SINGER, SONGWRITER, GUITARIST AND RIGHT-HAND MAN TO NONE OTHER THAN ERIC CLAPTON, DOYLE BRAMHALL II has built an enviable career releasing and touring behind his own music as well as backing up countless artists that have come calling over the last few decades. Doyle’s latest release is his album Shades. Red Hot Rock Magazine decided that this was as good a time as ever to catch up with this man of many colors.
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: Hey, Doyle! DOYLE BRAMHALL II: How are you doing?
RHRM: Good. Thank you for such a nice record. Good stuff. Beautiful album. DBII: Thank you, man. Yeah, I’m really happy with how it’s being received. It’s nice to work so hard on something and actually get this kind of reaction.
RHRM: So, the first and most important question – “Doyle Bramhall 2” or “Doyle Bramhall The Second”? DBII: I’ve been calling myself “Doyle Bramhall The Second” for so long. That’s what I call myself. But, you know, different people call me different things. BB King used to call me “Daryl”.
RHRM: Ha ha ha! DBII: Ha ha ha.
RHRM: Your new record, Shades, is a nice one, an effective and enjoyable blend of all the musical genres that you have touched on over the years. Like all good music, this album gets better with each listen. New things continue to jump out of the recordings and the songs. DBII: That’s very cool. That’s how it is for me, too. As I was starting my tour when we launched the record, I was finding out things about these songs that didn’t even occur to me before. I think that’s the real beauty of those kinds of things. Personally, the records that I grew up listening to, I can still find things about them that I never even heard or never even thought of. If I were to put on (The Beatles’) Abbey Road now, I would probably find fifty new things about it that I love that I didn’t even notice before because it’s just so rich and deep.
RHRM: On a given track, you often take on the role of multi-instrumentalist, playing several things. And not just guitar, bass and drums. You play oud on the song “Hammer Ring”. I just love the sound of that instrument. DBII: Yeah. I think that’s my, one of my favorite instruments. It just has such a built-in, ancient, primal sound to it that just, I don’t know, it just cuts so deeply into the soul.
RHRM: You play drums on the tune “Consciousness”. To my ears, being a lapsed drummer, it sounds as if you captured a little bit of a tasty Ringo vibe on that one. Was that intentional? DBII: Yeah. I guess it was a little intentional. But I also, innately, sort of play like that. My fills and how I approach more of a rock beat would be more in the Beatles-type style. But that’s just the way I play. I just innately go there. And it’s funny because I also grew up as a drummer when I was a kid. But I was really a blues drummer. I would play shuffles and slow blues and, you know, mostly just old blues stuff. And then when I started playing more rock stuff, I just immediately started doing Ringo beats. And I just felt it. I felt the way that he played drums. My feel was quite a bit going in that direction.
RHRM: I think that Ringo is often underestimated as a drummer. Even though he’s not the most technical drummer, he has a very distinctive sound and fills that you don’t really hear other drummers playing. DBII: Yeah. Both, actually, because Ringo was obviously the drummer on most of the Beatles stuff. Paul played, as well. But I think Paul, ‘cause he was a drummer as well, I think a lot of The Beatles’ personality, with percussion stuff, and coming up with drum parts, I have a feeling that a lot of it was Paul and Ringo, and Paul coming up with parts and percussion things off of what Ringo was playing too. So they had almost, it seems like, a double whammy with Ringo playing and then Paul’s parts and style, as well.
RHRM: This is a discussion I could have with you forever… DBII: Ha ha.
RHRM: …because it sounds like you’re a Paul McCartney fan like I am. DBII: Yuuup.
RHRM: I get into these debates constantly because people like to elevate John Lennon’s contribution to The Beatles while diminishing Paul’s role. I mean, John was a wonderful songwriter… DBII: Yeah.
RHRM: …but so was Paul and he was much, much more prolific than Lennon. DBII: Yeah.
