Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Loss Of Two Rock Giants

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Loss Of Two Rock Giants

Though both musicians were icons in their own right, their work was admired largely by those who followed their bands

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Sunday, May 05, 2024, 12:18 AM IST
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The rock music world lost two giants in April. Dickey Betts, guitarist of the American group Allman Brothers Band (ABB), passed away on April 18 at the age of 80 in Osprey, Florida. On April 24, Mike Pinder, 82-year-old keyboardist of the British band Moody Blues, breathed his last at his northern California home.

Though both musicians were icons in their own right, their work was admired largely by those who followed their bands. Even for the broader section of hardcore rock fans, the names of Betts and Pinder may not mean much. To cite one example, an avid rock fan asked this columnist, “Who is Pinder and why is everyone talking about him now?” Their fans would describe them as under-rated musicians, and they did not make it to star lists. The fact remains, however, that both were gamechangers. Let’s see how.

Betts was one of the founding members of ABB, formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1969. The other band members were keyboardist Gregg Allman, guitarist Duane Allman, bassist Berry Oakley, drummer Butch Trucks, and drummer/ percussionist Jai Johanny ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson. They popularised the southern rock sound, which blended rock with blues, jazz and country music. However, Betts himself rejected this classification, preferring the term “progressive band from the South”.

During the initial years, the band’s concerts featured twin guitar jams by Duane Allman and Betts. With his unique slide guitar, and by also collaborating with Eric Clapton and Wilson Pickett, Duane became recognised as one of the world’s top guitarists. Sadly, he died in a motorcycle accident in 1972, and a year later, bassist Oakley died too. It was left to Gregg Allman and Betts to carry the band forward.

Before Duane passed away, Betts had written the brilliant Revival, the jazz-influenced instrumental In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed and the country-laced Blue Sky. The loss of his partner made him add a stronger country-roots flavour, and he composed four songs on the 1973 album Brothers And Sisters, including his biggest hit Ramblin’ Man and the instrumental Jessica.

Betts had his own style, and though he didn’t achieve Duane’s celebrity status, his smooth, melodic playing influenced many guitarists. An example of his genius is the track Nobody Knows from the 1991 album Shades Of Two Worlds. Besides ABB, he released solo albums like Highway Call. He sort of resembled a star in Hollywood curry westerns with his trademark hat and moustache.

For his part, Pinder of the Moody Blues is best-known as the man who gave the Mellotron a special place in rock music. Though the electro-magnetic keyboard instrument, often used to produce spacey orchestral sounds, was played earlier on individual tracks by Graham Bond, Manfred Mann and the Beatles, Pinder used it extensively on the 1967 album Days Of Future Passed, featuring the hit Nights In White Satin. He was a huge influence on progressive rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, 1990s acts like Oasis and Radiohead and many ambient and new age musicians. Yet, he isn’t talked about in the same vein as Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright or Ray Manzarek of the Doors.

Pinder was a founding member of the Birmingham band in 1964. The classic line-up from 1967 to 1978 comprised Justin Hayward on vocals and guitar, John Lodge on vocals and bass, Ray Thomas on flute, Graeme Edge on drums and Pinder. Interestingly, all members wrote songs. Pinder’s compositions included Dawn, Sunset, Om, Melancholy Man, Out And In, Lost In A Lost World and One Step Into The Light. He did poetry-like recitation on The Day Begins, Late Lament, The Word and Higher And Higher. While keyboardist Patrick Moraz replaced him in the group, Pinder got into consultancy, besides releasing two solo albums.

The death of these greats within a week comes as a huge loss. Though the basic sound and core fans of both bands were vastly different, they had major impact on those who followed them. Ramblin’ Man Betts and Melancholy Man Pinder live on through their music.

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