The Allman Brothers Band celebrated their 45th anniversary in 2014, retiring for good with one final series of concerts. Along with the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band was one of the most influential groups in bringing extended, jazz-like improvisation to the world of rock music.The ABB Brothers were heavily influenced by Miles Davis (a previous topic of this page) in particular and his landmark modal-jazz album Kind of Blue.
The early years of the Allman Brothers Band featured two keyboardists who are now legends in their own right: lead singer and organist Gregg Allman, who founded the band with his brother Duane in the late 1960s, and Chuck Leavell, who was brought in after Duane's death when the group decided that it wouldn't feel right to replace Duane with another guitarist. However, this is one of those days when I feel like talking about another (former) member of the group: founding guitarist Dickey Betts. In my mind he holds two distinctions. He is a consistently interesting and highly melodic soloist, and one of the great instrumental composers in classic rock.
Dickey Betts epitomizes a couple of things that are familiar if you spend enough time studying the great composers and soloists. He uses the same materials (scales, arpeggios, rhythms) as everyone else, but he finds a way to make them sound fresh and personal. He is also a model for the use of motif and repetition as a soloist. Dickey's solos are the same mix of major and minor pentatonic scales as most rock and country guitarists, with blues scales and diatonic scales (major and minor) mixed in where appropriate. When you listen to his solos though, the first thing you should notice is how all of them start with a small, usually catchy melodic idea. Rather than just drifting from one line to another, Dickey will repeat this two or three times before moving on to a new idea, usually an expansion (branching the last repeat off into a new line) or alteration of the previous one.
The same ingenuity that turns up in his solos also informs Mr. Betts's compositions. His themes are a mix of soulful melody and lively rhythms, repeated and varied in a manner similar to his improvised solos. Dickey has said that Django Reinhardt is one of his biggest influences, and that "Jessica," probably his best-known composition, is a direct tribute to Django Reinhardt that was written using only two (index and middle) fingers on his fretting hand. Dickie's personal style also includes the use of some lovely 7th and 9th chords, no doubt drawn from his love of jazz.
For an introduction, I recommend "Jessica", "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", and the under-appreciated "High Falls." I would also recommend his songs "Ramblin' Man" and "Blue Sky," both of which show the same melodic craftsmanship and ingenuity as are found in his instrumental compositions.
Lessons to take from Dickey Betts: when improvising or composing, don't be afraid to repeat an idea two or three times before moving on to the next one. Furthermore, make sure that your idea or lick is catchy in its own right, rather than just randomly running up or down a scale and then repeating it. Feel free to mix in country, blues, and hot jazz lines over modern jazz chords if it makes sense to *you*.