RHRM: Paul also had the best voice in the band and played a thousand instruments, while John really didn’t play anything that well. And then there is Paul’s production brilliance together with George Martin. DB: Yeah. I would think on a production level that McCartney had the biggest hand in producing those records. I mean, obviously they had George Martin as the producer, but a lot of the ideas, a lot of the innovations, came from McCartney. You know, anything from the first backwards guitar solo to the first tape loops ever done. That was all McCartney’s inventions. He was sitting in his home coming up with these new ways of recording. And on the cutting edge of that. All of those killer production ideas were coming from him. And that song “Consciousness” on the record, actually the working title for that song for a couple of years was “Ram Song”. Heh.
RHRM: Oh, really. DBII: Yeah. Because one of my favorite albums growing up, and still to this day for production, is Ram. It was brilliant.
RHRM: Yeah. I love all of the early McCartney solo stuff and the Wings albums, as well. I think that Wings Over America is one of the greatest live albums of all time. DBII: Yeah. Yeah.
RHRM: Over the years, you have worked with countless musicians and played on many other artists’ albums. You also have been at Eric Clapton’s side for the good part of two decades, contributing songs, playing on his records and trading off licks with him onstage. Eric plays on a track on Shades, a beautifully soulful song called “Everything You Need”. The trade-off between the two of you is so nice. My only complaint is that that track doesn’t go on for longer. DBII: Oh, wow. Ha ha. Well, that’s funny because I had to cut that song down because it was longer. I think the original was like six or seven minutes. But what’s on the record is longer than the single version that was on the video. Well, hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to play with Eric and do some things with him. That would be fun.
RHRM: One of the albums on which you’ve worked with Eric Clapton, I believe the first one on which you worked with him, was the album he recorded together with BB King, Riding With The King. They even recorded a couple of your songs on there. What an experience that must have been for you. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at those sessions. Do you have any memories from that time that you would be kind enough to share with our readers? DBII: The most interesting part of that for me was that when I first started playing guitar at fourteen years old, when I started to play my first solos, and started soloing as a guitar player, the first two guitar players that I learned solos from were Eric Clapton and BB King, respectively. There was an album that BB put out called Easy Listening. Which was one of my favorite albums growing up which he had never heard of, ha ha. He didn’t remember making. But it was a really huge record for me. And then, also, (Cream’s) Disraeli Gears. Eric Clapton’s solos were the first ones I learned how to play. And so, to get a call from Eric, who had heard my record and become a fan of my music, and then call me up and say that he wanted to get together with me and he wanted to do two songs off my album on a record he was doing with BB King, and to then go into the studio and be asked by Eric to play guitar on and come join in recording my two songs with BB and Eric, it was almost fantasy-like. It was really surreal. I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, man, I was in my bedroom, the first guitar solo that I ever learned were by these two people and I would get a call one day to come and actually play solos with them, next to them, on songs I’d written that were probably influenced in a way by them, that they heard, ha ha, it’s just very surreal.
RHRM: Back to your Shades album, I absolutely love the tune “Parvanah”. DBII: Oh, cool.
RHRM: It has an Eastern vibe to it, but also seems to invoke or conjure up the spirit of Jeff Buckley.
DBII: Oh, that’s cool.
RHRM: Am I hearing something that’s not there? DBII: Not intentionally. I did have a thought that it sort of had a little bit of a Radiohead thing, to me. Just the way that the changes, the movements of the chords and… It did have a little bit of that. I know that Jeff Buckley and Radiohead also were coming from a similar place, stylistically and musically. I love Jeff Buckley. I think he was extraordinary, his talent. But that song, I just wrote it in five or six minutes, however long the song is. I just wrote it really quickly on the road when I was just outside of Vienna when I was traveling through Europe. It just sort of came to me. But I was reading quite a bit of stuff on Persian Sufi music and Persian Sufi poetry. And I think that that was just sort of conjured up as I was reading different things. I am, in my off-time, when I’m not making my own music, I like to listen to Persian music or Middle Eastern music or Northern African music or Indian classical music. So, there’s a lot of stuff going on that I listen to that bubbles up in a way even if I can’t play… You know, I don’t know enough and I’m not trained in Middle Eastern music even though I do take lessons and do study it. I’m not a master of that kind of music. But I think that it does influence what I do and it bubbles up however it bubbles up inside me.
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