When talking about Southern rock, there are really only a couple of names to consider when you look for bands that epitomize this style. The Allman Brothers Band were at the forefront of this musical movement from its inception, and with a career that spanned 40 years, ABB impacted the sound of the South like no other rock group.
Formed by brothers Gregg and Duane Allman, the band would have a definitive impact on music with the albums that were made before Duane’s untimely death in 1971. With a searing lead style and otherworldly chops on slide, Duane would influence generations of players. One of the other key aspects of the band’s guitar style was the wonderful dual-guitar harmonies made possible by the pairing of Duane with Dickey Betts, another excellent player in his own right who would stay with the band up until 2000.
Throughout the life of the band, which formally retired from touring and performing in 2014, several notable guitarists have passed through the ranks, including Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Dan Toler, Jack Pearson, and for a single tour, Jimmy Herring. For the purpose of this lesson, we’ll focus on the classic 1969-1971 period of Duane and Dickey.
I’ve composed three short solos for you this month, one looking at the lead style of Duane and Dickey, then another pass with two-part harmony, and finally an open-E slide solo à la Duane.
The most refreshing part of this track is that it’s mostly in the key of G major and therefore the G major pentatonic scale (G–A–B–D–E) is very useful. I often find that many guitarists have a strong sense of melody when using the minor pentatonic scale, but things fall apart when switching to the major form.
The first solo (Ex. 1) begins by approaching the 3 of G (B) and moving up to the root of the scale (G). The double-edged sword presented in the major pentatonic scale is that it’s an inversion of a minor pentatonic scale: G major has the same notes as E minor. This is a benefit because you only need to know one set of shapes to play this sound. But on the other hand, you’ll quickly learn that licks you think of as being minor often don’t sound quite right over a major chord because your resolutions are in the wrong place. Measures 2-5 demonstrate this well, playing up at the 15th fret and moving down to the 12th. When working out this example, it will probably be easier to think of E minor pentatonic (E–G–A–B–D), which teaches us that moving the root down three frets will connect the major and minor shapes.
The next lick mixes notes of G major pentatonic and G minor pentatonic (G–Bb–C–D–F) to create something a little grittier. The notable part is landing on F# when the D chord comes around.
In the final measures, I use some country-inspired bending, which entails holding a bend while moving the notes above it on the 1st string.
The magic of the twin-guitar style ABB made so popular is that it’s far less calculated than what you might hear from a band like Racer X, who would opt for something a little more regimented. The Allman Brothers would have one guitarist play a melody, while the other played something similar, but higher up. This results in a more organic sound, as some intervals will be thirds and others may be fourths. This also goes hand in hand with limiting your phrasing to pentatonic ideas. Sometimes the two lines might not even line up perfectly, but that all adds to the charm.
In Ex. 2, try following the low part (Gtr. 2) and pay attention to getting the bends as in tune as possible.
Now have a look at the upper part (Gtr. 1). Notice how it often just sticks to the pentatonic scale, but a string higher. This part shouldn’t present too many problems if you’ve nailed the previous part.
Finally, I’ve written a pass (Ex. 3) on the slide, this time tuned to open E (E–B–E–G#–B–E), which was Duane’s tuning of choice. Beginning with a smooth slide all the way up to the 22nd fret. Playing with the slide on the 3rd finger will help here (though I place it on my middle finger, so anything is possible).
The second half of the solo sticks to a common pattern around the 15th fret. The idea is that the 15th fret is your tonic chord (G) and around that you can play two frets below on each string and three frets above. This won’t give you a strict scale, but it will result in some cool major/minor sounds.
Finally, there’s a backing track for you to play over as you try out some of these ideas. Just remember, during their amazingly long career ABB has generated thousands of ideas worth stealing, so check out any of their records and get to work!