Guitarist Doyle Bramhall II has spent many years as Eric Clapton's right-hand man, on and off stage. He's also written and produced for a host of other artists. After a spell away from the studio, he's released two acclaimed albums in the last few years: Rich Man (2016) and Shades (2018). We caught up with Doyle to talk about his new album, producing and what it's like working with Clapton.
YOU'VE RELEASED TWO ALBUMS IN TWO YEARS, BUT BEFORE THEN THERE WAS A 15 YEAR GAP – WHY WAS THERE SUCH A BIG GAP IN YOUR STUDIO TIME? Well, I joined Eric Clapton's band and became part of, not only his live touring group but also producing records for him. I would work with Eric for six or seven months of the year, and then I got to be home with my children. It was the best of both world's to have this fantastic career with Eric which I was enjoying so much and getting to travel the world. Traveling is my hobby, I love to immerse myself in other cultures that are not so westernised.
WHEN DID YOU START WORKING ON THE NEW ALBUM? I started writing it when I was on the road touring in Europe. Some of the shows got, so the band and I were without anything to do for about a week. I went to Hamburg where I had a friend who had a studio, so that's where we started recording. We recorded three of the songs there. Basically, we went in and began writing and working on ideas that I had on the road. That's where it started, and every day on the road I would be writing and started booking time in a studio in whatever part of the world I was in with any free time I had. THERE ARE QUITE A FEW GUEST MUSICIANS ON THE ALBUM, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? The guest thing came about pretty organically as I was writing and recording the songs. I heard Everything You Need after I'd recorded it and just thought of Eric (Clapton). I thought it would be really nice to do what we do live on a record. Nora (Jones) and I were regulars at Best Fest so we performed together and got to be friends. She was on my last album, but I wanted to write a song for her from scratch because I was a big fan of her writing, playing, musicianship and her sensibilities. ANY MORE COLLABORATIONS ON THE HORIZON? I don't have anything yet, but those things pop up quite a bit. I'm working on a song with Robbie Robertson at the moment. It would be cool to do something to do with Paul McCartney, D'Angelo, Stevie Wonder, Anderson Paak, Andre from Outkast. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH OL 'SLOW HAND'. I never dreamt that I would be working with him for so long and have him be such a supporter of my music. It's been a dreamy situation the whole way through. I've learnt so much playing next to him. When you're playing with someone you get into another place and our telepathy when playing is pretty strong. I guess the reason he's continued to work with me is that we have that intuition about what he does and stylistically what I do naturally fits what he does. We connected on many different levels but one of the things we connected on was that he grew up in England listening to radio stations that were playing old blues music and when the British Invasion happened a lot of the bands from that time were all playing with a lot of the original blues masters. I bonded with him because I was one of the few kids growing up in Fortworth, Texas who liked blues music. My father would take me to shows when I was four years old, and I'd see the blues masters first hand. When I was 17 or 18, I started playing with the blues masters myself, and it was wonderful to experience that. They were all innovators of the time coming up with music that had never been played before: electric blues and rock music. Eric single-handedly invented the guitar trio. I know Hendrix would go and watch Cream and I know that he got a lot from them. Cream and Blind Faith had some of the best playing ever. Those guys were on fire and completely in the zone. THE FIRST TRACK ON THE ALBUM WAS INSPIRED BY THE MASSACRE IN LAS VEGAS LAST YEAR. WAS IT A DIFFICULT SONG TO WRITE, EMOTIONALLY SPEAKING? It was a difficult choice for me because I didn't want to lead off with something so dark necessarily, but with the amount of shootings across the country and how ubiquitous they've become, we might as well lead off with something that's important to talk about and effects people. It affects people not just in the US but in the UK and Germany; everyone gets affected by it. DID IT RESONATE MORE WITH YOU BECAUSE IT HAPPENED AT A MUSIC EVENT? For me, it was more like the Sandy Hook shooting or anything with kids. I have kids, and that's the worst thing that can happen to somebody. So even though I didn't want to lead off with a dark vibration I thought it was important to talk about it.
YOU SAY THAT YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO PROVE YOURSELF WITH THE NEW ALBUM. WAS IT CATHARTIC TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO WORK UNRESTRAINED? I don't think about it anymore. I think the most important thing for me is to take my head out of it. When I start thinking about technology or my instruments or all the different mechanics that go into my playing, then I'm out of the music. I have to be in the moment and take out a lot of the thinking to express the creative fire in an uninhibited way. I'm still working on it: I'm still not there, but I'm closer to it than I was five or ten years ago. YOU'VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME PERFORMING AND PLAYING MUSIC, BUT YOU ALSO PRODUCE YOUR ALBUMS. WHAT IS IT THAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT THE BEHIND THE SCENES ASPECTS OF MAKING AN ALBUM? Recording and making records are completely different than playing live. What I do live comes from an adrenaline led performance. In the studio I'm experimenting with sounds and trying to be innovative. Once you solidify it in a recording and play it live a year later, and you've played it 100 times it's taken on such a different meaning. I'm also very spontaneous live, and I never play anything the same way twice. I leave a lot of room for interpretation for the musicians and the chemistry between them. The writing and recording part is finding the rabbit in the hat and seeing what you can pull out.