The New Guitar Gods: Doyle Bramhall II & Derek Trucks
Bramhall plays in standard (right-handed) tuning. Like many “wrong way lefties,” he generally finds left-handed guitars—so as not to knock into the tone and volume controls with his picking arm—and then restrings them righty. “I have some straight left-handed guitars that I’ve restrung. But I’ve also got some that have a left-handed body and a right-handed neck.” Bramhall’s main ax is a ’64 Fender Stratocaster, but he’s also using two new Strats, a Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul and a Lindhof guitar on tour with Clapton, alternating between a Savage amp and a ’68 Super Bass Marshall. Trucks, for his part, is playing his trusty Gibson ’61 SG reissue through two Fender Super Reverbs. Both guitarists keep it simple, gearwise. Then again, with three great axmen in the band, there’s not much need for elaborate effects rigs. Trucks finds that a “less is more” approach is often best when it comes to equipment and guitar arrangements. “Some of the tunes on Layla had three guitars originally,” he says. “So on that stuff, it’s easy to delegate parts. But some of the other songs we’re playing originally had only one or two guitars, so you have to find your space. Sometimes not playing is the right thing to do. In an ensemble like that, everyone doesn’t have to be playing all the time. On certain tunes I find myself laying out for certain parts. And when you feel like you can add to it, you add. It’s almost like a horn section. You color it when you need to.” Given Derek’s slide prowess and Allman musical heritage, it’s only natural that he covers many of the slide guitar parts that Duane Allman originally played on the Layla album. “But it’s not that cut and dried,” he adds. “Because on a tune like ‘Motherless Children,’ Doyle and Eric are playing the slide. So everybody gets a hand at it.” Bramhall still seems a little amazed at this state of affairs. “At first I told Eric, ‘I don’t want to play any slide, because Derek’s so good at it.’ But Eric said, ‘Why not? C’mon.’ ” Trucks and Bramhall both characterize Clapton as a focused but flexible bandleader. “This is basically a new band for him,” says Trucks. “So he had a lot of different ideas at rehearsal. We ran through a ton of different things. This band naturally gravitated toward a certain era of tunes—the Derek and the Dominoes era and a lot of stuff recorded around that time—and that’s the material we ended up loading the set with. So even though Eric came in with some definite ideas in mind, he was also open to what was naturally gonna fit the band.” “It seems to me that Eric wanted to have different artists in this band,” says Bramhall. “Not just road musicians. He hired artists, so he basically just wants everybody to be themselves and do what they do. He sort of wants to showcase each of us.” “In the solo sections,” Trucks adds, “Eric gives me and Doyle a lot of freedom to do our thing. He’s really generous that way. And obviously when Eric gets into a slow blues, then we all know we’re going to hear some amazing solo playing.” But what does it mean, here in the 21st century, to stand up and play a 12-bar blues in front of an audience in Germany, Brazil or Japan? What does it mean to be a fourth or fifth generation bluesman? To carry that tradition in today’s world? “The blues is gonna be relevant always,” says Trucks. “John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Son House, Bukka White… I think that music stands the test of time. But I also feel that the pure forms of that music are gonna pass with that original generation. I don’t think that it is something that can ever be recreated. It was music that came out of a very specific set of circumstances. It was field-holler music; it was music learned on a plantation and then moved to Chicago or Detroit. So it would be insulting to the real legacy of the blues for someone like me to think that I can come from a suburb in Jacksonville, Florida, and play the same music that Charlie Patton and Son House were playing. But all those great old-time guys planted seeds for other things. All of that music continues to inspire new generations. But you have to make the music you play relevant to the time you’re living in. Otherwise you’re doing a disservice to it. “Blues and jazz are still young, compared with either Indian or Western classical music, where you’re talking 10 or 20 generations. With a classical form, you’re playing a composer’s pieces as they were written. While performance styles certainly evolve, the music doesn’t change that much. But blues is folk music, not classical music; it’s guttural and raw, a very personal thing. John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf weren’t rehashing old shit; they were changing the world with that music when they first came out with it. And that’s the ultimate goal I think—to tap into that spirit. The blues is still growing.” But will it have room to grow in today’s increasingly regimented, corporate musical environment? “At this point, music is in such a weird stage,” Bramhall concedes. “In the Sixties, you could turn on the radio and, even in a pop song, you would hear the influence of blues or jazz. Now you don’t hear it anymore, and the people who are doing it for real aren’t being heard. The only way to see them is to go to a local place and just happen on them. So it’s strange, because not a lot of people understand the blues these days. They think it’s just a primitive type music—easy to play—and that it’s not all that relevant to pop music right now. But I think that’s all about to change. Because there’s only so much people can take before they have to get back to what’s real in the world.”
Get our Free Newsletter Here!
You Might Also Like...
With 'Workingman’s Dead,' the Grateful Dead Shifted from Uncommercial Jam Band to One of the World's Most Popular Acts2 hours 5 sec ago
2 hours 1 min ago
Pettyjohn Electronics Announces the PettyDrive Deluxe, a Studio-Grade Dual-Channel Analog Overdrive Pedal — Demo Video2 days 23 hours ago
3 days 36 min ago
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Slash and More Play "The Star-Spangled Banner" — Video3 days 1 hour ago
3 days 1 hour ago
3 days 3 hours ago