The Return of Great Southern: An interview with Dickey Betts (From The Archives)
Photo by Jack Abbott
M.S. So was the recording pretty much live in the studio?
D.B. Pretty much live. We went back and we had several chances at playing some solos. What I am saying is that we didn’t stack things up that aren’t really there. You can do all kinds of tricks in a studio and then if you went to play it live you couldn’t repeat it. I’ve never liked to get into that kind of thing.
M.S. I think one of the most obvious questions that most people will ask about the album when they see that it says Collector’s #1 is when number two coming out?
D.B., Yeah (laughs). We had such a nice time doing that I wanted to infer that we’ll do it again sometime.
M.S. Do you have stuff left over from the session?
D.B. Not really. It’s just that it was a fun thing to do and people enjoy it and we didn’t know how it would be received at the time we titled it number one, but I knew I wanted to do another one like that. The material is unlimited because really if you notice I did a lot of covers. I did a Bob Dylan song ("Tangled Up In Blue") I did Horace Silver, the old jazz pianist from the late 50s, "The Preacher." So, if you are not going to write everything there’s unlimited material. Probably the most primitive thing on the record is "Beyond the Pale" When it comes to this writing thing. It comes and goes. I hit my high points but I haven’t written anything in the last couple of weeks, but two months ago I was writing everything down that I was thinking. In fact, one of the tunes that we are doing onstage is a kind of Appalachian thing. It is called "Keep On Rolling." I was on that bus and we had a long ride and I watched that O’ Brother Where Art Thou? and I said I grew up with that music. When I got to the hotel I got some stationary out and wrote this tune. I mean I wrote it so fast it was like writing a letter to your girlfriend. I wrote the tune. I got the guys over to the room with acoustic stuff and we banged it out and started doing it on stage the next night. So that writing is doing well. I am not hitting any major writing blocks.
M.S. Since you have brought back the Great Southern name is there archive material from the original incarnation of the band that might get released?
D.B. There probably is but I’m not really into it. I’m writing so much new stuff and we have so much going on that I would just as soon keep doing new stuff. The one thing I have influenced to do, and I think it is a good idea I’ve got so many instrumental pieces I could do a quadruple album of just instrumentals, a compilation kind of thing. I must have 20 or 30 instrumentals that I have written. I didn’t realize that I had that many. But as far as archive stuff, the stuff that I am doing now is so much better than what I was doing 20 years ago.
M.S. What kind of dates have you been playing?
D.B. We are doing a little bit of everything. I’m really not enough theaters. That’s what I really love to do, but we are opening a lot of shows for other people. I did some shows with Lynyrd Skynrd. I opened up for them; I opened some shows for Charlie Daniels and did some shows with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. Those kinds of things are big shed, amphitheater kind of things.
M.S. I take it you prefer the more intimate two to three thousand set theaters?
D.B. Yes. What I want to do is get with Susan Tedeschi or Derek Trucks or Warren Haynes. There are a number of people, Jimmy Vaughan for instance and go into those theaters where it is not just me doing a glorified night club kind of thing. That’s what we hope to do next year. I have been doing a lot of college bars, show clubs I guess you would call them. I’d to do dates at say the Beacon Theater in New York or the Orpheum in Boston for a couple of nights with another band. Derek Trucks and I could tear the Orpheum up for two or three nights. As far as my show goes when I have the time to do the two and three hour sets I do quite a few of the older tunes that people want to hear like "Jessica" "Elizabeth Reed" "Blue Sky" "Rambling Man" that kind of thing. I split it about half and half with new stuff. I don’t like to just do just old stuff all the time. If somebody is going to come and hear me play there going to hear new stuff as well. It’s a pretty well rounded view of where we are at musically.
M.S. Do you listen to much new music?
D.B. I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary stuff. I love listening to Django Reinhardt and my favorite is Charlie Parker. I can sit and listen to Charlie Parker all afternoon. I really enjoy a lot of Steve Earle’s things that he has done. He is phenomenal.
M.S. Tell us a little about the band?
D.B. Well, we don’t have anyone leaving our shows disappointed. Chris Jensen is such an incredible horn player. He adds such a nice color with the two guitars. We use the twin guitars and blend the tenor horn with it more or less like three horn players. Chris was so funny because he said he was not used to working without two other horn players, so I said me and Danny are your two horn players. We have a seven-piece band in all.
