Dickey Betts - guitar, dobro, vocals; Jeff Hanna - guitar; Spooner Oldham - organ; Vassar Clements - violin; John Hughey - pedal steel guitar; Oscar Underwood Adams - mandolin; Stray Straton - bass, vocals; Bonnie Bramlett - vocals, percussion; Jerry Jumonville - alto sax; David Walshaw - drums, percussion; Jerry Thompson - drums; Leon Poindexter - acoustic guitar; Walter Poindexter - banjo; Frank Poindexter - dobro
By 1974, in large part due to Dickey Betts, Capricorn Records and The Allman Brothers Band were experiencing a success more lucrative than anyone could have dreamed. Betts, as a result, found himself free to pursue almost anything he desired musically, without having to worry about finances in the least. The situation allowed him to record his first solo album, Highway Call, and to perform with countless great musicians for the pure joy of playing, without any expectations of making money in the process. Over the course of the previous year, Betts had found a true, authentic voice, and had begun to distinguish himself within the ABB as a unique stylist, blending his love for country, bluegrass, western swing, jazz and rock into a style utterly his own - and one that would soon prove highly influential on all the Southern Rock bands that followed in the Allman Brothers' wake.
Betts' Great American Music Show featured many of the players from his solo album, including the greatest fiddle player of his generation, Vassar Clements. Both the Poindexters and the legendary Spooner Oldham were also on board, and all these musicians combined to create a show that authentically traced the history of American music.
Betts begins this Winterland show by showcasing his more acoustic side, with plenty of tight harmonies, sweet picking and relaxed communication between the musicians. Several of the best new songs from Betts' solo effort are included, including "Rain," "Long Time Gone" and the superb "Hand Picked." The classic instrumental "Hideaway," as well as Allman Brothers' favorites "Blue Sky" and "Southbound," are given this new treatment with great success.
Betts, Clements and the Poindexters then venture into historic American music and straight bluegrass for half a dozen songs, beginning with vintage material like "Old Joe Clark" and "Salty Dog," and closing with Vassar Clements raising the roof on "Orange Blossom Special."
The set's closer, for which the ensemble goes electric, is perhaps its most interesting and exciting moment. This 40 minute version of "Elizabeth Reed" has to be one of the most expansive versions ever played, and is almost beyond description. Everyone in the ensemble gets several chances to shine on this unbelievable jam. All the elements that influence Betts' music are represented, from jazz to rock to bluegrass and back. This version literally has it all, and stays amazingly cohesive and inspired throughout. The audience demands more, and the band returns for an encore consisting of the obligatory "Ramblin Man" followed by another of Betts' most requested numbers, "Jessica." This lovely instrumental showcases the inventive playing of this large ensemble, and ventures into new areas only hinted at in versions with the Allman Brothers.
This is one of the finest examples recorded of musicians playing for the sheer joy of music, with no egos or financial concerns getting in the way. Touring this type of show was destined to be a monstrous undertaking - and ultimately a financial disaster - but thankfully, for a brief time in 1974, none of that seemed to matter.