“Jessica”

April 21, 2021 • 3:15 pm

I’ve posted various versions of this song before, but this is the best I’ve found. It shows how underappreciated Dickey Betts was as a guitarist. He also wrote the song, which is a tribute to the iconic jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who played intricate songs using just two fingers on the frets, his other two playing fingers having been injured in a fire.

Wikipedia says this:

Written by guitarist Dickey Betts, the song is a tribute to Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, in that it was designed to be played using only two fingers on the left hand.

Betts wrote the majority of “Jessica” at the band’s farm in Juliette, Georgia. He named it after his daughter, Jessica Betts, who was an infant when it was released. She had bounced along to the song’s rhythm, and Betts attempted to capture her attitude with its melody. He invited fellow guitarist Les Dudek over to collaborate on it, and Dudek performed the bridge. The arrangement was crafted prior to recording, which took place at Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia.

This version is from 1984, when Betts was still at the height of his powers. But note that he sure uses more than two fingers on his left hand.

There’s a smoking piano solo, too. Enjoy!

19 thoughts on ““Jessica”

  1. Betts is famous among guitarists for using only two fingers and using a pentatonic scale for all of his solos.

      1. Two and a half but he’s not really playing a pentatonic blues scale in that song. I made a nice living playing like that and not being able to read music.

    1. Like almost all rock guitar players, it’s true he relies most heavily on index and third fingers. Those fingers fall most easily and logically for the pentatonic scale on a guitar fretboard . But note: he uses the pinky for hammer-ons and of course the second (middle) for full scales.
      What I found clever was that the key change he uses to launch the second part of the song maintains the same intervals or space between the chords. So when he’s playing in key of A the chords are A and D. When he switches to D, he plays D and G which are the same intervals.
      You wouldn’t think that toggling back and forth between those simple intervals could rock so hard but he makes it work. Thanks for making me take a second look at a song I long took for granted.

  2. I won a provincial guitar championship playing this song in grade 10, 1979. I went to the national competition and froze and blew it.

    Good times!!

    1. I’m a Doobie Brothers “Rockin’ Down the Highway” fan for starting a road trip, but Jessica is a close second.

      1. I thought that THE iconic “kick the tires and light the fires” tune was Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” enshrined by “Easy Rider.”

        Which, BTW, is NOT a movie that has stood the test of time well at all. I reqatched it a couple of years ago and it was just…embarrassing, for lack of a better word.

  3. I have a story you might enjoy, concerning Betts’ band Sea Level and the Allman Brothers. A good friend of mine, who I won’t fully name here, traveled on tours as a back-up singer with both bands years ago. She gave up that life to become an English professor.

    One night the Allman Brothers bus pulled into a motel after a show. And outside was, as usual, a pack of groupies waiting for their arrival. My friend Mimi took one look at the women, and said, “Don’t get off the bus, this is the wrong motel”. The bus driver said, “What? Are you sure?” Mimi was certain, and told him to go to the desk and ask. So he did.

    The driver came back out, got on the bus, and said, “You’re right. This isn’t the right place. We’re down the road.” As they pulled out onto the highway, he asked Mimi, “How did you know?” To which she replied, “Wrong groupies.” And he said, with disbelief, “What was wrong about them?” Mimi replied, “No tattoos.”

    Then Mimi asked him, “Well, obviously some band is staying here. Who is it?” And the driver replied, “Jackson Browne.”

    So now you know how to tell Allman Brothers groupies from those of Jackson Browne.

  4. Jessica is my favorite song of all time. I have loved it since I was about 12 years old. It never fails to make me smile. 🙂

  5. Absolutely brilliant song. I love it!

    EDIT: And it belongs somewhere near the beginning of every road trip mix, as someone else already mentioned.

  6. Not quite correct as to Django using only two fingers. His ring and pinky fingers were melted into a sort of lump, so that they could not be individually articulated, but he was able to use them, in at least a limited way, as a “third” finger.

    Brothers and Sisters, the album that contained Jessica, was released, if I recall correctly, the day after my 18th birthday. I hitchhiked, guitar on my back, from my childhood home in CT to a friend’s house in MA, where we were first in line to buy the album. We had been worried, as were many, that the Brothers would not survive the deaths of Duane and Berry, but the album somewhat assuaged our fears.

    The next day, we hitchhiked to California, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been a lifelong aficionado of every iteration of the band since ’71.

  7. Only indirectly related, and I can’t find the exact quote, but Glen Campbell said he once wanted to be the greatest jazz guitarist ever. And then he listened to Django Reinhardt, and “I realized that wasn’t gonna happen.”

    But he wound up pretty good anyway.

    I also liked this, from when Campbell was falling into Alzheimer’s (https://www.mcall.com/entertainment/mc-xpm-2011-09-08-mc-glen-campbell-20110908-story.html):

    At Glen Campbell’s house in Malibu, a large framed painting of the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt hangs over a baby grand piano in the living room.

    Campbell is proud of the portrait of the musician who quite possibly is Campbell’s biggest hero on the instrument with which both men came to fame, happily showing it off to a visitor on an overcast morning recently.

    “I was walking down the street — not this one…,” he says, prompting his wife, Kim, to remind him: “Rodeo Drive.”

    “Rodeo Drive,” he confirms, “and here’s Django! I bought it for $225.”

    Kim, sitting next to him around the island amid their kitchen, calmly interjects, “Not on Rodeo you didn’t!”

    Campbell pauses, looks at her, reconsidering his remark. “How much was it?”

    “I think it was more like $2,000.”

    He pauses again for a split second, then jokes, “Well, shoot, sell it back. I’ve seen it enough now.”

  8. The piano solo is pretty good, but it’s a difficult road given there’s only two chords back and forth. It’s really difficult to phrase any overall shape into the solo; that progression tends to make a flat solo overall.

    One move the piano player makes that stood out for me is the idea at 3:51. It is a great lick in and of itself, and it gives a lot of longer, broader shape to the solo.

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