M.S. Have you thought about maybe recording a live show?
D.B. Yes. I think I’ll do that next, probably in the spring of next year because I do have a bunch of new stuff that I’ve written that I haven’t recorded yet. That would be a good chance to do that and we could do some versions of tunes that people have before but they haven’t heard them the way we play them now.
M.S. Have you come across any of the current jambands, and have any impressed you?
D.B. The one that impressed me mostly is a group called moe. I did a show or two with those guys and they are like Dave Matthews in that they do a lot of jamming but there is a structure there.
M.S. Yes, they actually have some really good songs.
D.B. I really enjoyed them. I sat in with them and played with them. I can’t recall the names of many of the other groups I’ve come across because like I said I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music, but there is some nice stuff happening out there but moe. does come to mind immediately. They were really impressive to me and great folks too. I sat in with them, and I felt like I belong in this band. It was so comfortable playing with them. They can really play. We’ll probably do some more shows with those guys this coming season because we got along pretty well. I like to think of it as impressionism. They can make different colors and shades and atmospheres with their music and I really enjoy that kind of stuff.
M.S. I know over the years that you have played with a lot of people but is there anyone that you would really love to play with?
D.B. God, I have played with just about everybody. Not that really comes to mind. I think my favorite player right now that is not in my band is Jimmy Herring. He is just a beautiful cat. I have jammed with him several times in the last few months. God is he a beautiful player. I just sit and listen to him and I have had a chance to play with him sitting in with Phil. It was just a wonderful experience.
M.S. What was it that you enjoyed so much playing with Phil, was it the spontaneity of what they do?
D.B. With me it brought back a lot of the old days of when I played with those guys with the Dead. That part of it was great and being able to look over at Phil and kind of wink and nod his head and kind of the two older cats that have been around for w while. The other thing was being with Warren and especially Jimmy Herring. I’m so used to Warren so it is not so new but it was good to see him again after a year or so. With Jimmy I had never really had a chance to play with him. I went to see Phil at the Beacon and sat in with them there and then we did three shows together and I sat in with them every night. What made it kind of special was just the fact that it brought up a lot of memories from the Dead days being that Phil Lesh was there and then I just enjoy Herring’s playing so much. He and I had a lot of fun.
M.S. Do you have an event or special moment in your long career that stands out?
D.B. I do. Overall I think the most beautiful thing that I saw put together and was a really good piece of work that took a lot of effort and foresight and imagination was the Fillmore East. What Bill Graham did with he did with that little theater was just a wonderful experience. To be able to remember those days and as I get older I realize just how much work went into making something like that happen. The single event was Watkins Glen with the Dead, The Band and the Allman Brothers. There was just so many people there you couldn’t believe it, there was 600,000.
M.S. What kind of feeling is it looking out at 600,000 people, is it intimidating?
D.B. Well, yes. I have a feeling about it and every time I tell someone about it they kind of look at me like I’m kind of nuts. You could see people over the hill and down and then you couldn’t see people and then you could see people on the next hill. It was like a field of corn when it is in yellow bloom. It was just like this wonderful sea of faces out there. It was the biggest crowd I ever saw in my life. I think at that time it was the biggest crowd that ever gathered. Since then there has been some giant shows but at that time it was just unbelievable. We had no trouble, no violence. The difference in that festival and a lot of the others is that the music was the same from one band to the other. You know it wasn’t like the absurd like a rap band to the Allman Brothers and then to a heavy metal band to the Grateful Dead. The music wasn’t jumping all over the place. It was one kind of vibe. Everything was just smooth. For that many people to be together and not have any trouble is amazing. It was just beautiful. It was really a two day show. The sound check was just like a show. Nobody just got up and checked mikes we got up and played for three or four hours.
M.S. Well, Dickey thanks so much, I hope to see you up in this area soon.
D.B. It was good. I don’t think I have any Boston dates for a while but I want to get up there. I’ll be there next summer for sure. I want to get in there with Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes or Susan Tedeschi you know she had the baby, little Charlie, is the new addition. That’s taken her off the road for a while, but I think by next season she’ll be ready to go out on the road and maybe she’ll have a nanny or something. I’d love to do some shows with her. The Orpheum looks like a good place for that. It was nice talking with you Mick.