The New Guitar Gods: Doyle Bramhall II & Derek Trucks
“The slide is really expressive,” he says. “You can emulate some of the more Middle Eastern melodies and microtones. But even in a straight blues context, it can really sound like human voice. There’s a lot of common threads that run through both those genres.” So while Trucks’ blues are rooted in the Mississippi Delta, they range all the way to the Nile Delta, the River Ganges and points beyond. Musical guests on past Derek Trucks Band albums have included salsa great Ruben Blades, Sufi devotional vocalist Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and American soul giant Solomon Burke, which gives Trucks’ group more spice than most jam band noodlers. “To me, it really comes down to any soulbased music,” says Trucks, “any music that’s traditional. It’s all human emotions coming out through sounds. You read Robert Palmer’s book Deep Blues and it traces different rhythmic patterns all the way back to Africa—different tribes, different sounds that made their way over to America. That’s one common thread. Also, it all seems to be a lot of music coming out of poverty. You hear a lot of the same themes, melodically and otherwise. When I was in Japan, somebody played me some traditional Korean music, and the first two or three bars sounded exactly like a Delta slide player. The human condition is pretty much the same anywhere. When you’re listening to a great gospel singer, a great blues singer or a great qawwal singer from Pakistan, there are moments when the feeling is exactly the same.” While not quite as international as Trucks, Bramhall’s guitar playing is also founded on an unconventional technique. He’s an “upsidedown” or “wrong way” lefty: a left-handed guitarist who plays a conventional right-hand stringing. This is something Bramhall shares with blues and folk greats like Albert King, Otis Rush, Elizabeth Cotton and Coco Montoya. In Doyle’s case, as in many others, it stems from being born left-handed but learning to play on other people’s guitars: “There were a lot of right-handed guitars laying around the house when I was growing up,” he says. “So I’d pick up a guitar when I was six or seven and mess around with it. I don’t think I even knew left from right at that point; I just held it the most comfortable way. And by the time I decided to take a lesson, the teacher told me I was playing the wrong way and if I wanted to be taught I would have to reverse the strings or start to play right-handed. But by that point, I’d already learned about 200 songs. I wasn’t about to start over.” To watch Bramhall play—particularly when he and Clapton are on acoustics, recreating one of Robert Johnson fingerstyle passages with chilling accuracy—is to realize that “the wrong way” is sometimes the best way. “I used to think that playing guitar left-handed upside down was a handicap,” he admits. “That you really can’t do what a right-handed guitarist can do. But that theory was completely blown out of the water when I saw this guy playing with [jazz organ great] Jimmy McGriff. I’m afraid I don’t know his name, but he was an upside-down lefty. And he played the greatest walking-chord lead I’d ever heard.”
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