"Now I realize that Gregg was in a bad situation," Betts told Robert Duncan less than a year after Allman's grand jury testimony touched off the conflagration. "But I think he could have handled it a lot better. I think he should have had a little more insight into what was going to happen to everybody around him."
Allman and Betts met face-to-face for the first time since the breakup at Jimmy Carter's inauguration in January '77. Whatever animosity existed between the two was mitigated by the shared experience that would eventually pull them back into each other's orbit.
While Betts was in the middle of recording Atlanta's Burning Down Gregg called Phil Walden and told him he wanted to try and get the band back together.
The two flew to Miami, where Betts was recording with Great Southern, and talked tentatively about reuniting. A few months later the Allman Brothers band reconvened at Lakeside Park, which is not far from Macon.
Gregg had come back to Georgia after all, and had buried the hatchet with Betts, but there were still major obstacles to an Allman Brothers reunion. The band that had broken up in '76 had gone in a lot off different directions and they were not all willing to retrace their musical steps.
Chuck Leavell and Lamar Williams eventually decided that the music they were playing with Sea Level was closer to what they wanted to do than Allman Brothers material.
But all the charter members recognized the potential reunion as a kind of destiny.
In July of '78, during a Great Southern concert at Central Park in New York, Johansen, Trucks and Allman began the reunion in front of a stunned and delighted crowd. They jammed together again at the Capricorn picnic in August.
The reunited band, with Toler on second lead guitar and Goldflies on bass, went into the studio with Tom Dowd producing that November, and emerged with an album, Enlightened Rogues, that was animated by the spirit of Duane Allman. (Enlightened Rogues was the nickname Duane had given the Brothers back in the glory days.)
Betts and Toler played as if possessed, and Gregg sang with bloodcurdling emotion. The two drummers sounded better than ever. Dowd knew just how to capture such magic on vinyl.
"We're in love all over again," said Dowd after it was completed.
The band was back in full stride, with Betts assuming the mantle of leadership. Betts proved with his solo projects that he carried forward the spirit of the Brothers after he left, and his willingness to set aside his own band to reconvene the brotherhood was the deciding factor that brought Trucks and Jaimoe to the project.
Toler and Goldflies, both members of Betts' band, were welcomed enthusiastically into the fold. Betts wrote or co-wrote six of the album's eight songs, including two more collaborations with Don Johnson, "Blind Love" and "Can't Take It With You."
Gregg's singing on those two tracks, and elewhere on the album, was some of the best of his career. His blood-curdling screams at the end of "Blind Love" provide one of the album's most exciting moments.
Gregg's one songwriting contribution to the record, "Just Ain't Easy," is an eerie, restive comment on his living nightmare of the previous few years.
"Crazy Love" is a freewheeling romp that eptomizes the good feelings surrounding the reunion, with Bonnie Bramlett adding her distinctive harmony vocals to the arrangement.
Then came the really exciting part - touring. Though none of the splinter bands could sustain a live following beyond the club and small theater level, the public was wildly enthustiastic about an Allman Brothers reunion and most dates on the band's tour were sellouts.
"When I got into the Allman Brothers it was quite thrilling being onstage and playing with those guys," said Dan Toler. "It was fun playin 20,000 seaters and up. We were so loud. At that time it was the high point of my life."
"Just Ain't Easy" and "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," on Dreams, taken from the '79 reunion tour, demonstrate just how hot the band was, as well as the maturity that had developed in Betts' playing.
The next album, recorded for Arista Records, was Reach for the Sky.
"Angeline" on the Dreams album, was every bit as good as the Enlightened Rogues material, and the record featured several other solid tracks, but the band was inexorably headed in the wrong direction.
The initial public interest in the reunited Allman Brothers on the concert circuit tapered off as the band's record sales declined. Southern rock had fallen from fashion with radio programmers and the Allman Brothers suffered accordingly.
Whether by coincidence or design, after Ronald Reagan's victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980 Southern rock was as good as dead. The Beach Boys, the idols of the surf bands Allman and Betts had competed against in their high school days, where back to haunt them.
