Wilco’s Nels Cline Highlights the “Betts-ness” of His Epic “Impossible Germany” Solo in Tribute to the Late Dickey Betts

As the tributes and condolences continued to appear on social media following the death of legendary Allman Brothers Band guitarist and singer/songwriter Dickey Betts on Thursday (April 18) at age 80, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline spoke of Betts’ profound imprint on his own playing, specifically the band’s instrumentals.

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“Jessica” is a defining composition for Betts, named after his daughter and appearing on the band’s 1973 album Brothers and Sisters. The album introduced the Allman Brothers Band to a broader pop audience and included the group’s biggest song “Ramblin’ Man,” written and sung by Betts.

Impossible Germany

Wilco’s guitarist spoke of the “Betts-ness” of his epic guitar solo on “Impossible Germany.” The third track on Wilco’s 2007 album Sky Blue Sky has become a highlight of the Chicago band’s live sets, where Cline’s solo often pushes the song near the 10-minute mark. You can find clips online where band leader Jeff Tweedy stares in Cline’s direction with a massive smile.

As Tweedy moved Wilco away from alternative country and Americana traditions, he invited Cline to join the band in 2004 following the release of A Ghost Is Born. Cline had previously worked with Mike Watt, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto.

The guitarist’s avant-garde and free jazz style disconnected Wilco from the American roots milieu Tweedy helped make famous with his first band, Uncle Tupelo. Cline expanded Wilco’s sound similarly to how Betts and Duane Allman helped create the Southern rock tradition by blending blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, and free improvisation.

Free Jazz

The guitar solo to “Impossible Germany” covers more than half the song, with Cline improvising over a I – vi – ii chord progression in G major. Cline echoes the sweeping melodies of Betts, and toward the end of the solo, Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone join in with very Allman Brothers-like harmony guitar melodies, mirroring Betts’ playing on “Jessica.”

Another Allman Brothers Band instrumental to reference is “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” from the group’s masterpiece Idlewild South. As Cline explained in his Instagram post, Betts often lived in the shadow of Duane Allman. However, Allman and Betts co-founded Southern rock together, and you don’t get to Wilco without them.

Though the Allman Brothers Band borrowed much inspiration from the Grateful Dead, they created an entirely new genre of music, and Dickey Betts’ contributions forever changed rock and roll.

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Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

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