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The New Guitar Gods: Doyle Bramhall II & Derek Trucks

The New Guitar Gods: Doyle Bramhall II & Derek Trucks
   
 

 “It’s a full-on guitar army,” says Derek Trucks, laughing. The slide-guitar ace is speaking from Cologne, Germany, where he has just completed another magical night as a member of Eric Clapton’s backing band. Texan guitar wrangler Doyle Bramhall II is also in the group. Robert Cray is the opening act and sits in during Clapton’s set on a nightly basis. With a backline like that, and with Slowhand out front, tossing off those incandescent leads that have made him a living legend, it truly is a full-on guitar onslaught. “Every night is amazing,” says Bramhall. “We played ‘Let it Rain’ the other night, and in the outro section, Eric and Derek just went off into the stratosphere. They were playing these harmonized parts that sounded like they’d been worked out in advance. But they hadn’t been. It was totally spontaneous. That kind of thing happens all the time with this band.” The opportunity to play alongside the ultimate six-string icon— the guitarist was once dubbed “God,” in the Sixties—is the ultimate stroke of good guitar karma. Bramhall and Trucks are ideally suited for this honor. Like Clapton himself, both have wide-ranging interests and accomplishments as guitarists and songwriters. But, also like Clapton, everything they do is deeply grounded in the primordial language of the blues. “The blues is pretty much the base and root of all the music I play, says Trucks. “That’s the foundation. You just have to adapt it to 2006.” Trucks and Bramhall each descend from an important bluesbased American dynasty. Derek is the nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. From a tender age, the younger Trucks was playing in latter-day Allmans lineups as well as fronting his own group, the Derek Trucks Band. Doyle Bramhall’s dad played drums for blues great Lightnin’ Hopkins, not to mention Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all part of the rich Texas blues tradition. “My family and the Vaughan family started out in Dallas in the late Sixties,” the younger Bramhall explains. “Then all this great music started happening in Austin in the early Seventies, so they migrated down there and got a band together. For three years, we all lived in the same house. So Jimmy Vaughan was basically like my uncle, and Stevie was more like a big brother. We spent a lot of time together.” Needless to say, the young Bramhall heard a lot of blues records in that house. “The things that hit me most,” he recalls, “were listening to Albert King, Freddie King and a lot of the Louisiana blues artists from Guitar Slim to Lightning Slim to Slim Harpo. They all seemed to have the same names. All the Kings and the Slims.” Doyle’s vinyl education was generously supplemented by Austin’s fertile live music scene. “Freddie King was very prominent down there at that time, playing at the Armadillo. Jimmy Vaughan and sometimes my dad would play with Freddie. And Lightnin’ Hopkins would be around, and they’d play with him. All these Texas blues guys. Also, when Antone [Clifford Antone, proprietor of the legendary Austin club, Antone’s] came on the scene, he brought all these blues legends down to play in Austin. So I began to see firsthand all these people I’d been listening to or just reading about.” By sixteen, Doyle II was touring with Jimmy Vaughan’s band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. By ’92, he’d formed his own group, the Arc Angels, with another Austin guitar great, Charlie Sexton, plus Stevie Ray’s Double Trouble rhythm section, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. With 1996’s Doyle Bramhall II album, the guitarist struck off on his own. Since then he’s balanced a productive solo career with high-profile work as a sideman. Bramhall backed Roger Waters on the Pink Floyd vet’s 2000 In the Flesh tour. That same year, he hooked up with Clapton. “While I was on the road with Roger, my manager sent a CD of mine to Eric, who was on tour in Japan at the time. Eric enjoyed the record. He called my manager back and said, ‘I really want to talk with this guy.’ ” Bramhall first worked with Clapton on the latter’s 2000 collaboration with B.B. King, Riding with the King. The youthful Texan has gone on to be an integral part of Reptile (2001) and Me and Mr. Johnson (2004). Few other guitarists on earth are as intimately acquainted with Clapton’s modus operandi. “In the studio with Eric, it’s very relaxed,” says Bramhall. “He’s very easygoing. You feel good. He usually surrounds himself with people who are really talented and who play the way he likes. So you can be yourself, and that will please him. It’s not the norm for a legend like that to be so generous. But Eric is.”

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