouse narrative.  This is Pete Townshends song of devotion to Meher Baba, the one for whom hes gladly give up everything to find and to be with.  To me, the song works within or outside the Lifehouse story.  It can stand alone and the message will work just as well.  PTs acoustic guitar, sometimes heard alone on the song, sounds like it could through wheat like a reapers scythe.  PTs electric solo is probably one of his most angry ever captured on tape.  He sounds angry, but hes in control.

Love Aint For Keeping This song is Whos Next only bum note.  Its under three minutes long, has no synthesizers, and is dominated by PTs acoustic guitars.  Its happy, its cheerful, but to my ears its also a throwaway.  The themes are living in the moment, share love instead of keep it.  I always hit the skip button here so I can get to My Wife.

My Wife The only song on Whos Next not written by Pete Townshend is this gem from John Entwistle.  The Ox said this was a leftover from his solo album Smash Your Head Against the Wall.  It was not a part of the Lifehouse story.  The Ox sings lead, plays the bass, piano, and all the horns.  My Wife became John Entwistles on-stage vehicle, a prime example of which can be found on the soundtrack album The Kids Are Alright.  On stage, there were no horns, The Oxs bass was much more prominent, and it allowed extended soloing from PT.  Like most of John Entwistles work, the lyrics of My Wife are devilishly funny.  His wife must have been a force to be reckoned with when she got angry.  In the song, our hero has had too much to drink and got arrested [I picked the wrong precinct, got picked up by the law and now I aint got time to think...].  Of course his wife doesnt know that she might think something else is going on with another lady.  Hes going to have to buy all kinds of weapons [tanks, airplanes], hire body guards and go on the run if she even thinks hes been with another woman.

The Song Is Over In the Lifehouse narrative, this was to be the last song.  The Lifehouse concert has happened, the One Note has been struck, and all the participants, plus those who tuned in while wearing their Lifesuits, have disappeared and achieved Nirvana.  PT and Roger Daltrey alternate the vocals, Nicky Hopkins plays the piano.  The last line quotes the song PT was central to the story, Pure and Easy [Sent him one note, Pure and Easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by].

Getting In Tune This is a song about the power of music, something that is at the core of the whole Lifehouse story.  But who is Pete Townshend tuning in to?  Meher Baba? A woman?  I havent any idea the object of the tuning.

Going Mobile This is sung from the point of view of Ray.  He doesnt care about pollution because he lives outside of London.  He and wife Sally decide to pack up their air-conditioned motor home [I dont care about pollution, Im an air-conditioned gypsy…”] and travel to London to go look for their daughter Mary, who has headed that way to participate in the Lifehouse event.  The Who recorded this as a trio, live in the studio.  The only overdub was PTs guitar fed through an envelope follower that gave it a wah-wah effect but fuzzy.  I always thought it was kind of a goofy song but at least it sounds like PT is having fun for once.

Behind Blue Eyes This is sung from the point of view of the villain in the Lifehouse story, a guy named Jumbo.  Hes the bad man in the song who operates The Grid, who wants to stop the Lifehouse event from happening.  Pete Townshend once said he wrote this song to illustrate how lonely it is to be powerful.  Up to this point it was unheard of for a Who song to have Keith Moon silent for over a minute.  The instrumentation is just PTs acoustic guitar and The Oxs understated bass. PT and The Ox provides Beatlesque harmony vocals until Moonie makes his entrance at the 2:18 mark.  

Wont Get Fooled Again - Is THIS the best Who song ever?  I think it is, but others [including my wife Carol] will disagree.  The live performance of this song as captured on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack is what got me hooked on The Who in the first place.  The words Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss suggest that revolutions can and do have unintended consequences.  As fate would have it, WGFA was the last song from the original band to be played live.  Keith Moon died four months after the video below was filmed for The Kids Are Alright.

