Featured Music: Wednesday, February 20, 2003
House is Rockin’

Doyle Bramhall was therewhen SRV capturedthe public imagination,and the former’s still at it.


legion of guys in Stetsons with battered Stratocasters proliferated around these parts after Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a 1990 helicopter crash. But don’t put Doyle Bramhall in that bandwagon-jumper category. Bramhall — drummer, vocalist, and songwriter — was present at the creation of the Austin-centered blues wave, even if Vaughan was its most visible manifestation.

“Stevie got movie stars and tennis players listening to blues,” said the Dallas-born Bramhall, who now lives in Fort Worth with his wife and manager, Barbara Logan, and a pet kitten that yowled in the background while he and I talked. “I knew him since he was 12, and he always radiated so much love, soul, and inspiration, even when he was drinking and using drugs.”

It’s been nearly a decade now since the release of Bramhall’s first solo c.d., the widely-acclaimed Bird Nest On the Ground from 1994. Fans of that disc will be happy to know that he’s finally released a follow-up, Fitchburg Street, with help from a star-studded cast of players, including guitarists Doyle II (Bramhall’s son), Pat Boyack, Robin Syler, and young lion Dru Webber; a couple of ex-Juke Jumpers — Jim Milan and Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge — on bass; pianist Lewis Stevens, who’s tickled the ivories for Freddie King and Delbert McClinton; harp monster Gary Primich; and trumpeter Wayne Jackson, who’s played on more than 400 number-one hits as a member of the Memphis Horns.

This weekend, Bramhall will play a c.d. release party at, of all places, Kincaid’s Hamburgers on the old bricktop part of Camp Bowie Boulevard. “My wife and I are big fans of Kincaid’s,” he said. “Like me, they believe in keeping it simple. If we’re in town, we’ll eat there three times a week. We just wanted to do something different for the c.d. release, so we’ll play a few songs, there’ll be room for people to dance, and the Borders folks will be there selling c.d.’s.”

So, why so long between discs? “A couple of years ago, I was at a crossroads,” said Bramhall. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep doing the band-recording-touring thing. Then I got a call from the Native American band Indigenous.” Bramhall traveled to Minnesota to produce their 2000 album Circle. One thing led to another, and, within the year, he had also produced Love Is Greater Than Me for SRV-inspired guitarist Chris Duarte and Presumed Innocent for his mid-’80s employer, New Orleans R&B piano gal Marcia Ball.

After devoting a year and a half to production work, Bramhall started getting the itch to perform again. “I had a couple of songs recorded,” said Bramhall, “just some songs that are dear to me, by artists who influenced and inspired me. Wherever I played, people would ask me when I was going to record them, so it seemed like a good time to do that.” Those inspirations and influences include boogie man John Lee Hooker (whose “Dimples” and “Maudie” appear on Fitchburg Street), soulful bluesman O.V. Wright (“Blind, Crippled & Crazy”), and Chicago godfather Howlin’ Wolf (“Forty Four,” “Sugar”). The new version of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” eschews its author’s trademark walking-bass-in-E approach in favor of a more soulful arrangement that Bramhall borrowed from singer Irma Franklin.

Also included on the disc is Bramhall’s original demo, with guitarist Tom Reynolds, of “Life By the Drop,” a song composed by Bramhall and his wife and popularized by Vaughan. The tape was considered too poorly recorded for inclusion in Bird Nest, but, for Fitchburg Street, engineer Jared Tuten used Pro Tools software to create “a high resolution mix of a very low resolution recording.”

Bramhall’s greatest fame (and income) probably comes from his songs that appeared on Vaughan’s albums. Besides “Life By the Drop,” he also penned “Lookin’ Out the Window” and wrote several others with Vaughan, including “Tightrope” and “House is Rockin’.” For listeners who want to hear more of his compositions, Bramhall is planning a successor to Fitchburg Street that will include a brace of Bramhall originals. “I’m putting up the money,” he said, “so we’ll be recording from time to time, here and there, as finances allow.”

To help finance the recording, Bramhall plans to tour extensively this year. “We’ll kick off an East Coast tour in April,” he said, “starting in Memphis and hitting New York, Boston, Philadelphia. We’ll do the West Coast later in the year.” After that, he plans to head to Europe. “Not only do they treat you like royalty over there,” he said, “but they really study the music. I was talking to two 18-year-old kids from Switzerland who knew about stuff I’d done in the ’60s. It’s amazing!”

Bramhall got his start playing in ’60s Dallas rock and R&B bands with names like the Cobras, the Nitrons, and the Chessmen. In 1966, Chessmen guitarist Robert Patton was drowned in a hazing accident and guitarist Jonny Peebles recommended a kid from Oak Cliff as a replacement. It was Stevie Ray’s older brother, Jimmie Vaughan. “We listened to him play for five minutes and hired him,” Bramhall recalled. With the elder Vaughan on guitar, the Chessmen opened a 1968 Dallas show for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “We were playing Cream songs,” said Bramhall, “and Jimi, Noel [Redding], and Mitch [Mitchell] were watching from the side of the stage. Afterward, Jimi came up and told us, ‘I thought I was listening to my mates from England.’”

In 1968, Bramhall and Jimmie Vaughan formed Texas, a band that played “more traditional blues our way — like Muddy Waters on 10.” Vaughan pared down his flamboyant, British-influenced guitar style to the simple, sparse approach he’d later make famous with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Moving to Austin in 1970, they regrouped as Texas Storm, with Stevie Ray Vaughan on bass and Bill Campbell on drums, leaving Bramhall as a stand-up singer.

From then until now, Bramhall sees a couple of constant threads running through his music. “There are a lot of phony wannabes around,” said Bramhall, “but real R&B has always scratched my itch. And I’m a fan of lyrics and vocalists; I see the music primarily as a vehicle so the lyrics and vocals can be heard.

“I feel rejuvenated,” he added. “I’m just real excited to be back.”

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