Les Dudek’s greatest hits and a couple of near misses
June 8, 2011
Les Dudek has the Midas touch with the exception of his solo career.
He played on the most popular albums by the Allman Brothers Band, Boz Skaggs and Steve Miller. But a copyright dispute and bad advice from a manager left the guitarist wondering, “What if?”
In what could have been a career-making opportunity, Dudek was invited by Dickey Betts to record with the Allman Brothers. Betts and Duane Allman were the guitarists in the pioneering southern rock band which is credited by many for creating the jam band genre.
After Allman died in a motorcycle accident, Dudek came from Florida to Macon, Ga., along with one of what would become one of the most-listened-to guitars in the nation. Betts, who had intended to start a new band, instead, at Gregg Allman’s insistence, Dudek said, remained with the Allman Brothers, which was about to record the album “Brothers and Sisters.”
Dudek played on, and help arrange the guitar parts for, “Ramblin’ Man.” He also said he co-wrote “Jessica,” whose songwritting rights belong to Betts.
“I never got credited for writing it and I never got any money for it,” Dudek said. “Not one dime. We’re talking major money, too.”
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Dudek explained his contribution to the Allman Brothers most popular song.
“I wrote the bridge section to that song and Dickey didn’t really want the critics to think I was going to be in the band at the time so he had Chuck Leavell play the harmony parts on the keyboard with him. But that’s me starting it off. I played the acoustic guitar on it.
“Dickey wrote the verse section. His wife and my girlfriend were having steaks at his house one night and he was kicking around this instrumental little ditty that he had and was trying to figure out how to finish it. That’s when I helped him finish it. The song’s in ‘A’ and when it goes to ‘G,’ that’s what I wrote. Everything else, the walk ups the walk downs, the solos, that’s just arrangement, basically. It took us like six days to cut that song. We did it every day for six days until we got it. That’s a live take.”
It was a seminal time for southern rock.
“I can remember many a jams with Dickey and myself and the brothers, Gregg and some of the guys from Wet Willie and Marshall Tucker,” Dudek said. “We would jam at the drop of a hat. Somebody’s getting married, pull up the back of the truck. You’re having a barbecue, back up the truck. And we would just jam for hours on end. And ‘Ramblin’ Man’ in itself is basically, in my opinion, the national anthem for southern rock. I think Lynyrd Skynyrd came out the year after with their first album. Of course, Skynyrd had a lot of hits and contributed to southern rock as well but it was the Allman Brothers that started it with ‘Ramblin’ Man.'”
The band knew they had a hit the day it recorded “Ramblin’ Man.”
“After the song ended, you could hear a pin drop in that room,” Dudek said. “And I remember Red Dog, one of the roadies, he was one of the first ones to face us and said, ‘Well, I don’t know about you all but that’s the best y’all done since Duane.’ And that’s his stamp on what it was. It was No. 1. To not ride on that was disappointing because I was ready to join the Allman Brothers, but like I said it was right after Duane died and Dickey wanted the limelight for himself. So they added Chuck Leavell instead and I love Chuck. He’s a great player. They just took a different direction. But later on they got another guitar player and that’s another disappointing thing because I never got the call. Never got the call.”
Instead, Dudek moved to San Francisco to join Boz Skaggs. He played guitar on “Silk Degrees,” which went No. 2 on the pop album charts and included the songs “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.”
He also played with Miller on four albums, including his two most commercially successful, “Fly Like an Eagle,” and “Book of Dreams.”
Dudek was about to go solo.
“In one day’s time I got an offer from Columbia Records to have Boz Skaggs produce me to do a solo project for myself or I could have went with Capitol Records and have Steve Miller produce me or I could have a new band that manager Herbie Herbert was starting called Journey,” Dudek said. “Literally, the first day I want to the first Journey rehearsal I also had a meeting across the street with Columbia Records.
“I went there and was jamming around with Neil Schon and all the guys. It was going to be me and Neal Schon on guitars, Ross Valory on bass, Gregg Rolie on keyboard and they didn’t have (Steve) Perry. And Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Perry was, I think, a year later. I think they did the first record without him. I was hanging out with them and jamming and said ‘Guys, I got to go across the street for a minute.’ The president and vice president of Columbia Records were waiting for me and they offered me a solo deal on the spot. So I went s—, what do I do? So I went, you know what, I’m going to go with Columbia Records and be a solo artist.”
Dudek’s self-titled first album included “City Magic,” which received FM radio airtime. The follow-up “Say No More” had the hit single “Old Judge Jones.” A third album, “Ghost Town Parade,” was also successful and Dudek was on a rapid ascent.
At least, that’s how it appeared. That’s when he hired a manager who came up with the idea of putting together the first “supergroup.” Dudek, Michael Finnigan and Dave Krueger joined forces on tour to promote each of their solo albums.
“It all seemed like a great idea but it just totally screwed up my solo career because we spent so much money on that project and it was so confusing for the public because I was just on the verge of breaking,” Dudek said.
A high-profile arena tour had a negative impact for Dudek, the soloist.
“We did a tour with Kansas, right after ‘Dust In the Wind,’ ” he said. “People just totally got disassociated with my solo thing because we were promoting ourselves as DFK. So it got so confusing it was just a wash. We spent over a million dollars on it. At the end of tour we decided we needed to do a DFK album and now I’m getting further away from solo career. And I had to commit to this. We did a spectacular album. It got lost because we spent so much money that Columbia dropped us. I scuffled back with Columbia and my lawyer and got one more album, ‘Gypsy Ride.’ “
The next solo albums came out 20 years later with 2001’s “Deeper Shades of Blues” and 2003’s “Freestyle.”
Dudek soon will release another album, “Delta Breeze,” which he owns all the rights.
He said he last spoke to Betts in 2000.
“He said ‘I really feel bad about that Jessica issue,'” Dudek said. “And basically I said, ‘Well, you don’t have to feel bad about it, Dickey.’ And he said, ‘Why is that?’ And I said, ‘You can just cut me a check.’ And he said, ‘Oh I don’t feel that bad about it.’ So that was the last time I talked to him. … I try not to have a bad attitude about it but could probably buy two houses with what he owes me. So every time I hear (‘Jessica’), I cringe.”
Dudek spends a couple of days in Tahoe when he tours on the West Coast, and he will perform free shows Friday and Saturday in the Red Room. He will play songs from his vast solo library and those he did with Miller, Skaggs, Stevie Nicks and Krueger (Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree”). He won’t play “Jessica,” because trio doesn’t include a keyboard player. It’s not due to bitterness.
“Just a couple of bad moves, man,” he said, “but I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m singing and playing better than ever.”