Sonny & Cher finally got canceled for good, but might CBS have stuck with the show if it could have told the real story? The working title would have read something like Sonny and Susie, Cher and Gregg, Paulette and Dickey. It is actually the last two least-familiar names that might well have floated the saga.
Paulette Eghiazarian, 26, the daughter of a retired CIA operative and once Cher’s personal secretary, confidante and Armenian soulmate, planned to marry guitarist Dickey Betts last weekend. Now 33, Betts was a charter member of the trailblazing Southern rock band, the Allman Brothers. Today his new group’s powerful debut LP (Dickey Betts & Great Southern) is selling nearly 100,000 records a week and winning critical shivers of delight.
Betts and Duane Allman developed the looping, gliding twin-guitar style that has since been copped by scores of imitators. But just as the band was cresting nationally in late 1971, Duane was killed in a motorcycle crash, and Dickey helped keep the band together. A year later bassist Berry Oakley was killed in a similar crackup. The group persisted, but last summer, its eighth, the myth of rural, fraternal closeness was dramatically exploded: Gregg’s bitterly divisive testimony at the drug trial of his road manager, Scooter Herring, led to a stunning 75-year sentence (now under judicial review). Gregg won freedom from possible prosecution on a cocaine rap, but he lost the Brothers. They splintered angrily, all but banishing him to settle in disrepute with wife Cher in Beverly Hills.
For Betts it was ironic: he felt Gregg had both betrayed one friend and saved another—Dickey himself. Months earlier, at Allman’s optimistic prodding, he had shyly introduced himself to Paulette at a New Jersey gig. As Betts recalls, “She wouldn’t take a ride in the limo with me that night but stayed out all the next night, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Paulette, for her part, witnessed the smuggling of Allman’s historic billet-doux to Cher at L.A.’s Troubador club—right past her escort David Geffen. It led to their first date. (“Gregg probably sent seven notes that night,” says Cher’s black-maned sleek lookalike, who is not an Allman admirer.)
To those who know Betts’s reputation for an occasional punch-out, Paulette has had a calming and crucial effect on both him and his daughter, Jessica, 5. While he was holding the Allmans together, his own life caved in around divorce proceedings with his first wife, Sandy, an Ojibwa Indian. A dedicated father, Betts is still fighting for sole custody of Jessica. After the split last spring—but before Paulette moved into his life—he recalls being lonely and “blasted” on liquor and drugs. Paulette’s presence has, as Gregg once said of Cher, helped him out of it.
He and Paulette will likely outlast the coupling that brought them together as Gregg and Cher are now in their third period of separation. “Gregg was pretty distant from the Brothers, but he and I were closest writing together, which we did a lot of,” reflects Dickey. “We weren’t runnin’ buddies or nothin’. I sure hope he pulls it together now. No man should have to pay his whole life for a mistake.”
Paulette quit Cher’s organization a year ago, says Betts, their once-sisterly intimacy strained: “I get the impression Cher is very possessive and doesn’t like anyone messin’ around.” Her new role as mate and mother delights Paulette, not least when Jessica calls her “Mommy.” (The child rarely sees her own mother.)
“Paulette has been great for me and Jesse. There’s a big difference,” Dickey points out, “between a woman who just wants to party with you and one who wants to bring a semblance of order to your life. Jesse’s done real well with what she’s been through.”
Actually, it’s more than a semblance. They plan on having their own kids, and, says Paulette, “This is the closest thing to family life that Jesse’s ever known. It’s real important for her to feel she has a family. On the road we get dressed up for dinner at 6, even in Holiday Inns.” Betts remains deeply attached to his Florida roots. He owns a 40-acre spread on the Manatee River, 20 miles inland from Sarasota. There he has built a small home for his mother and stepfather, and he and his two ladies will eventually move into their own two-story hacienda, now building.
Betts was born in West Palm Beach. His grandparents were homesteaders who lost a bundle in lumber amid the Depression. His parents (Father was a contractor) divorced when he was 10. By 16 he had left home to play the blues rock style that evolved from jaunty Western Swing, the story-telling lyrics of Jimmie Rodgers and the slide guitar of black Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson.
After 17 years in rock Betts is hard-headed, soft-hearted and relieved to still be around. On a recent trip home he got up at sunrise, scrambled together his fishing gear and eased into his aluminum boat, a line dropped over the side. He sipped a beer and looked out on his yard, a surrealistically serene paradise of palm trees knitted together by Spanish moss, a river and a deep blue sky. “You know the worst part of this thing?” asks Betts, whose most famous lyric is “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man / Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.” “It’s the time when you start missin’ home.”