Lifehouse was originally going to be a double album.  But when it turned out the only person on the planet who understood the concept was Pete Townshend, the band scaled down the ambitious project.  Glyn Johns was convinced the songs were strong enough to stand on their own outside the context of the Lifehouse story; he was right.  So with that, Lifehouse the double album became Whos Next the single, nine-song album.  Three extremely good songs got left off Whos Next as a result Pure and Easy, Lets See Action, and I Dont Even Know Myself.  I would replace Going Mobile and Love Aint For Keeping with them, but that is just Monday morning quarterbacking.  As time marched on, PT didnt give up on the Lifehouse concept.  The Who continued to record more songs that fit in the story.  These include Join Together, The Relay, Put the Money Down, Too Much of Anything, and Slip Kid just to name a few.  The main character of Lifehouse, Ray High, resurfaced on PTs Psychoderelict and The Whos Endless Wire.  A few years ago PT put together a six-CD package of Lifehouse material titled The Lifehouse Chronicles.  Two CDs are PTs Lifehouse demos, one is called Lifehouse Themes and Experiments, one is Lifehouse Arrangements and Orchestrations, and the final two CDs contain the BBC Radio 3 radio play of Lifehouse.  Id like to own it but I think Id need a second mortgage to pay for it.  So until that happens, Ill have to enjoy Whos Next and all the bits of Lifehouse that I can round up from all my sources.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jon Lord RIP

This is a blog I didn’t think I would write for years, but the course of events has forced me to commit words to paper [as it were…].  I was writing about The Who album Who’s Next, but that will have to wait for now.  This morning I received the sad news via the Internet that a brilliant musician, Jon Lord, had passed away.  Last year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been receiving treatments for that disease.  It was during one of those treatments that Mr. Lord had succumbed to a pulmonary embolism.  I had the pleasure to see Jon Lord with Deep Purple twice.  The first time was in 1985.  The album was Perfect Strangers.  The place was McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado.  My circle of friends in college all loved Deep Purple, so when we heard they were reforming, we waited in the ticket line for four hours, and it was worth it.  We scored fourth row seats on the floor, and as fate would have it, we were on Jon Lord’s side of the stage.  It was quite a night.  The band played everything we wanted to hear.  In the cacophony of sound that was Deep Purple, it was quite the spectacle to see Jon Lord rocking his Hammond organ back and forth.  We all thought it might tip over at some point because a Hammond is a pretty heavy machine, but it never did.  The next time I saw Deep Purple was again in Denver, this time at the outdoor venue Fiddler’s Green.  They were touring in support of the album Abandon.  Dream Theater and Emerson, Lake and Palmer were also on the bill.  Jon didn’t abuse his Hammond like he did in 1985, but to hear him do call-and-response solos with Steve Morse was simply breathtaking.

Who was Jon Lord?  Jon Lord was not a household name in the Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston sense, but in the rock community Jon Lord was a legend.  He was a founding member of one of my favorite bands of all time, Deep Purple.  He was their keyboard player, but he wasn’t just any keyboard player.  After the 1960s turned into the 1970s there were three hard rock bands to come out of England to gain worldwide fame – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.  Zeppelin and Sabbath were four-piece bands – guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.  Zeppelin had their secret weapon in John Paul Jones.  He is a multi-instrumentalist who could really play anything that had strings or a keyboard.  Sometimes on-stage he would swap his bass for a keyboard instrument, usually an electric piano or a Hammond organ.  Black Sabbath stuck with their four-piece set-up.  If they had a keyboard player [usually Geoff Nichols], he would perform behind the stage curtain – you’d never see him on stage.  This is what set Deep Purple apart from Zeppelin and Sabbath.  Jon Lord was an integral part of Deep Purple.  A classically trained musician who had a love for the blues and rock and roll, Jon Lord was the instrumental counterpoint to guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, a fantastic but mercurial musician.  Jon Lord’s contribution to Deep Purple was taking a piece of furniture, the Hammond organ [then known mainly as a jazz instrument], linking it with a Marshall stack, and turning that “piece of furniture” into a fire-breathing, smoke-belching metallic beast [see the video clip below].  He gave Deep Purple a second solo voice that set them apart from the rest of the hard rock/heavy metal bands of the era.

