Meet the Artist: Doyle Bramhall II

Eastwood met respected guitarist Doyle Bramhall II (Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Sheryl Crow) fresh from his dates opening for Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Doyle Bramhall II

Guitarist, producer, singer and songwriter Doyle Bramhall II is a man of many talents, and a very well-respected name in the industry, having worked with some of the biggest names in music.

Besides playing with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Sheryl Crow, Doyle has also worked with many other celebrated names such as T-Bone Burnett, Elton John, Derek Trucks, Gary Clark, Jr., Gregg Allman, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Billy Preston, Erykah Badu and Questlove. Quite a CV!

'Rich Man' album & Tour

In 2016 Doyle returned with a new solo album, Rich Man, his first in 15 years. The album has received some great reviews, thanks to its mixture of modern blues and warm, vintage soul, besides some doses of old-school Sixties rock. The result sounds very classic and timeless, and Bramhall II shows once again that he's also a great singer. 

This year, besides opening for Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II is also embarking on more solo headlining dates and festivals across Europe, to finally establish himself as a solo act in his own right - not just in the U.S. where he's better known, but also worldwide.

We met Doyle at the legendary Bar 190 (where The Rolling Stones launched their Beggars' Banquet album back in 1968) the day after his third and final date supporting Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and ahead of his own headlining gig at Under The Bridge the following day.

It was great to talk to such a consummate musician as Doyle Bramhall II, who, we're pleased to say, is a big fan of our Sidejack Baritone.

Doyle Bramhall II at Bar 190, London 2017.

With an enviable career that kickstarted in style when he was just 18 (touring with Jimmie Vaughan's The Fabulous Thunderbirds) there's no doubt that it's been an amazing journey for Doyle since growing up in Texas, and we're sure there'll be much more to come. So let's hear from the man... enjoy!

Let's start with the beginning: your dad was a respected musician who's played with some amazing people [drummer Doyle Bramhall, who played with Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan...] so, growing up in Texas, was it inevitable that you'd become a musician, too?

Doyle: "Well, it's almost like being born on a farm and your parents are farmers. You automatically and naturally just go into that. It's like an immersion... You just know how to do it because you're around it. You're around it all the time, and all of your family does it. I grew up in a very musical family... my stepbrothers, stepsister, sister... everybody was very musical, growing up."

Were you around all those musicians your dad played with?

Doyle: "Yeah, a lot. And in my family alone, my dad had two brothers and a sister, and both of those brothers were musicians, so there were three musicians, they all played in bands together. And then my dad, eventually when he was seventeen or eighteen, he hooked up with Jimmie Vaughan and then that became my extended musical family, with the Vaughan brothers... Jimmie, Stevie Vaughan and my dad... and the musical and songwriting partnership that came out of them meeting back then."

Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan

Doyle's extended musical family: Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan

How did you get into guitars? Because your dad was a drummer...

Doyle: "I sort of got into it by default, because everybody else in my family played drums, and I felt we needed something more other than just drums! I sort of played bass when I was eleven, and played in a band with my brothers and sisters, and then after three years I picked up the guitar and started playing. It was sort of an immediate thing... I could express myself and do things with it from the start."

What was your first guitar?

Doyle: "I was given my first guitar on my fourteenth birthday.  It was a 63 Harmony Rocket. It was given to my dad by Marc Benno, who back then was writing partner with Leon Russell. My dad and Benno had been playing with Lightnin' Hopkins, who had given the guitar to Marc Benno who gave it to my dad, who then passed it to me. Funnily enough, that 63 Harmony Rocket wasn't too different from some Eastwood guitars..."

Airline H59 

 The Airline H59, inspired by the Harmony 1963 H59.

Doyle: "I loved that guitar, it was the first guitar I played on. I remember pulling the pickups out to try make them not feedback so much, I dipped them in wax myself... totally screwed up the guitar, haha!"

You have an interesting style because you play right-handed guitars upside down [or leftie guitars, stringed like right-handed]. Why?

Doyle: "I didn't known back then, when I first picked up a guitar. It didn't cross my mind to switch the strings, because I was self-taught so that was just the way I learned. I didn't think about it until I went to get a proper lesson and the guy told me I needed to switch the strings... so I basically just walked out!"

Do you ever play "properly" strung leftie guitars?

Doyle: "Yeah, I do from time to time. I can transpose pretty well but the way I play is pretty fun, because a lot of the rhythm stuff, and making chords, falls into place to me a little better. "

Doyle Bramhall II, live

You've worked with some amazing people in the past. Do you have a favourite artist you've worked with?

