Now this is one from my own record collection … today we blow the dust off Highway Call, the 1974 solo album by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts. But for his first solo album, he’s billed as “Richard Betts.”
In 1974 the Allman Brothers Band had hit a crossroads: both Duane Allman and bass player Berry Oakley had died, and the album Brothers and Sisters (mostly recorded after the death of Oakley) had been a hit. But the album introduced a softer, country-rock direction thanks to Betts’ “Ramblin’ Man,” which was a radio hit. Pianist Chuck Leavell was also heavily featured, and the result was a sound that strayed a bit from the Allmans’ trademark dual-guitar attack. With the direction of the band in question, both Betts and Gregg Allman set out to cut solo albums.
Betts’ Highway Call was an extension of his country-rock approach, and the album’s opener “Long Time Gone” could be the sequel to “Ramblin’ Man.” Instead of an extra guitar, though, this song has a steel guitar (played by John Huhgey) that opens up this road-ready album. “Rain” adds the country backing vocals of the Rambos (Buck, Dottie and Reba) for yet another dip into Betts’ country-rock pool.
The title song, coming third in the lineup, is a slow one that steers us closer to pure country thanks to Leavell’s honky-tonk plinking. “Let Nature Sing” begins the second half of the program (this is a short, six-song album) with down-home gospel harmonies and banjo pickin’. To me, it’s a little reminiscent of the Byrds’ country sound on Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Fiddler Vassar Clements kicks off the stomp “Hank Picked,” and a square dance breaks out for 14 minutes on this extended instrumental. This song puts Betts’ guitar work into a stricter country context, and he shines on this cut – it’s certainly the album’s centerpiece. “Kissimee Kid,” another fiddlin’ instrumental (this one actually written by Clements), ends the album on an upbeat note.
Highway Call was successful but it didn’t get the attention that Gregg Allman’s solo album Laid Back did about the same time. Allman had a radio hit with his remake of the Bro’s “Midnight Rider” and maybe Betts got lost in the shuffle. But the two albums couldn’t be more different – Allman’s was more of a singer/songwriter move, while Betts’ was meant to showcase some superior musicianship.
Of course, you know the rest – the Allmans would record intermittently in the ensuing decades and finally they parted ways with Dickey Betts in 2000. He formed the Dickey Betts Band and played also with an outfit called Great Southern, which featured Betts’ son Duane (guess who he was named after). In December 2009 Dickey Betts announced he was no longer going to tour, although he played some dates as recently as July with Great Southern.