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Beyond Blues: Danny Gatton's Musical Gumbo


Our second solo (Fig. 2) is inspired by Gatton’s Redneck Jazz Explosion band and features more jazz-influenced chord changes using a I-VI-IIm-V in place of the more common I-IV-V you hear in simpler blues.

We start off outlining the I and IV chords by fitting a melody around a chord shape. This is a great way to define harmony in a jazz setting, and serious cats like Joe Pass or George Benson do it all the time.

The next phrase comes directly from a Redneck Jazz Explosion solo, and it illustrates how Gatton was more of an “ear” player than a “theory” player. What do I mean by this? Watching his instruction videos or reading past interviews, I’ve never heard Gatton say anything like “I use Super Locrian over this chord” or “I love the sound of Lydian Dominant.” Instead his ear simply prompts him to create some tension in a particular spot, so he plays notes that “shouldn’t work” but actually do the trick.

If you’re curious about what scale you’re hearing, it works like a Dorian mode with an added b5. Over a G7, this loosely implies a G7b5#9.

Over the C7 chord, our perception changes as we begin to use notes from C Mixolydian—C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb. (That Bb is the b7 of C7.) It feels like a series of descending arpeggios, most notably the Dm7 and C major in measure six. For the VI-IIm-V7 chords, we use notes from G minor and G major pentatonic scales (played over E7b9, then Am7 and D7, respectively) to create a sweet-sounding melody to float over the progression.

The final lick outlines a quick I-VI-IIm-V7. It begins on G, descends chromatically to the b9 of E7, then hits four notes that fit into the A Super Locrian before shifting up to the G major pentatonic, and finally ends with some chord stabs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these two Gatton-inspired lessons as much as I’ve enjoyed toiling over them, and they’ve given you a reason to check out more of his playing and transcribe some new ideas for yourself.

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