Doyle Bramhall II plays the Hendrix Experience
He's toured the world with Eric Clapton and Roger Waters and graced a few tabloid covers with former girlfriend Sheryl Crow and current girlfriend Renee Zellweger. But guitarist Doyle Bramhall II has never forgotten his big Santa Rosa epiphany nearly three decades ago.
'It's not something I would promote for anybody, not even my kids,' he said. 'But I remember at 15, I had just started 11th grade at Santa Rosa High School, and I just quit. I'm spending all this time frustrated with algebra and I'm making $300 a weekend playing clubs and I realized I could probably make a living at this if I quit school.'
The next year, he was tapped to go on tour with Jimmy Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It didn't hurt that his father, drummer Doyle Bramhall, had played with both Jimmy and his brother Steve Ray Vaughan since the late 1960s. For Bramhall II, it was the equivalent of joining the circus, and he never looked back.
Over the years, in addition to his own solo work, he formed the 1990s band Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton. He's played guitar on records with everyone from Elton John and Gregg Allman to Questlove and Bettye LaVette. He produced Sheryl Crow's '100 Miles from Memphis' and recently co-produced Clapton's 2013 album 'Old Sock.'
Living near Santa Barbara for the past 20 years, Bramhall still remembers how connections with the Sonoma County Blues Society and especially KRSH DJ Bill Bowker helped further his career.
For his latest venture, Bramhall teams up with fellow guitarists Buddy Guy, Billy Cox, Zakk Wylde, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd for the cross-country Experience Hendrix 2014 Tour. It's an all-star homage to the timeless 1960s icon who set fire to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and closed out Woodstock, leaving us with classics like 'Purple Haze,' 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return),' 'The Wind Cries Mary,' 'Hey Joe,' and a blistering version of 'All Along the Watchtower' before he died at age 27 in 1970.
Before the tour rolls through Santa Rosa's Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday, Oct. 15 — the same room where Bramhall once saw Ray Charles, Edgar Winter and Leon Russell perform — he took a tour break to chat about what he learned from Hendrix and his buddy Bill Bowker:
Q: How do you guys decide who gets to play which songs every night? Arm wrestling? Bribes?
A: It just sort of works out. The songs that I chose were ones I was always just really fond of. It just worked out that the ones I told (the promoter) I wanted to do, were free.
Q: I saw a pretty sweet YouTube video of you doing 'Hear My Train A Comin'' on an acoustic 12-string.
A: Yeah, lately I've been doing it on an electric 12-string and it's been pretty great.
Q: What did you learn from Hendrix at an early age?
A: Most of it was sonic. I wanted to know how he got certain tones. I thought he was the best at finding the perfect tone for the right melody. Whatever his melody was, was perfect for his song. The guitar melodies he came up with when he was soloing were perfect — and he always matched the tone.
Q: How did you wind up playing left-handed with a guitar strung upside down?
A: I just didn't know the difference. I batted right-handed, which would be like holding a left-handed guitar. When I first picked up a guitar, I started playing it on my lap. I did that for like six months before I picked it up and started playing it.
Q: How did Bill Bowker take you under his wing?
A: He just promoted me. He might have seen me at a jam and he thought I was talented and I think he got me a gig sitting in with the (Sonoma County) Blues Society. After that, I just started playing everywhere.
Q: What songs will you be playing in Santa Rosa?
A: I do 'Hear My Train A Comin.'' I do 'Angel' that I used to do with Arc Angels. I do 'Hey Baby' into 'In from the Storm' — it's what Hendrix did (in the 1971 film) 'Rainbow Bridge.' And it's funny, when I was going through stuff, I heard this song called 'Gypsy Boy' that was on one of these (posthumous) demo records he put out. I thought I could do it as an intro to 'Hey Baby' — kind of like a medley. Well, it turns out that 'Gypsy Boy' was actually the original demo seed for 'Hey Baby,' so I felt like those two pieces of music needed to be together and there was a reason.
Bay area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.