The Allman Brothers finally broke up in January 1982.
In retrospect the band felt the move was inevitable. "I think Enlightened Rogues is a good album," said Betts, "but the way I feel is, from that point on it gradually was less fire and less inspiration. As far as that goes Reah for the Sky had some nice moments on it too, but by the time we got around to Brothers of the Road you could tell that whatever it was we had was over."
Gregg had grown close to Dan Toler during their years together in the Allman Brothers and the two had already started to write together, so it was natural for them to form a band.
"When the Allman Brothers Band broke up in January of 1982 we started this band that very same day," said Dan Toler. "It was Gregg, my brother and myself, Bruce our bass player, who was playing guitar then.
"The night Allman Brothers broke up Gregg and Frankie and I were at my house and we thought, well, here's three of us, let's start a band. Gregg and I had already written songs together, we wrote 'Lead Me On' together in '81. We didn't get any recognition from the others in the band for it, but we knew we had something going there so we went ahead and pursued it."
This band was formed primarily to pay live; though a number of demos were cut, recording was not the most pressing priority.
"We relized that we are a band and we are going to play whether we have a recording contract or not," said Dan Toler. "Our whole feeling about our existence is being able to play live. Our reward is when we walk out on that stage.
After taking some time to consider his next move, Betts also assembled another band, Dickey Betts and Friends, and went on a summer tour with Charlie Daniels. Then Betts got together with Trucks, Leavell and Wet Willie singer Jimmy Hall in December of '82 as the BHLT band, which also included Goldflies on bass and Danny Parks on fiddle. They kept going until '84, when Trucks left to devote time to a studio and sound company.
Betts moved to Nashville and formed a country band complete with a steel guitarist and fiddle player. He toured with that group through '85 and wrote a handful of country songs, including "You're Memory Ain't What It Used To Be," which was a hit for Mickey Gilley.
Both Betts and Allman recorded during the first part of the '80s, but neither of them were able to get the kind of deal they wanted. "I could have made records for smaller labels,"Betts said. "I was approached by some of the good smaller blues labels, but didn't want to do a traditional urban blues album, so I kind of survived through the low period of there."
"This style of music that we play had to sort of take a back seat and was overshadowed, "said Betts. "Rock and roll is a trendy music and the trend kind of went away from the blues based sound, especially Southern rock. There was a lot of disco type rock and roll coming out and I just didn't fit into it very well. I made some attempts to compromise and it didn't work. I lost whatever it is I had in the process."
Betts recorded an album in 1981 with producer Chips Moman in Nashville. The project was never released, but the beautiful country-rock tune "Nancy" is available for the first time on Dreams.
Meanwhile, Gregg Allman recorded a series of demos. His remarkable version of the Beatles' "Rain," sung with the accompaniment of a full choir. "Gregg had been working on that vocal arrangement for a while," said longtime tour manager Willie Perkins.
During these bleak periods, playing live was the only thing that kept Betts and Allman going. "We have to be really grateful for the hard core fans that came out to see my shows when I didn't have a record out," said Betts. "To have people supporting you even though you haven't had an album out in five years is very reassuring."
"You can't totally disappear from this music scene for five or six years and then expect and come back and do an album, so being able to be out on the road and stay in touch with things and keep playing and experimenting with different musicians and sounds has really helped out."
In March of 1986 the Allman and Betts bands began a series of joint performances that led to the rejuvenation of both musicians' careers. "We went through about a year with that tour," said Betts. "My band would play for an hour and a half and Gregg would play for an hour and a half, then both bands would play together for an hour. It was real nice."
The joint tour led to two full scale Allman Brother reunions that year, one in July at the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam, the other on the Halloween night "Crackdown On Crack" at Madison Square Garden.
In late '86 Gregg Allman went into Criteria Studios in Miami, the scene of some of his greatest work, to begin recording I'm No Angel.
"I had to learn how to do it all over again when I went into the studio to cut Angel," Allman said. "Nowadays with digital recording everything is done with lights, with lasers. When I got there to make the record and there were no machines in the room I thought we must be in the wrong studio."
