After more than 15 years of collaborating and touring with other musicians, Doyle Bramhall II released his first solo material since the late 1990s in 2016. Two years later, Bramhall has returned with more new music.
Ahead of his Friday night concert in Columbus at the Rumba Café, Bramhall performs at WCBE Live From Studio A during the Global Village. In the latest edition of Music Journeys, Bramhall tells Mike Foley why the inspiration to record came quicker this time around and how some of the musicians he’s worked with for so long lent their talents to his latest release.
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Doyle Bramhall II's compass has always led him toward music. Bramhall grew up in Austin, Texas. His father played drums in a band with Jimmie Vaughan and collaborated with other Blues greats including Steve Ray Vaughan, Freddie King and Lightnin' Hopkins. Around the house, the record player was always on.
"That was like my wallpaper," Bramhall reflected. "Music was going all the time, day and night in my house. That's a part of my makeup as anything else, blues music and soul music. I was just one of those kids that wanted to be exactly like my dad. He was my favorite singer growing up. All of his influences, I was really attracted to and had a deep connection to. All of my dad's nuances and subtleties in music, I knew every little thing like the back of my hand."
The younger Bramhall released two solo albums in the late 1990's that caught the ears of two music legends. Bramhall played guitar and sang with Roger Waters from 1999-2000 on the Pink Floyd co-founder's In The Flesh tour. Then he received a call from Eric Clapton to play on Clapton's Riding with the King release. In the 2006 documentary Before The Music Dies, Clapton described his reaction after hearing Bramhall’s work.
"I wanted to meet him as soon as possible," Clapton recalled on Before The Music Dies. "When I came to L.A. to do the B.B. King album, I asked him if he would like to collaborate and we'd work out how to do it as we went along. I just wanted to meet him, and he's the real thing. The first thing I noticed is that he had Lightnin' Hopkins tattooed on his arm. That's a serious commitment from the start. I just had tremendous respect for him, and he's a real player. There are only a handful of blues players that are the real thing. I wanted to tell Doyle when he first started playing with me that I had never heard anyone like him. It's like at some point, Stevie Ray stopped sounding like Albert King and sounded like Stevie Ray. And Doyle is the same, nobody sounds like Doyle. He plays like nobody else. It belongs in the genre, and yet it stands on its own."
Clapton's approval not only lifted Bramhall's self-esteem at the time, it began a partnership that's continued to this day. On Bramhall's latest release Shades, Clapton returns the favor, playing guitar on the song Everything You Need.
"With Eric, I've done so much playing with him live," Bramhall said. "I love our conversations that we have on guitar, when we play live together and when we play on his records. I wanted to do that on this record, especially on Everything You Need because I felt it was a song he would like. Fortunately he did and said yes to it."
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"I've been fortunate to collaborate with a lot of amazing artists, musicians, and songwriters over the years, but I've never really showcased those on record," Bramhall said. "It's one of my favorite things, whether it's live or writing songs. I like collaborating in so many different ways, not only in music but in life too. I steered clear of having guests on my records because it felt like it had become a novelty thing to market a record, almost like a gimmick. But obviously I've matured and gotten to a place where I don't really think about what other people do anymore and what their journey is. I just really wanted to collaborate on record like I do off record I guess."
Four of the 12 tracks on Shades feature collaborations, including a duet with Norah Jones called Searching For Love.
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"Norah was somebody I just love working with," Bramhall said. "I wanted to hear her voice with me, and I think stylistically, the two of us just sound good musically and vocally together. The Tedeschi Trucks collaboration was an easy pick for me. I was asked to do that at a Greg Allman tribute. I performed that after he had passed away, and it had just a beautiful spirit to it. I just thought it would be a beautiful way to end the album. I asked Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks if they would guest on it with me, and that it would be an even more beautiful song with them on it with me."
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Mixed within the collaborations on Shades are songs that reflect an inner peace that's admittedly taken Bramhall a long time to discover.
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"I've had relationships like that," Bramhall recalled. "It can be relationships of lovers, friends or any relationship really. There's an ebb and flow to relationships. You can have relationships that come back together after completely breaking apart and have the bond be even deeper. With this record, it's really displaying all of the facets that I am, which is part of the reason for naming the record Shades. Musically, I'm able to express so many different styles, emotions, and sonic aspects of myself as an artist - but to do it with an ease and a continuity that makes it still me. I've learned as a producer, an artist and a musician how to really express myself and have that continuity, even though it can still be pretty diverse."
"The most profound things are when children have experiences with my records and love it, because children have such a pure way of hearing things," Bramhall said. "People also come up to me and say they had somebody special pass away, and that my album had gotten them through an extremely difficult time. I know people that have been able to stay sober by listening to my records. The mantras that I sing for myself have become mantras for others. That's really cool to have a positive effect on people, that people can get my songs at the depth that they originated in me."
Bramhall has reached a place where he's able to record songs as they come up in a natural way. It took the making of his 2016 Rich Man release to make that happen. Now almost three years later and approaching his 50th birthday, he feels like he's just getting started on his own path again.