Learn Gregg Allman’s Classic Rock Organ Style in 5 Easy Steps

A masterclass from the July 2015 issue of KEYBOARD
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Gregg Allman sitting at the Hammond B-3 organ is an image that will stand the test of time, like James Dean on a motorcycle, Elvis in black leather, or Jimi Hendrix lighting a guitar on fire. Gregg put the Hammond B-3 at the very front of southern rock and blues-rock, and made it the altar that all organists pray to.

I had the honor of sitting in with the Allman Brothers in 2011. It’s always amazing to meet your heroes, but to interact with them musically is another level. It’s a moment in time I will cherish, and I want to thank Gregg for all of his generosity and inspiration over the years. Here are some examples that demonstrate Gregg’s singular style on the Hammond organ.

1. Bouncing the Dominant

Ex. 1 shows how Gregg likes to “bounce” the single-note dominant seventh and flat third through the chord changes. The percussion here is set to loud and third harmonic, chorus is set to C-3, and the drawbar setting is rather dark at 888 4000 00.

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2. Solo Styles

In Ex. 2, I demonstrate Gregg’s soloing style. Notice how the “finger fall” hooks repeat, and how the solo appears in A minor pentatonic, and then in E minor pentatonic. There’s no flash here, just the hooks.

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3. Preset Magic

Ex. 3 illustrates how Gregg likes to use the Bb preset key to make quick changes. Here, the first few bars are played with a slow Leslie with harmonic percussion, and a mellow tone such as “first three drawbars out.” Then switch of the Leslie to fast and hit the Bb preset key, which corresponds to a set of drawbars pulled out to almost full (888 7767 88), and you’ll effect a quick dramatic change that doesn’t require you to re-adjust the drawbars—at least not on a real B-3, C-3, or A100 that has two sets of them per manual. Also be aware that on a traditionally configured organ, the harmonic percussion is active only for the B preset key’s drawbars, so part of the point of hitting the Bb preset is to go to a fuller registration that doesn’t include percussion.

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4. Percussion and Chorus

Ex. 4 shows you how Gregg likes to use percussion and the C-3 chorus on the upper manual even when just playing pads. He still emphasizes the attack on the downbeat of the chord change, but with all the sonic glue for which his playing is known. Note that polychords (“slash” chords such as Bb/C) make regular appearances in Allman’s playing.

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5. Guitar Doubling

In Ex. 5,we see how Gregg will often mimic the rhythm guitar’s part, doing so with the percussion tab set to the third harmonic. This extra “ping” adds another element to the overall sound and groove.

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