ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 2, 2001
BY STEVE NEWTON
“Clapton is God!” is a phrase that was bandied about early on in Eric Clapton’s fabled career, but there may be a new guitar-hero catchphrase on the horizon. How about “Bramhall is the Son of God!”
And who the hell is Bramhall, you ask? Well, Doyle Bramhall II is the 32-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist out of Austin, Texas, whom Clapton has pretty well adopted, and is touting as the next big thing. Slowhand handpicked Bramhall and his band, Smokestack, to open on his current world tour, which visits GM Place on Sunday (August 5). He’s even had Bramhall join him on-stage several times to perform a handful of tunes, including “Superman Inside”, which the two cowrote for Clapton’s latest CD, Reptile. Bramhall’s guitar work is all over that album, as it is on the acclaimed Clapton/B.B. King outing from last year, Riding With the King. Clapton discovered Bramhall when the latter’s manager sent him a copy of Bramhall’s first solo album, Jellycream.
“He said that it was one of his favourite records in the last five years,” reports Bramhall, on the line from Chicago before a Clapton show at the United Center. “He said that he loved the songs on it and the songwriting, and wanted to get together with me. So, that’s pretty cool that somebody like Eric Clapton would actually listen to a CD of mine and call me up. Not a lot of people get the chance to play with Eric, you know.”
While the omnipotent Clapton might be a father figure most rockers would die for, Bramhall’s real dad has some impressive credentials himself. A former drummer with blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins, the 52-year-old Doyle Sr. wrote or cowrote much of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best material. Maybe that’s why you see quotes like the one from a recent U.K. publication that describes the younger Bramhall as “a missing link between Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Ray Vaughan”. (Bramhall’s current video/single, “Green Light Girl”, does bear a keen resemblance to Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” clip.)
“Everybody has to sort of connect us with some familiar person who’s gone before,” Bramhall contends, “but one thing that I’m shooting for is to actually have our own sound, and I think that we’ve come into our own now. You can hear the influences, but I think they’re as noticeable as maybe Ray Charles’s influence on Sly Stone, you know? You can tell that he was getting a lot of different things from Ray Charles, but he was still Sly Stone, and he had something to contribute to music.”
After the tour with Clapton runs it course in mid-August, Bramhall is hoping to score the opening slot on the Black Crowes’ tour, which means that Vancouverites might see him again when the Crowes play the Orpheum on August 31. Maybe Rich Robinson will pull a Slowhand and invite Bramhall up for some duelling-guitar action. That thought leads me to wonder which guitar great Bramhall would pick to play with next, if he had his choice.
“I don’t know,” he drawls. “I don’t know if it would be a guitar player. I think it may be Neil Young. But at the same time, playing with Neil Young, it’s like, what are you gonna contribute to that? He definitely doesn’t need any help.”