Doyle: "I don't know... I mean, the musicians and artists I've worked with have all been some of the best in rock'n'roll history! I started out sitting in with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, then later on with Roger Waters, and then Eric Clapton and B. B. King... and then also doing a lot of sessions along the way, with Gregg Allman, Elton John, Leon Russell, Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples... it's hard to pick out one person, because they're all part of my musical journey, and they're all so brilliant in their own ways... they're all equally as important to me."

What have you learned from working with all those guys?

Doyle: "I think just because I've worked with so many iconic and groundbreaking artists, and the fact that they've enjoyed what I did, it always felt that it validated me in a way that if I didn't have the self-confidence myself, it sort of helped me having that confidence. I think as a performer it definitely helped me to be more at ease with myself, and comfortable in my own skin and know that what I do has a meaning to it - and the way I know that is because all of these people loved what I did. "

Having played some massive gigs, did you ever have any particularly stressful experience, on stage?

Doyle: "I've been doing this for so long... when I first got on stage, I was fifteen and played with Stevie Ray Vaughan in front of 15,000 people, and he would get me up with his band quite a bit, and I remember being really nervous, really shaking... but I became sort of accustomed to that, and when I started playing with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and we would play festivals I got used to playing in front of that many people. There were times when I felt that playing in front of 5 people was more stressful than playing in front of 20 or 30 thousand people. Because when it's 30,000 people it all just turns into one mass.

"Because I've been doing this since I was a kid, that's what I do, I've lived on stages my whole life, so I don't have stage fright, I don't get nervous before I go on. What happens is I sometimes get a lot of adrenaline right before I go on, as I hit the first song... but usually I'm flatlining before I go on."

Do you feel more comfortable leading your band, than maybe playing with those big names like Clapton or Roger Waters, where perhaps you have less freedom to do what you want?

Doyle: "I've always liked making music with other people, I love collaboration, I love playing off other people, because I get inspired by what other people do, too. I like throwing ideas back and forth, I love improvisation... so I've always felt like I'm a counter-puncher, so when I hear something I immediately play something to counter that, like a counter melody or a counter rhythm. And I think that's why I actually had a career with Eric [Clapton] for that long, because I countered everything that he did, and sort of accented what he did."

Doyle: "I think all the experiences are meaningful to me. But playing with Clapton is very different than with Roger Waters, and playing with Sheryl Crow is different than that. With Eric you play the songs he wants to play and it's his music, but he still wants you to be yourself. With Roger it was similar, he still wanted me to play like me, even though I had parts I was stuck to. But for instance, in 'Mother' I wouldn't think of going away from that solo because its melody is as part of the song as the rest of the song. With Roger it was a much more structured experience."

How much do you enjoy fronting your own band? Must be a totally different experience...

Doyle: "Now it's become second nature to me, to be a band leader, to be a frontman. Even just three years ago I never felt comfortable on that position, maybe I didn't want the responsibility, I didn't want everything to come down to me, maybe I didn't want to fail and know it was me that was failing... so I've always wanted to be in a band context. But now I'm totally comfortable in it, and maybe being comfortable comes from working with Eric and Roger and knowing that they really liked what I did and where behind me in everything."

Why did it take 15-years between your new album, 'Rich Man', and your previous solo album?

Doyle: "I basically started a family, had daughters, got into the role of being a father and I really enjoyed that. I just emerged myself into that and also was doing lots of sessions when I was home, and then I'd go out on the road with Eric for half the year. I just became part of Eric's band and that's what I wanted to do at that time, and I also spent many years working with Roger, Eric and Sheryl. Then I became a producer through that experience, and I don't think there was enough time to do all of it - I know that the time I put on my solo career now takes all the time that I have. I wouldn't have time to be in Eric's band, and do my sessions, and be a producer, and be a touring artist... I couldn't do it all."

Was the material on 'Rich Man' written recently or over all those years?

Doyle: "No, I pretty much wrote the album in real time, as I was recording. I'd go into the studio and I would write something that morning, and then just start to build, every day. I had three ideas that I came up with in the 3-month period before I started the record: 'The Samanas', 'The Veil' and 'November'. Those were the only songs I only had pieces of..."

The new album sounds much warmer, fuller than your previous record, like you took really good care to get that classic sound.

Doyle: "I think it was a different experience for me this time, because that was the first record of mine that I produced myself, so I was not leaving it at other people's hands to take it into the direction I wanted, or the direction they wanted, or the direction we wanted... as a producer, I knew how to get the sounds I wanted."