In 1968, Jon Lord founded Deep Purple with Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Nick Simper and Rod Evans.  The band recorded three albums with this line-up – Shades of Deep Purple [1968], Book of Taliesyn [1968], and Deep Purple [1969].  They had a Top 5 hit with a cover of Joe South’s song Hush.  During those early years Deep Purple searched for a direction.  Those first three records saw Deep Purple playing psychedelic rock, and some progressive rock with tinges of classical music thrown in.  Given that, the foreshadowing of things to come arrived with the songs Mandrake Root and Wring That Neck.  Each was a fairly short song on record, but in a live setting those pieces became vehicles of wondrous improvisation for both Jon and Ritchie.  In 1969 the Ritchie Blackmore had an epiphany.  He saw that Led Zeppelin had become successful by playing riff-based hard rock, and why couldn’t Deep Purple try it as well?  Jon Lord and Ian Paice agreed, so Rod Evans and Nick Simper were out, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover were in.  The first thing they took on as a group was Jon’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  This project was written by Jon, with lyrics from Ian Gillan.  It was a labor of love for Jon, but the band knew that they weren’t going to play with orchestras forever.  They let Ritchie have his way, and a monster band was born.  What came next was a succession of some of the best rock ever committed to vinyl – Deep Purple In Rock [1970], Fireball [1971], Machine Head [1972], Made In Japan [1973], Who Do We Think We Are [1973], and Burn [1974].  My favorite Jon Lord moments with Deep Purple – Speed King, Flight of the Rat and Child In Time [see video below] from Deep Purple In Rock, Highway Star, Lazy and Space Truckin’ from Made in Japan, the title track from Burn, and Mandrake Root [In Concert 1970/72, 1980].  Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left Deep Purple in June 1973, to be replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes respectively.  They made one great album [Burn, 1974] and one not-so-great album [Stormbringer, 1974], Ritchie left the band in 1975, to be succeeded [not “replaced”] by Tommy Bolin.  Deep Purple made Come Taste the Band with Bolin.  It was a good album, definitely better than Stormbringer.  A highlight for me was the Lord/Hughes piece This Time Around/Owed to “G.”  Things didn’t last long with Tommy Bolin, and Deep Purple split up in 1976.  A couple of years after that split, David Coverdale formed his own band, Whitesnake.  Jon Lord joined as a hired hand.  He wasn’t a soloist in Whitesnake like he was with Deep Purple. Whitesnake was a two-guitar blues rock band, so Jon added “color” to the music of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody.  But out of all the music that Whitesnake produced during Jon Lord’s stint in the band, I fondly remember one song – Here I Go Again.  It was originally released in 1982 on the Saints & Sinners album.  On this album, it wasn’t the fluffy, synthesized arena rock crap that came out in 1987.  This version was more earthy and more real, more so because of Jon Lord’s Hammond organ [see video below].  He stayed with Whitesnake until Deep Purple reformed with the Mk II line-up in 1984.

Jon Lord stayed with Deep Purple until 2002.  The band maintained a very busy touring schedule, one that began to wear on him.  So he amicably left the band to pursue his love for classical music.  Although he played hard rock with Deep Purple and Whitesnake to pay the bills, Jon Lord still maintained an interest in and a commitment to classical music.  He recorded several works during that time – Gemini Suite [1972], Windows [1974], Sarabande [1976], Before I Forget [1982].  Since leaving Deep Purple, Jon Lord composed and recorded several classical works – Durham Concerto [2007], Boom of the Tingling Strings [2008], and To Notice Such Things [2010].  He recently re-recorded his Concerto for Group and Orchestra which will sadly be released posthumously.  They’re available as MP3s, so I think I will check them out.  The last thing I heard from Jon was a song he played on from Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi called Out of My Mind.  This was released under the banner WhoCares for charity.  The charity is support for Armenian music schools, a thing very near and dear to both Gillan and Iommi.  It was very cool to hear Jon Lord and Tony Iommi on the same recording.

Jon Lord left behind him a large musical body of work. One never wants to see a favorite musician or actor pass away, especially when he/she is still active and creative.  I knew he was sick with cancer but I didn’t know how sick he was until he canceled an appearance in Germany not too long ago.  That said, he had a helluva ride and left behind a lot of great music which I will enjoy for the rest of my days.  Hopefully you will too.

RIP Jon – say hi to Ronnie James Dio.

