Dickey Betts of Allman Brothers fame played Friday night at Proctors with his Great Southern Band. Betts, one of the founders of southern rock who survived the heavy burden of carrying Daune Allman’s torch for decades, showed us Friday that that he remains a massive player at 64 — ferocious when he wants to be, picturesque a few times, even cerebral, still not very patient, straight-up honest with no tricks, and determined to give his people a show, even though the 800 or so filled only about half the place.
Betts, who is no longer with the Allmans, basically puts on an Allmans show with a similar Allmans structure. He has two drummers (yes, one black), his son Duane Betts on guitar, and a keyboardist — Mike Kach — who, well, is tall, has long flowing hair and a beard, plays the organ and sang the opener “Statesboro Blues,” “One Way Out.” And “Nobody Left to Run with Anymore.” And yes, oddly, you couldn’t mistake him for sounding like Gregg Allman.
The band was pure Southern Rock, and it was all good, but not much happened for the first third of the show unless Betts turned it on. And this happened only twice in the first set. Once during “Blue Sky,” which should have put goosebumps on anyone in the place — he warned us when he stepped back from the mike, took his leg-straddled gun-slinger stance, threw back his head and shut his eyes — and again during “Jessica,” but less so, to close the second set.
“Blue Sky” put everyone on their feet for the first and only time until the end of the show. Watching cold, tough-guy Betts in cowboy hat and boots sing such a beautiful song is a great study of contrast.
It was a surprise to hear “Jessica,” his anthem of sorts, so early in the show, but he had plenty of others for later on. Kach played a light, jazzy piano and soloed often through the night, sounding a lot like Chuck Leavell from the “Brothers and Sisters” era.
Betts shared the stage all night, giving his son, a talent already, and Kach solos for almost every song, partly because Betts might not have the chops to lead a two-hour show, and partly because he’s always been about his band. The sound was far from perfect: the bottom-end rumbled badly, burying the drums and bass work, and Betts solos didn’t always soar above the rumble though you could hear it.
The back-half of the second set was as good as any Allman Brothers show today. Once the wham-bam “Elizabeth Reed” hit, there was no turning back. Let’s just say Betts had dissected and uncovered every nook and cranny of that tune. Betts junior played the first solo, longer and stronger than his senior, bringing an intense, fresh approach and ending with the familiar riffs, showing us his true Betts blood. Betts senior was disappointing here, but the band – with a cool double-drum solo — was the star on this 20-minute version.
They maintained this heightened energy to close out the show.