Eric Clapton's Secret Weapon, Doyle Bramhall II, Isn't "Playing Any Games"
For the offspring of most famed musicians, stepping out of lengthy shadows cast by their parents' careers is an all-consuming, motivating force. However, for Doyle Bramhall II, son of the late Austin blues legend best-known for his work with the brothers Vaughan, a name was not the only thing passed down through the generations.
Now in his 40s, Bramhall has himself become an integral part of the contemporary blues and roots-music community. As a guitarist, Bramhall first gained success with Arc Angels, a group that featured Double Trouble's Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton. He's since performed as a member of Roger Waters' band, produced albums by Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, and, most notably, settled into a comfortable role as Eric Clapton's not-so-secret weapon and right-hand man.
We spoke with the multitalented Bramhall about addiction, Clapton, and how he found himself as a musician.
New Times: A lot of extremely respected names have placed their trust in you to produce their records in recent years. As a musician turned producer, that has to be a trip, right?
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Doyle Bramhall II: Yeah, it really is! I mean, when I was first asked by Eric [Clapton] to produce, I didn't really ever consider producing, because I just didn't think that was something that I did. I'm not sure why I thought I couldn't do it, but I always saw it as someone orchestrating a whole session, and I was more quiet and sort of behind the scenes.
Like, if I produced, it was more my own music and the stuff I did alone. I didn't necessarily want to tell a lot of people what to do or be in charge of a session. When Eric asked me to do it, I said, "Well, I don't think I can do that," and he said, "Nah, I think you can. You're doing it without even knowing it."
To have his vote of confidence was enough for me to get started, and once I started that, then I got the call from Sheryl Crow to produce her album. It was different than what I had thought.
How much of the material from Old Sock [Clapton's new release] can we expect on this tour? I see that Greg Leisz was added to the band, and I assume that has something to do with the new material?
I've been working with Greg for years and years with different producers and sessions, and I've always loved playing with Greg. His melodic sense is kind of unlike anyone else's, and he always plays the right stuff — the stuff that sort of moves me — and to have that done on pedal steel, which is such an emotive kind of instrument anyway. We'll be playing at least a couple of songs off of the new album and probably a few more as the tour progresses.
Does the fact that both you and Eric are in recovery from your addictions play a role in your relationship?
Just sort of a mutual respect on that level. When we first got together, we bonded originally over music, and that's what we continue to bond over — that's the main thread. It's definitely something we respect each other with, but our main thread is definitely still the music.
Is there anything new going on with Arc Angels?
We haven't really talked about it. With the Eric tour going for the next three months and I'm trying to go in after this tour is done and finish my record and get it out — so that's what I'm focusing on now.
This is your first solo album since 2001, correct?
Yeah! I've been very prolific, but all of the songs have not been released. I've been making a lot of records, just not putting them out! I've been very greedy with my work [laughs].
You've said previously that you've had a hard time separating the guitarist from the songwriter when making albums. Does being a bona fide producer now change that at all?
I used to be less confident about record-making. And I used to think I didn't know as much, when I actually did, or at least didn't have the confidence to know I did. Now that I've had the experience, I can bring that into the process of making a record. And I can either produce my own record or I can bring someone in to produce it with me. I know how it works. I've seen every aspect of making records, and now that I know what it is, I don't have to subscribe to anybody telling me that because they're a producer, that they know how to do things and I don't.
The other solo records were more specifically guitar- or songwriter-oriented. Have you found a balance between the two at this point?
I've found a balance just in my own music in general. I don't really have any boundaries or anything — I don't have to do that anymore. I've lived a lot of life and lived a lot of music since my last album, and I'm not really playing any games in my life anymore, musically. I don't have to avoid it — I can just be what I am. So it'll be interesting to see how the record comes out, because it's the first time I've really just been cool with where I'm at.
As a lefty, I notice you don't flip guitars Jimi style; you play guitars specifically built for lefties. Do you collect, or does being a lefty limit your gear lust?
If I had money, I would definitely collect guitars. I don't know if I would collect them in the same way. I wouldn't collect them to preserve them; I'd collect them to beat them up and because I love guitars and want to use them. I don't really treat guitars so preciously, and I never have, so it's probably good that I don't have a lot.
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