It’s unthinkable that Jon is gone.  My thoughts are for his wife Vicky and all his children and family at this sad moment in their lives.  I wish them all strength.
A great sadness and sense of loss hangs over me.  Not only has the music world lost a fantastic musician but a gentleman of the finest order.  He was a giant in my life, a great friend, a fellow traveler, a teacher, not only of music, but of life.  I am devastated at his passing - Roger Glover

Our beloved Jon passed away on this day Monday 16th July 2012.
We have lost a dear friend, a brother and a wonderful musician.
His dignity and graciousness touched us all. His music was an inspiration and took us to places beyond our imagination…
A truly great man.
We humbly express our eternal love and great respect.
Deep Purple

Friends: I have just landed in LA from London, to hear the sad news of the passing of our brother Jon Lord. I will miss him. – Glenn Hughes

All the members of Whitesnake & all at wish to express their sincere condolences to Jon's Family, Friends & Fans...David Coverdale said "It was an absolute joy & pleasure for me to know him & to work alongside him. He is missed already."

The news today has hurt me like no other loss of a musician I have known. I can only thank him for the legacy he has left us all with his great music, great vision and for his kindness as he was one of the most gentle and kind persons I have ever had the pleasure of being able to call my friend. My heart goes out to Vicki his wife and all his family. – Rick Wakeman

"Farewell To A Gentleman.
Jon has left us now but his music and inspiration will live forever.
I am deeply saddened by his departure."- Keith Emerson

A statement from his representatives reads simply: "Jon passes from Darkness to Light".

Friday, July 13, 2012

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

I’ve been writing this blog for years, but I haven’t written much about Led Zeppelin.  That’s about to change.  1975 was a good year for rock and roll.  Bob Dylan gave us Blood on the Tracks, Pink Floyd provided us with Wish You Were Here, and Queen broke out with A Night at the Opera and their calling card Bohemian Rhapsody.  Add to those albums Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.  A double album, Physical Graffiti covered a lot of musical ground, Zeppelin’s sixth album and their first for their own label, Swan Song.  There’s hard rock, funk, blues, folk, country, pop and Middle Eastern music.  In my humble opinion, I think it’s their best album.  Given what came after, 20/20 hindsight shows Physical Graffiti to be Led Zeppelin’s peak.  In 1974, Led Zeppelin gathered at Headley Grange, an English country house where they recorded music for their untitled fourth album.  They finished eight songs at Headley Grange.  They had more music than a single album, but not enough for a double, so to fill out a double album they added outtakes from LZ III, the fourth album, and Houses of the Holy.  There are fifteen songs total, thirteen of which I like a lot. 

Custard Pie – This is a straight forward rocker with a crunchy riff. Jimmy Page’s riff sets the mood for the album and displays Led Zeppelin at their “tight but loose” best. Robert Plant later sampled [others would say “stolen”] for his song Tall Cool One.  And speaking of stealing, Robert Plant pinched the lyrics word for word from the Sleepy John Estes Drop Down Mama.  It wasn’t the first time [nor would it be the last] time that Zeppelin appropriated someone else’s work without giving them credit.  The music is all Zeppelin though.

The Rover – This one is an outtake from Houses of the Holy.  It’s another straight ahead rocker.  Unlike the rest of the songs on the album, the guitar sound here has quite a bit of distortion.  John Paul Jones’ bass plays along note for note with the guitar riff.  The Rover was a bit hard for Houses of the Holy, as was Walter’s Walk [later released on Coda], so saving it for another day was a good call.

In My Time of Dying – The longest studio recording by Led Zeppelin, the band travels south for some blues.  This is one of the few songs where Jimmy Page uses a slide.   He uses an open A tuning (EAEAC#E).  Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham are locked in tight.  This time Robert Plant took the lyrics from the tune of the same name from Bob Dylan’s debut album.  On that album the song was credited “Trad. Arr. Dylan.” Dylan’s arrangement was based on Blind Willie Jefferson’s Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, but every word from the Dylan version appeared in the Zeppelin version.  At least the music is all Zeppelin.  It’s long, but because it’s so good it doesn’t seem like it.  Some long songs drag on forever – this isn’t one of them.

Houses of the Holy – By all rights this song should have appeared on the Houses of the Holy album.  By Led Zeppelin standards this would qualify as “pop.”  Perhaps it wasn’t strange enough, but it’s definitely a better song than The Crunge.