Do you consider yourself a guitarist first and foremost, rather than a producer or a frontman in a band?

Doyle: "Not anymore. I think I consider myself less of a guitar player and more of a creative force. The guitar is just what I grew up playing... guitars actually don't interest me all that much. I like singers, songwriters, songs. You can go to NAMM show and see a bunch of guitar players playing, but that doesn't interest me. I'd rather sit in some village in Africa and listen to villagers playing music."

Do you think guitarists have too much ego?

Doyle: "Maybe... I think in general, in pop music, which is a more of a Western world kinda thing, everything is ego-centric. Not just music, politics... it's cultural. Everything is narcissistic in the West, at least in the United States."

What's your approach to singing?

Doyle: "For me, vocals is what conveys the message. I want to express everything I can with my vocals, and when I can't express any more, I'll say it on the guitar or other instrument. But it's all the same: the melodies I come up on the guitar are melodies that I'd sing too, a lot of the times."

What gear did you use on your new album?

Doyle: "In one of the studios I recorded in - Vox Studios in Los Angeles, one of my favourites - the guy who owns it and is also a co-producer on my record, Woody Jackson, he has some of the most incredible vintage gear. It's like a playground for a musician. But for the most part I used my '64 Strat on the songs where I solo'ed more. And then I used a Guild Aristocrat, an Epiphone Casino 64, and a few more. As for amps, I had my '69 Silverface Pro Reverb that I used for half of the record. I also used a Super Lead Plexi.

"I also recorded in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Recording studios of my friend Andy Taub. He has a lot of amazing gear. In five or six songs the setup was the Plexi Super Lead, and then in stereo I had a Supro or Magnatone."

Doyle Bramhall II live

How did you decide to get an Eastwood Sidejack Baritone?

Doyle: "It was from Truetone Music in Los Angeles... I was looking for a baritone guitar and was talking to my friend who works there, and he said check out the Eastwood, and I picked it up and it sounded amazing, it played so good. It was perfect... the best baritone guitar that I've ever played."

What guitars are you using on this tour?

Doyle: "I have an Eastwood Baritone tuned to A, my '64 Strat, a new Fender Tele Thinline, and another cream Strat."

So basically you're into single coils?

Doyle: "I really like humbuckers, but I have a hard time with new guitars with humbuckers because they are so aggressive... I like playing old SGs and 335s because they don't sound so aggressive. A lot of new guitars with humbuckers sound like they are made for Metal or Hard Rock music."

Do you think Blues can survive another hundred years, as a popular style, or is it becoming just niche?

Doyle: "I think the way young people are hearing about blues now is through people like The Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr... it will survive, I think people like Jimi Hendrix will always be loved and appreciated, and blues music is where everything started, where rock'n'roll and jazz started. Almost all forms of popular music came from blues so I don't know how people would at some point forget about it. I think it's popular enough. That record that Eric Clapton put out in 2001 with B.B. King sold 10 million copies... that's a lot!"

What's next for you? New album, more touring?

Doyle: "I've been touring in the U.S. for the last three years, pretty steadily, then released my album last October, and I want to keep getting out music every year. I also want to really establish myself in Europe and the UK, tour here every year, because I love the experience of touring in Europe, I love travelling and I love seeing the World. 

"So my goal is to do this European tour, which is six weeks in total, and I'm about to go into the studio to start recording, hopefully for my next album, in Germany. I'm going back to the States for two weeks then back to Europe. Then I'll go back home and do a concert for PBS hopefully with special guests from my past... I'll do some writing and recording and hopefully have my new album done by October"

- article by Ivan S.

FIND OUT MORE:

Doyle Bramhall II Official Website

Official Facebook page


3 comments

  • Ive seen Doyle with Clapton Waters and Sheryl Crow .Also with the Arch Angles back when…..A True showman.!! Great interview..!!

    Ron Eastwood
  • I’m sorry but I can not figure out how bramhall Jr. Got where he is today. I am familare with his dad and with srv so he must have got allot of help because in my opinion he is way over rated. Is he good, yes but is he better than me or some other players I know? No he isn’t I think he is average at best ive herd him live and herd other stuff of his and ist just not as impressive as his recognition… Its goota be allot of help and name dropping idk its not envy its more is he that deserving and I just don’t think so.

    Brad
  • Great interview. I would not have bought the Joey Leone Signature prototype model from Eastwood if I could not have turned the guitar upside down and played it that way. It’s great to watch Doyle play and realize what he’s doing!

    Johnny B. Hall

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