Doyle Bramhall II’s dad wants his Lightnin’ Hopkins guitar back



By Steve Newton

Anyone fortunate enough to have seen the late Stevie Ray Vaughan play knows the gifted Texas blues-rocker had that special something of which guitar legends are made. But good as he was, Vaughan would never have been able to soar to the heights he did on-stage without the sturdy backing of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton. The chemistry between all three was what lit the sparks in Stevie’s fingers and let the magic happen.

Although Stevie’s gone, the rhythm section from Double Trouble is still making sparks fly in the Arc Angels, a new band fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarists Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II. But as Bramhall explains, it’s a new kind of magic that’s being conjured up now.

“I’m not lookin’ at it like I’m playing with Stevie’s rhythm section,” he says, “because we’re not playing that kinda stuff—there’s not a whole lot of long solos or anything like that. We’re definitely stressing the songwriting aspect of it, and trying to stress the vocals.”

“They’re just two musicians that we’ve known for a long time,” adds Sexton. “We just started doin’ it for fun, to play some gigs, and there was no concept of ‘Hey, we’re gonna be big rock stars.’ We just wanted to play in a club down the street.”

This Wednesday (July 22) that club will be Vancouver’s 86 Street. It’ll be the Arc Angels’ first local appearance, although Sexton played here at the Commodore about five years ago as a solo artist. The 23-year-old rocker has actually been performing since the age of 13, when he landed the guitarist’s job in Joe Ely’s band. And at the ripe old age of 14 his own three-piece rockabilly act had the daunting task of opening for the Clash on several southern U.S. dates.

“There was only one incident that was derogatory, and that was in Amarillo, Texas,” says Sexton. “There was some guy who had like an Afro-punk-rock, skunk-died hairdo that was throwing pennies at me. But I hit him in the head with my guitar and he left me alone.”

Bramhall, also 23, began performing at a young age as well, strongly influenced by his namesake father, who was one of the first artists to take note of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s burgeoning talent and take him under his wing. The elder Bramhall also co-wrote several tunes with Vaughan, including a large portion of Vaughan’s last studio album, In Step. The younger Bramhall figures he inherited some of his pop’s skill in crafting tunes.

“I’m sure I did,” he laughs, “ ’cause I inherited everything else! Like his vocals—if you ever heard my dad, you’d know where I got my voice. And I guess if you ever heard me play drums, you’d know where I got that from.”

For his 14th birthday, Bramhall II inherited a fine guitar, a ’63 Harmony Rocket that was given to his father by blues great Lightning Hopkins.

“I picked it up, and right away I could play a lot of stuff on it,” says Bramhall. “So it was the most natural thing I could do.”

The only hitch is that now dad’s having second thoughts about the ownership of the treasured instrument. “Now he’s like, ‘Well, I just sorta let you borrow it for your birthday.’ ”

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