Trampled Under Foot – Thanks to John Paul Jones’ clavinet, this song is Zeppelin at their funkiest.  Page’s guitar weaves in and out and around the clavinet.  It’s a very good song.  At their last show in London in 2007, Robert Plant said this song was based on Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues.  Here’s an interesting footnote – when John Bonham’s son Jason was old enough, John let Jason play this in his place during a soundcheck.  I heard it on the radio a long time ago.  This was the one time Bonzo got to “see” Led Zeppelin.

Kashmir – For any people, Stairway to Heaven is their favorite Zeppelin song.  My favorite is Kashmir.  Inspired by a road trip through Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, this Middle Eastern tinged song is played in the DADGAD tuning.  I think this song more than any other captures Zeppelin’s essence.  The strings playing along with Page’s riff was a cool idea, and John Paul Jones’ Mellotron gives the song more of an eastern character.  There’s no guitar solo, but Kashmir doesn’t need one.  I don’t have any idea how the “Kashmir” reference got in there since it’s nowhere near Morocco, but that is just a minor quibble with a great song.

In the Light – This one gets a bit strange.  The song starts with what sounds like a hurdy gurdy drone, Jimmy Page drawing a violin bow across an acoustic guitar, and a synthesizer that sounds to me like whale calls.  IMHO, the song is about two minutes too long, but again that’s a minor quibble.  This is another cool Zeppelin song.

Bron-yr-aurIn My Time of Dying was Zeppelin’s longest studio recording.  This solo acoustic piece originally destined for Led Zeppelin III is their shortest song.  Page used a C6 tuning (CACGCE).  I will learn how to play it someday…

Down by the Seaside – This was recorded during the sessions for the untitled fourth LZ album.  I utterly loathe and despise this song, maybe because of the one line “Can the people hear, What the little fish are sayin'.  I just don’t have any use for songs that sound like a country song recorded underwater.  It just doesn’t work for me. They made a good call in not putting it on the fourth album.  They made a bad call by letting it see the light of day.

Ten Years Gone – Robert Plant once said this song was about a girl who made him chose between her and his music career.  This one has a lot of overdubbed guitar parts, so many that I wonder how Page played it in concert. 

Night Flight – This one is an outtake from the fourth album.  JPJ’s Hammond organ didn’t fit the vibe of the rest of those songs, and they already had a “keyboard” song with Misty Mountain Hop.  This song was too good to let gather dust for too long, so I’m glad they unearthed it for Physical Graffiti.  Robert Plant once said this was about a draft dodger avoiding Vietnam by fleeing to Canada.  It’s one of the few Zeppelin songs to not have a guitar solo.

The Wanton Song - This song has a neat riff and backwards echo on the guitar.  During the guitar solo it sounds like it’s played through a Leslie speaker.  The Wanton Song is a powerful hard rocker.

Boogie With Stu – This is another fourth album outtake.  The “Stu” in question is Ian Stewart of Rolling Stones fame.  This is the first song I learned for mandolin.  The words are lifted from Richie Valens’ Ooh My Head, but at least the band gave credit to his mother.  This song is filler, but at least its fun.

Black Country Woman – Another filler, but unlike Boogie With Stu this one grates on my nerves.  The song begins with the words “Hey hey mama, what’s the matter here?”  The answer is very simple – this entire song.  If it was a newborn baby, it should have been shot at birth.  Why would I want to hear Robert Plant screeching about having beer on his face?  That’s right…I wouldn’t.

Sick Again – This is Robert Plant’s ode/lament to young groupies, whom he called the “L.A. Queens.”  John Bonham is relentless, as is Jimmy Page.  Like Ten Years Gone, Sick Again has many layered guitar parts.  Jimmy Page must have been one overworked guitarist in a live setting.

