Tim Betts gets the blues

by Brian Clarey

Tim Betts gets the blues

I met Tim Betts a lifetime ago, must have been 2001, shortly after I had moved to Greensboro from New Orleans.

I was still adjusting to life in my new city — this was before I cut my hair, before two of my three children were born, before I took this job at YES! Weekly.

I was writing for a monthly slick magazine called In the Spotlight at the time, which is a story in itself that is best saved for another day.

Anyway…. Like I say, I was still adjusting to life in the Triad. I did not yet know the players and shakers, but I was learning as fast as I could.

My editor at the time, Don Owens, sent me to write a profile of a local guitarist who he described as “amazing.” This I took with some salt — I was fresh from New Orleans, you understand, and I had yet to see anything in the Triad music scene that I would consider amazing aside from strange openmic scenes and ridiculous karaoke. As I became more immersed in the scene, this would change, but that hadn’t happened yet.

So I went to Greene Street Club to see this kid, Tim Betts, who Don had told me was a distant relative of Dickey Betts from the Allman Brothers Band and had gained some notoriety in Greensboro while still a teenager, winning the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society’s talent competition at 16 and playing with grown men from then on.

Whatever, I thought. Tim was still something of a kid then, in his early 20s, and when I met him at Greene Street, a skinny kid in jeans and a flannel; I liked him right away.

Don had failed to mention to me that he had been playing with zydeco legend CJ Chenier. Hell, I knew CJ Chenier from a dozen Jazz Fest performances and club dates, and when Tim dropped his name I dropped my pretensions.

He was in town for a few days, pulling a two-night stand at Greene Street with “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin, who I had definitely heard of, and from the moment Tim took the stage I realized I was in the presence of a immense talent.

Funny story: I got kicked out of the bar that night — doesn’t matter why — and had to come back the next to get enough notes to write my story.

We’ve been good friends ever since. Every time Tim came off tour with CJ we’d make a point to hang out. I’d go to his local gigs and we’d talk through the night afterwards.

When my book, The Anxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known, came out last year, I started doing book readings in bars, enlisting musicians to accompany me in the background.

A couple months in I got a call from Tim, who had heard about the readings while he was on the road with CJ. He was insulted that I hadn’t asked him to perform with me; he said he had already worked out some music to go with my writing.

Man, did we have some fun over the next year. We put a couple of numbers together and brought the show to venues all over the Triad. I brought him on the road with me to readings in New Orleans and St. Louis, where we absolutely floored the crowds.

I know I sold more books with Tim playing behind me than I ever could have hoped to alone.

And now Tim needs my help. Yours, too. Tim moved to Chicago earlier this year, a great move for his career but one that distanced him from a lot of the people who love him. Last month he suffered a bout of appendicitis that brought him to his knees. An abscess after surgery almost killed him.

For weeks Tim was too weak to talk to anyone and too proud to ask for help — his girlfriend Amberly Stokes finally reached out via Facebook to muster his formidable network.

Tim’s a full-time musician, which means he has no health insurance and no savings to fall back on. His surgeries and medicine have set him back tens of thousands of dollars, and his injuries have made it difficult for him to earn income. I could go on here about the injustice of the healthcare system and the plight that artists suffer every day, but I will hold off, for now.

Meanwhile the debts accrue and the bills pile up.

Tim’s friends and fans have put together a benefit on Saturday at the Blind Tiger, with great live music, a silent auction and lots of good people. The party — and it will indeed be a party — begins at 3 p.m. and rolls all night long. I’ll be there. And I’ll try not to get thrown out this time.