Playin’ the blues: Q&A with Doyle Bramhall II ahead of Crystal Bay show covers tour, new material
Doyle Bramhall II is a renowned vocalist, guitarist, composer and producer who specializes in the Texas-based, blues-infused rock ’n’ roll that he grew up on in the latter half of the 20th century. He’s released classics such as “Mama Can’t Help You” and “Green Light Girl,” and has collaborated with a plethora of artists like Eric Clapton and Roger Waters. While Bramhall II’s latest album dropped in 2016, over one decade after his other work, he continued to tour in the interim.
Bramhall II brings his brand of blues rock to North Shore’s Crystal Bay Casino on Sunday, July 29. Ahead of the 8 p.m. show, we chatted with the musician about his takes on Tahoe, the tour, his new record (expected later this year) and greatest influences.
Lake Tahoe Action: Have you been to Tahoe before? What are you most looking forward to?
Bramhall II: I have been to Tahoe; I played there maybe 2-3 years ago, I think was the last time. I’d rather be up there on vacation just at the lake. It’s always been really beautiful. I spent a lot of time in Yosemite over the years, haven’t spent a lot of time in Tahoe but it’s really beautiful.
Are you outdoorsy? Will you be able to do anything here while you’re in town?
I don’t think we have a day off. We’re just coming in after a show in Napa and then we play up there, then go off to Nevada somewhere.
I am outdoorsy, I would say. I don’t spend as much time as I would like to outdoors. I was brought up and raised in Northern California, in Santa Rosa, so my family would take trips a lot to different state parks and national parks, and we would backpack and do all kinds of things for weeks on end. I grew up backpacking in Yosemite.
You have new music out this fall. where are you at in the process?
October I’m releasing a new record. I just now finished, handed in the record about a week ago. Now the record label is doing everything to prepare for the launch, and it’s in their hands. I’ve done all I can do — other than going into videos, I’m finished.
I’ve been making it while out on the road. I’m on the road for three weeks, then for two weeks I would go in to work on the record wherever I was. I made the record from Los Angeles at Vox Recording Studios, one in Brooklyn — Brooklyn Recording Studios — and Derek and Susan from Tedeschi Trucks Band have a studio in Nashville where I would do overdubs. Mainly those three studios were ones that I worked at to finish this record.
What can people expect from the album?
From this album I have some featured guests. There’s a song I’m playing with Eric Clapton on — who’s my boss so to speak. There’s a song I wrote with Norah Jones, and we sing it on the record. It also features a couple other artists; I recorded a song with Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Did a Bob Dylan song called “Going, Going, Gone.” Then I also was in Austin and recorded a song with Greyhounds, a local Austin band, friends of mine. There are lesser-known guests as well on the record, but a lot of different people playing on [it].
The last record I made had been the first album I’d made in 15 years. I had a lot of topics to cover. This record — I was on the road for the last three years — and a lot of the music came to me while being on the road. I’m hoping to have a more free-flowing musical outlet so I can keep putting out music that comes through me.
What should people who are fans of the genre, but might be unfamiliar with you, expect at a show?
This show is a little different because it’s a duo show: me and this bass player who plays upright bass and comes from a jazz background in music. He was referred to me by a guy who usually plays in my band.
I’ll be playing music from the last album, playing songs from previous records of mine and doing covers. This is the first time I’ve done a duo tour so it’ll be sort of experimental in a way that it’ll be the first time. It’s a very stripped down version of what I normally do.
You grew up with legendary musicians, of which one was your dad. Who were your influences early on in life?
My family, the Bramhall family, there were a lot of musicians in it. The Vaughan family, with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan — we all came from Dallas. In the late 1960s we migrated from Dallas to Austin and there was just a blues scene that started down there.
The original iconic blues singers and guitarists down there like Freddie King and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Albert Collins — all Texas blues guys — and Barbara Lynn. You had that and then you had the younger generation kids that were playing blues along with them, and I think that got to be the music city it is now because of the music scene that was going on back then in the early 1970s, which was a long of singer-songwriters and country artists like Willie Nelson. There was a blues scene with Stevie Ray Vaughan and [The Fabulous] Thunderbirds — bands coming out of Austin all the time that turned it into the biggest music city in the world.
You were childhood friends with Stevie Ray Vaughan — did you play together a lot?
Yeah, I did. He took me under his wing — we grew up together so he was very much like an older brother to me and he looked up to my father. He wanted to sing like my father and my father ended up being his main songwriting partner in all of his albums. They collaborated on almost every album together. We spent a lot of time together, we were basically like family.
He didn’t necessarily sit me down and show me things; I would watch him play and we’d just be hanging out, but he wouldn’t show me like a teacher would. We definitely hung out a lot and spent late nights together talking music and talking shop and all that. He took me under his wing and got me up to play with him at any show I would come out to. I knew him when he was playing to 20 people in a nightclub every night.
You’ve collaborated with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters… are there any musicians in particular you enjoyed working with?
I’ve worked with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, Eric, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan — over the years I’ve gotten to work with a lot of different artists, some of the most brilliant artists of all time. I worked on two albums with Elton John and made an album — might’ve won a Grammy or was nominated — with Gregg Allman.
I played in Eric’s band… Any time you have Billy Preston as a bandmate you’re doing well, or be in a band with the fifth Beatle and the fifth Stone.
I’ve had so many different opportunities; I produced a record, a track that Paul McCartney was on, and that was a dream come true. Then I later got the opportunity to play with Paul and Ringo on two Beatle tracks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the guitar player. I was the biggest Beatle fan growing up.
Where’s your favorite place that you’ve played?
Probably one of the most beautiful places would be the Verona amphitheater in Italy. That’s the most picturesque place I’ve ever played, and there’s lots of history.
Learn more about Bramhall II’s upcoming Crystal Bay gig at http://www.crystalbaycasino.com. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $23 on the day of the show. Guests must be at least 21 years old.