Led Zeppelin did two more studio albums after Physical GraffitiPresence [1976] and In Through the Out Door [1979]Each had their moments, but they didn’t scale as many heights, didn’t have the musical diversity, or didn’t swagger like Physical Graffiti.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tony's Guitarist Picks - Dickey Betts

Ive had the pleasure to see Dickey Betts in concert seven times once with his own band in 1986, and six times with the Allman Brothers Band [1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995 (twice)].  That fact alone illustrates that Dickey Betts is one of my favorite guitarists since Ive paid to see him more times than any other.  He reluctantly stepped into the leadership void in the band left by the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.  Where Duane Allman drove the band with the sheer force of his personality, Dickeys role came with his songwriting and his instrumental prowess.  While Duane Allman was among the living, he received [unfairly to Dickey] the lions share of the credit for the Allman Brothers sound.  Duane recognized this and went out of his way to sing Dickey Betts praises. Duane Allman once told an interviewer "I'm the famous guitar player, but Dickey is the good one."  Whenever they played In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Duane always told audiences that it was Dickey’s song..  It was only after Duane’s death in 1971 that Dickey Betts began to receive recognition as a great guitar player.  So why do I like Dickey Betts?  Let me count the ways… 

They Threw Away The Rule Book Before Dickey teamed up with Duane Allman, rock bands that had two guitarists [think The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or The Kinks] had traditional lead/rhythm players.  Duane and Dickey were both lead players who could go toe-to-toe with one another.  They created intricate, interweaving lead harmony parts.  While one played solos, the other played rhythm, and they could effortlessly switch the roles in mid-song. Their musical partnership was competitive in the sense that they drove each other to play better, not to see who could one-up the other.  Duane Allman received many accolades for his playing during his lifetime [and deservedly so], but I argue that without Dickey Betts lead guitar, the Allman Brothers Band wouldnt be unique it would just be another band.  

The Instrumentals Unlike most guitarists whose work I have in my collection, Dickey Betts writes instrumentals.  Hes written a bunch of them: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed [Idlewild South], Les Brers in A Minor [Eat a Peach], Jessica [Brothers and Sisters], High Falls [Win, Lose or Draw], Pegasus [Enlightened Rogues], Duanes Tune [Pattern Disruptive Dickey Betts Band], True Gravity [Seven Turns], Kind of Bird [Shades of Two Worlds]. These pieces allowed Dickey to show off his jazz chops.  Jessica was inspired by his then two-year old daughter.  He wanted to write a happy instrumental that could be played with two fingers, just like Django Reinhardt [a major influence].  Kind of Bird was written by Dickey and Warren Haynes after listening to Charlie Parker.  He wrote much of True Gravity on one of Berry Oakleys basses.  He used that instrument just so he could try to compose an instrumental in a different way.  Elizabeth Reed is pure magic.  It clocks in just under seven minutes on Idlewild South, but on the live document At Fillmore East, Elizabeth Reed stretches to thirteen minutes.  The magical part about Elizabeth Reed is that it doesnt feel like thirteen minutes.  You get lost in the music, and when its over its like snapping out of a trance.  Dickeys tribute to Duane Les Brers evolved from a solo Dickey played during Whipping Post.  If you pay attention, you can hear the bit Im talking about on At Fillmore East.  If youre interested, it starts at the 11:07 mark.

The Slide With Duane Allman in the band, Dickey didnt play slide.  Why would he?  If you had one of the best slide players in rock, would you?  That changed after Duane died in 1971.  When the band returned to Miami to finish Eat a Peach, one of the songs the band recorded was Aint Wastin Time No More.  Dickey blew his bandmates away when he played slide all over the song.  They didnt even know he could play it.  Dickey wasnt comfortable playing it, but he kinda had to and he did it very well.  Allman Brothers fans expect to hear the slide on songs like Statesboro Blues, and since he was the only guitarist in the band between 1972-1978, it fell to Dickey to play Duanes parts. When the Allman Brothers returned to a two-guitar line-up, Dickey would play slide only if there was an acoustic song in the setlist, either Come On in My Kitchen or Midnight Blues.  He was more than happy to let Warren Haynes play the Duane slide parts.

The Influences Dickeys influences are numerous and various.  They include jazz, blues, country, psychedelic rock, bluegrass, and Western swing.  Some specific musicians who influenced Dickey were Django Reinhardt, Jimmie Rodgers, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bob Wills just to name a few.  In Dickeys recorded work, you can hear them all.

