In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – Allman Brothers

tldr: key of A minor, largely in the dorian mode. Main chords throughout the song are Am9, Am7, and D6, along with an E7#9 to end most sections. The second part has a brief modulation up to C minor before returning to A minor. In addition to the dorian mode, there is some A harmonic minor and A diminished scales mixed in, and Duane’s solo largely centers around the A minor pentatonic, albeit with dorian notes added. Keep an ear out for the tritone, D#, which shows up at several key points and is great to add in to your lead work.

Full analysis

This one is tricky, but rewarding. I’m working from my favorite version, live at the Fillmore in 1971, and also referencing the video on YouTube from the 1970 Fillmore performance.

Part I

It starts with what sounds like (and looks like, in the video) a progression of Cmaj7 – Am7 – Bm7, focusing around the Cmaj7, but that’s not actually what is going on. The first sign of that is that C as the tonic is confusing: the main melody seems to center on its third note, the A note, which you can really hear the second time through. Also, the phrase ends on the Hendrix chord, an E7#9, which is just an embellished E7 chord, and which takes us back to the beginning of the melody. The diatonic E chord in C major would be a minor iii, and it just doesn’t fit to make that a dominant III7 chord which then resolves back to the I. But E7 is the V7 chord of A, and ending a phrase with a V7, returning back to the I at the beginning of the next measure (called a half cadence), is an extremely common usage of the chords.

The confirmation that this is in A (specifically A minor) is in the bass line, which is hard to hear in my recording, but sounds something like:


As you can see, it looks like A minor pentatonic, and the bass notes underlying the three chords are A, E, and D. Add an A root to the Cmaj7 (C – E – G – B) and what you really have is an Am9 (A – C – E – G – B). This isn’t as complex as it may sounds; strip away the extensions and it’s just a fancy Am vs. C. Remember, A minor is the relative minor of the key of C major, so they share all of the same notes, but A minor starts on the A instead of the C. The same is true of their chords. Am (A C E) is a C major (C E G) starting two notes earlier in the scale. As for the other two chords we initially identified, adding the E bass note to the Am7 doesn’t add any new notes to the chord. While usually tjer is a presumption that a chord starts on its lowest note, if it’s an E chord, it’s weird, with a 4 and 6 (but no 7) added, and I think the better analysis is that it is just an inversion of Am7 (i.e., a chord with a note other than its root on the bottom, which is represented with a slash as Am7/E). The same could be true of the Bm7 with the added D bass note, but the D version of the chord is much less complex and a better pick. Just like the C was really an Am7 (its relative minor), the Bm7 is really a D chord (its relative major). Specifically a D6, which is the D triad with the 6th degree added, here D F# A B.

After all that, the chords are Am9 – Am7/E – D6, broken out between the bass and guitar. And, really, the Am chords fill the same role; you could say that the progression is just Am7 – D6, or even Am – D, and the extensions just add flavor. You can try them and see for yourself, it works. So, it’s a i – IV progression. We would expect a diatonic minor iv chord instead of a major IV in a minor key; major means the third of the chord is not flat, and that F# note translates to the natural 6th degree of A. The minor with natural instead of flat 6 means the dorian mode, and the melody bears this out.

I’ll add that if you don’t have a bass player, you can play the actual chords on guitar. For example, strumming different parts of the Am9 shape (Cmaj7 plus A bass):

 Am9 Am7/E Am9   D6

Or perhaps

 Am9 Am7/E Am9  D6

Also note that Dicky and Duane harmonize the melody lines in classic ABB style with the latter playing a diatonic third above the former. Meaning not a major third or minor third above each time, but whichever is appropriate within the scale of the key, just like the major or minor chords rooted in each of those notes. In this context, one is just playing the same melody two notes ahead on the scale. But if you are by your lonesome, you can play the thirds yourself, like this (though it doesn’t sound as good without the bends):


The phrase ends with a dorian melody, first tracing out Am – D6 – Am – E7#9. The concluding E7#9, which is a dominant V7 chord, doesn’t come from the natural minor or dorian scale, but a dominant V7 retains its character as a resolving to the i chord whether in major or minor. Technically speaking, the chord comes from the harmonic minor, which incorporates the note that makes the difference, the major third of E7, the G# note. Functionally, ending the section on the V7 is a half cadence that leads the ear to the i chord that starts the next section. Making it a 7#9 — the famous Hendrix chord — works especially nicely in this context because it adds back in the very note that we changed to G# — the G note that is diatonic to A dorian (and A natural minor generally). That is, a sharp 2 and flat 3, while technically filling different roles, refer to the same note. So an E7#9 here is like getting away with the diatonic Em chord and the dominant E7 chord at the same time!

When the section repeats, they add a Dm chord in the ending pattern, which is just the iv from the A natural minor.

Then they break between the sections with a fully diminished pattern leading up and down to the A note, with (I think) Duane harmonizing by playing a diatonic minor third above Dicky. That just means he’s doing the same pattern, starting one note ahead: one is playing C – D# – F# – A – C – D – F# – D – C, and the harmonizer is playing D# – F# – A – C – D – F# – A – F# – D. This is a chromatic pattern, but it fits well with the A dorian scale, sharing three of its four notes. The other note, D#, is a new addition to the song that previews what is to come later. It’s the tritone of A — the famous devil’s note — and adds an interesting dissonance to the song.

Part II

The next section starts with an A dorian melody, and you can comp under it with Am7 – D6 or similar. Then it modulates up a minor third to C minor, moving everything up three frets, before returning down to Am7. The section ends with an exotic sounding pattern, based in A minor pentatonic but sliding in and out from the sharp 7 (G#) and sharp 4 (D#), concluding with the E7#9.

The solos

The rest of the song consists of the solos, all of which are based in A dorian and over Am9 – D6 or similar. Dicky is first up and adds in the sharp 7 (G#) and sharp 4 (D#) at certain points. Duane largely centers on the A minor pentatonic but adds in dorian notes along the way. He also goes into the A harmonic minor for a bit near the end, and the closing riff has the sharp 4 in it.

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