Gregg's performances on I'm No Angel was one of the comeback stories of 1987.
The climate on radio had changed dramatically as classic rock stations found that new audiences were eager to hear not only the old Allman Brothers tracks but new material as well. With all that airplay and a current album in the charts, the Gregg Allman Band started playing to larger and more enthusiastic crowds.
"I'm a very fortunate person," Allman said. "Music is the most important thing for me, I couldn't survive without it, and it's been kind of good lately."
Allman seemed overwhelmed by the depth of fan support that still exists for him. "The people are wonderful, and the thing about it is they've got their children with them. It just blows you away. When you see old hippies bald on top with their hair down to the waist and their kids on their shoulders, it just kills you."
The second Gregg Allman Band album, Just Before the Bullets Fly, was released in 1988. It was even better than I'm No Angel, with a more relaxed and coherent performance from the band, Toler's finest guitar playing on record and Allman singing in the best voice of his life. "Demons," one of the Bullets tracks, is an eerie song that Allman said is his response to crack. "That's a day in the life of a stranger," he said, "it's about crack, not that I've ever been into crack but it's a ghastly thing, a ghastly poison. I don't see what the god damn thrill is, man. When I wrote the lyrics to that song I had a picture of a street in New York in my mind and this guy that I used to know, he'd buy anything that would get him high.
1988 was the best year for Betts and Allman since the Enlightened Rogues reunion. While Allman's band was tearing up the concert circuit with its blistering live performances, Betts was putting the finishing touches on Pattern Disruptive, an album that featured a two-guitar sound to rival the heights of invention he'd scaled with Duane Allman.
The Betts band had been gradually coming together since his mid-'80s Nashville period. Drummer Matt Abts, bassist Marty Privette and keyboardist Johnny Neel were in the country lineup before Betts switched back to a straight-ahead rock lineup.
The most dramatic addition to the Betts band, though, was guitarist Warren Haynes, a firebrand player with enough ingenuity in his style to make the inevitable comparisons to Duane Allman beside the point.
"We work exceptionally well together and it's really hard to find a guitar player, especially in the style I play, that fits in just right," Betts said. You can get into these guitar duels and it starts sounding like a couple of cats fighting if you're not careful."
Haynes part of a generation of musicians who grew up emulating Duane Allman. "As a kid the Allman Brothers were a huge influence on me," Haynes said, "so the first time that Dickey and I ever played together was a real big thrill."
"Obviously Duane is a huge influence on my slide playing," said Haynes, "or any slide player for that matter. On the old songs I try to play his licks because that's what belongs there, but I keep away from copying the solos. I know how they go in my head because I've heard the stuff so many times, but it's real hard not to play like him if we're doing, say 'Statesboro Blues'."
The high point of Pattern Disruptive is "Duane's Tune," a classic Betts instrumental reminiscent of the ones he wrote for the Allman Brothers.
"We'd be in th rehearsal studio playing and not knowing how it would go across live," said haynes. "So we went to this little blues club called Turtles on Anna Marie Island in Florida and had a little late night jam session."
"We did "Duane's Tune" and several of the new things, but that was really highlight. You could tell because people had not heard the song and they were just really in touch with it, they loved it. It made us feel really good because we had been rehearsing our brains out and wondering what was gonna happen."
Haynes and Betts put on a series of spectacular shows as '88 drew to a close, spinning magical collective improvisations that had audiences standing on their chairs and cheering themselves hoarse.
During one live broadcast from the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York they jammed with an all-star cast that included bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Mick Taylor.
1989 is the 20th anniversary of the Allman Brothers' debut, and as of this writing the band is planning to get back together for a reunion tour. Betts put the reunion idea into perspective. "I always look forward to jamming with Gregg," said Betts, "but we're not realistically looking to recreate the Allman Brothers Band. It's something that happened that was beautiful in its time and something we shouldn't forget about, but let's not try to copy it. A lot of the key players who were involved aren't even with us today."
But the music still lives on in dreams.