His Axes of Choice For the most part, Dickey Betts is a Gibson Les Paul man.  His main guitar for a long time was a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop, appropriately named Goldie.  In the early days of the Allman Brothers Band, Dickey played a red 1961 Gibson SG.  Gibson now has a signature Dickey Betts model SG.  He gave that guitar to Duane Allman, who used that guitar as his main slide guitar.  Dickey then switched to the Les Paul.  When I saw them on tour in 1991, Dickey gave Goldie a rest and switched to a Paul Reed Smith model.  He switched back to Goldie in 1994.  When I saw the Brothers in 1995, Dickey played a red Gibson 335.  After Warren Haynes left the band in 1997, Dickey switched to a Fender Stratocaster.  But since his departure from the Allman Brothers Band, Dickey has stuck with the Les Paul.  No matter the guitar, he always sounded like Dickey Betts.  He seems to get the same sound no matter what he plays.  Thats what my untrained ears tell me anyway.

The solos Where do I start?  So many solos, so little time, so Ill hit the ones that stand out for me.

-         Black Hearted Woman [The Allman Brothers Band] Duane, Dickey and Gregg [on the Hammond B-3] play the songs riff in unison.  Dickey doesnt play a solo until the end, but so what?  Duane plays most of the solos, while Dickey plays a funky rhythm guitar throughout [thats the cool part!].  At the end, its a Duane and Dickey free-for-all.  This is a very cool song.

-         Midnight Rider [Idlewild South] Duane plays the acoustic throughout.  Dickey makes his guitar sound like a pedal steel.  How the hell did he do that?

-         Leave My Blues at Home [Idlewild South] This is an anomaly in the ABB catalog in that I cant figure out who plays what.  The interplay between Duane and Dickey is such that I cant distinguish the two guitarists.  I think Duane plays on the left channel and Dickey plays on the right, but the parts from both guitarists are magnificent.  They play as one.  Of all the Allman Brothers songs, this is one I wont attempt to learn.  Its way beyond my limited capabilities.

-         Blue Sky [Eat a Peach] This has to be the best non-instrumental song Dickey Betts ever wrote.  Duane plays the first solo, Dickey plays the second.  I get visions of the twirlers every time I hear this song.

-         One Way Out [Eat a Peach] Dickey takes the first solo, and its absolutely smokin.  He emerged from Duanes shadow on this song.  Who played what on this song?  Very easy Duane played the slide, Dickey didnt.  Dickey played the main riff.

-         Melissa [Eat a Peach] This is Gregg Allmans song. Duane Allman loved it; the Allman Brothers recorded it after his death.  Dickeys playing, his fills and the solo at the end, are perfect.  Very emotional it was a pleasure to learn how to play it.

-         Come and Go Blues [Brothers and Sisters] Chuck Leavells piano drives this song.  Dickeys role for most of the song is as a rhythm player, but at the 2:47 mark he steps out and takes over until 3:30.  Again, another perfect solo from Dickey.

-         Jelly, Jelly [Brothers and Sisters] Dickey shows off his blues side with a masterful solo at the end, which is about a minute and a half long.

-         Southbound [Brothers and Sisters] Dickey has two solos on this one.  After the Allman Brothers reunited, they did a radical rearrangement which was captured on their 1992 live CD An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band.  The last time I saw the Brothers was in 1995 in Richmond, Virginia. Outlaws guitarist Chris Anderson sat in with the band on this song.  It was seventeen minutes of guitar awesomeness Dickey was on fire.  Chris Anderson and Warren Haynes werent too shabby either.  That is how I prefer to remember the band.

-         Nobody Knows [Shades of Two Worlds] This is the longest studio song the Brothers ever committed to tape.  The studio version is about eleven minutes.  They stretched it to sixteen minutes on An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band.  Warren Haynes took the first solo, which was unrelenting in its intensity.  Dickey took the second solo, which he started out quietly and built its intensity to a white-hot fury that would not have been out-of-place on At Fillmore East.  The solo on the live version is a six-minute tour de force.  Sometimes when I play it on my iPod I skip over the beginning of the song and get right to Dickeys solo. It never gets old.

Sadly, Dickey Betts is no longer a member of the Allman Brothers Band.  They had a falling out in 2000. The Allman Brothers have continued with guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.  Dickey formed his own band following his dismissal from the Allman Brothers.  Hes released two CDs [Lets Get Together and The Collectors #1] and one DVD, Back Where It All Begins Live At The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  In a perfect world, Dickey would still be in the band, but as we all know this world is far from perfect.