Exclusive: Allman Brothers star Dickey Betts 'can't say enough good about' Jimmy Carter
While former President Jimmy Carter, 98, is in hospice care at his home, many people are reminiscing about the impact he had on the nation, the world and their own lives.
One of those people is Dickey Betts, an iconic rock star who believes Carter was a rock star in his own right.
Betts, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, served as lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the group — and may be best known for writing and singing the hit song “Ramblin’ Man.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who at the age of 78 lives in Florida and is retired from music, remembers getting to know Carter when he was the governor of Georgia.
“He really liked the Allman Brothers Band. We kind of, to him, represent musically the state of Georgia. He come to the studio one night and we were all excited about him coming by to hear our new record we were working on, and he came by and really enjoyed himself,” Betts told Yahoo News exclusively in a phone interview.
Carter returned later and said he’d spoken to their manager about the possibility of having the band perform for his campaign — for president.
“Well, that tickled the hell out of us,” Betts said. “We said, ‘Wow, you know, a Georgia boy elected president,’ we liked that idea. We experienced him as the governor, so we knew what kind of guy he was. He put some sunshine back into Georgia’s reputation, we became a good place to go. We said, 'Yeah, we’ll do some shows.'”
Betts believed Carter was a great person to represent Georgia, a state that had long contended with a reputation for racism and negative stereotypes. Carter won the bid for the 1976 Democratic nomination before going on to win the general election on Nov. 2 of that year.
Presidential candidates have often had well-known music for their rallies, and in some cases have had celebrity musicians backing them with concerts and, more recently, social media posts. But Carter, originally a peanut farmer from Plains, Ga., took his affinity for music to the next level by aligning himself with artists he respected.
A documentary by Mary Wharton, “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President,” highlights how his famous friends like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett helped him get elected. In the film, he singles out one group in particular.
“The Allman Brothers helped put me in the White House by raising money when I didn’t have any,” Carter says.
The band’s impact was a direct one: They gave him a big boost with a benefit concert, showcased in the film, that they performed on Nov. 25, 1975, at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island. Another scene shows Betts performing a solo country classic during a Capricorn Records picnic attended by Carter.
Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Carter and wrote “The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House,” said their impact on his campaign was bigger than just a benefit concert — they helped him reach new audiences.
“The Allman Brothers were at the pinnacle of their fame. They were a very hot and kinetic band. Southern rock was in the zeitgeist with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top and major countrified Southern acts,” Brinkley told Yahoo News.
The Allman Brothers Band formed in 1969 in Jacksonville, Fla., and eventually based themselves in Macon, Ga., a small city that has produced some of the most iconic R&B and rock legends.
The founding members were Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar) and his brother Gregg (vocals, keyboards, songwriting), as well as Betts (lead guitar, vocals, songwriting), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums) and “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums). Along with classic Southern rock, the group drew heavily on blues, jazz and country.
“Jimmy Carter loved Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts because they were neighbors, and they developed a keen fellowship,” Brinkley said. “Carter was a father in that era with three sons, and they were all Allman Brothers fanatics. No matter who you are and you’re a father, you want to show off to your kids, and the fact that Jimmy Carter's hanging out with the Allman Brothers just was downright cool.
“The big thing is that President Carter, coming from Sumter County, Ga., when he entered politics, he became close with Phil Walden of Capricorn Records. Walden was one of Carter's earliest backers when he ran for governor and president.”
The group’s first two albums, "The Allman Brothers Band" and "Idlewild South," didn’t hit on a national scale, but their 1971 live release “At Fillmore East” was a breakthrough.
Their 1973 studio release “Brothers and Sisters” included Betts’s hit single “Ramblin' Man” and the instrumental “Jessica,” both of which put the group on the map. Internal turmoil, including substance abuse issues, overtook them soon after, and the group dissolved in 1976.
“Carter and Gregg Allman developed a particular kinship, and Carter respected it,” Brinkley added. “It mattered because Gregg Allman had alcohol problems and drug problems, but so did Jimmy Carter's nephew. So Carter was always very sympathetic to people going through alcohol and drug rehab or never held it against you or looked down on you. ... Gregg Allman became like a friend and adviser to Carter, because President Carter, if he takes you in friendship, it’s a real deal.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gregg Allman told the band’s archivist, Kirk West, that “Jimmy Carter didn’t mind being seen with us at all, despite being set up for ridicule by his opponents for hanging out with a bunch of hippie drug users.”
Carter returned to Macon for Gregg Allman’s funeral on June 3, 2017. The former band frontman, who was once married to Cher and had five children, died at the age of 69. This was the last time Carter and Betts saw each other.
“I can’t say enough good about the man,” Betts said. “When Gregg passed away, Jimmy Carter came to his funeral. ... That brother showed a lot of character to me. Here he is, almost 90 years old or so, and one of the guys who helped him be president, he never forgot it. He had one bodyguard there that I saw with him. He was a great guy.”
As much as Carter appreciated the "Ramblin' Man," Betts valued him as a giving person who maintained his generosity post-presidency.
“God, he’s done so much more after he was president, you know, with [Habitat for Humanity]. I’ve never heard of another president doing much good work after their term was up, but he did.”
Betts, who wishes “the family the best,” said it’s kind of strange talking about someone as if he’s died already, but also said you don’t have to wait for someone to die to talk about the good they’ve done.
“He’s one of the people that I’m really grateful to have met, and honored to be considered a friend of his. I got a couple of letters he wrote to me hanging on my wall and postcards, Christmas cards. You don't get a Christmas card from the president, that’s kind of an unusual thing, you know,” he said.
“He’s 98 years old. I mean, he had a good life. ... I have fond memories of Jimmy Carter, and that’s about all I can say.”