NEW YORK: Doyle Bramhall II...Mediocre At Best!!! - by J. Blake

Posted on 5/19/2009 by J. Blake

Doyle Bramhall II, is he overrated, underrated…..or even rated at all?

Just in case you don’t know who he is, Bramhall is a 40 year-old singer/guitarist/songwriter from Dallas Texas. He has a band called Smokestack, but he is best known for being Eric Clapton’s 2nd guitarist since 2004, playing along side Roger Waters on the concert DVD In The Flesh-Live and for his 1992 band Arc Angels (which also featured Charlie Sexton and the rhythm section of Double Trouble). Coincidentally Arc Angels has recently reunited, minus bassist Tommy Shannon, and is currently opening for Eric Clapton on the Spring European leg of his long running tour. Bramhall is also the son of Doyle Bramhall Sr., whose only claim to fame is that he was a friend and collaborator of Stevie Ray Vaughan's.

Now that I’ve given a little background on the man, let me explain why I’ve chosen to write a blog that arguably defames him. A few weeks ago when I responded to the ad that has now led to me being a contributor to this site, I wanted to send a sample of my writing…which up to this point has been mostly film related. So I looked at what I had to offer and the only things that were about music were concert reviews. I chose to send a review of a Clapton show that I saw last summer at Jones Beach in Long Island. I began the review with this:

It was a crisp and cloudy night in Long Island on Thursday June 5th, but fans still flocked to the outdoor Nikon Theater at Jones Beach to see a living guitar legend.

Clapton took to the stage with a slight limp in his step, but opened the show with a lively rendition of the Dominos classic Tell the Truth. Doyle Bramhall II did a good job of providing slide guitar fills on this opening number, but in my personal opinion it was the over abundance of his guitar work that made this show sub-par.

While reading over the (now year old) review, I was reminded of the frustration I felt that night and I was also reminded of when VH1 Classics aired an outside music festival that took place in Hyde Park, just days after the disappointing Jones Beach show. The day after the VH1 special aired I received an email from my brother who asked “who was that guy playing with Clapton, and why the hell would Clapton let him solo?”

Clapton first worked with Doyle Bramhall II in 2000 on his collaboration with B.B. King, a CD titled Riding with the King (2000). Bramhall also made contributions to Clapton’s Reptile (2001), Me and Mr. Johnson (2004), Sessions for Robert J. (2004), Back Home (2005) and the J.J. Cale collaboration The Road To Escondido (2006).

I first saw him play with Clapton during the 2004 tour promoting the two Johnson tribute albums. I have to admit that based on nothing at all, my buddy who accompanied me to the show and I took a very quick disliking to the young guitarist who through wardrobe and the way he carried himself, seemed to be trying very hard to epitomize “cool”. Hell he even played an upside down right-handed guitar….which is the coolest of all ways for a southpaw to play. Was it right to make such quick judgments? No, but we did it anyway….we’re only human.

Quite frankly on that tour, in the role of strictly a rhythm/backup player he was fine. He’s a competent rhythm player and despite the fact that he claims that he had never listened to Robert Johnson before working with Clapton, he was actually quite good as an accompanist during the “sit down/acoustic” portion of the set.

When I saw Clapton in 2006 he was again accompanied by Bramhall on rhythm and also Derek Trucks on both lead and rhythm. It was a good show. Clapton and Trucks played beautifully together and Bramhall held the rhythm down sufficiently. The tour in general had a healthy dose of Dominos material (thanks to the insistance of Bramhall and Trucks), which was very exciting and Robert Cray who was the opening act also sat in on several songs. It was great!

All was right in “Slowhand-land”, until soon after Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, Trucks left the tour to fulfill prior engagements with the Allman Brothers and pursue his own solo work. The tour managed to go on without him, but would never be the same. There was a brief hiatus beginning in February 2008 so that Clapton could reunite with Steve Winwood for three historic shows at MSG (which I attended and will be writing about on this site in the near future) and presumably to spend some time with his family. By May of that year the tour had resumed and that is when the problems began. (On a side note Clapton has been doing an awful lot of touring for a guy that just 5 years ago announced he would not be touring anymore.)

I caught the Summer 2008 leg of the tour on June 5th, at the Long Island amphitheater known as the Nikon at Jones Beach and was very disappointed to see that Clapton was allowing Bramhall to step into the role that he had previously given to Trucks, that of an equal lead guitarist. Bramhall literally took solos on every song and played every bit as much as Clapton did. I think an excerpt from my previously mentioned review of the show sums up perfectly the way I was feeling at the time:

Starting the tour in 2006, Clapton had the young and extremely talented Derek Trucks playing alongside him. The two appeared to be equally sharing the bulk of the lead work and it was wonderful. Here Clapton seems to be giving Bramhall the same opportunity, but unfortunately the young lefthander lacks the skill and talent of the blonde pony-tailed slide guitar prodigy. Bramhall took a lengthy solo on possibly every song tonight and as a slide player he is more than adequate, but otherwise, he is really just average. His playing just does not hold up against Clapton's and as a spectator who paid good money and sat in hours of traffic to see Ol' Slowhand, it was frustrating to have to sit through his mediocre solo after solo.

Now flash forward to May of 2009, just a couple of weeks ago. I got my hands on a beautiful copy of a Japanese telecast of Clapton live at the Budokan Hall, February 25th, 2009. The picture and sound quality are both 10 out of 10 and to my great pleasure, the set list is for the most part Blues heavy, with a just few choice Dominos tunes, a Harrison cover and a few popular Clapton standards thrown in for good measure (I’ll post the set list below). So I sat and watched this entire concert and once again was subjected to the mediocre lead guitar stylings of Doyle Bramhall II. Granted he did not solo as much as he had at the show I went to, but it was still too much for my taste. His lead work is just choppy and fragmented. It lacks any kind of fluidity or cohesion and he sometimes hides behind weird pedal effects that don’t match the sound of the rest of the band. I’m sorry, but I just don’t care for his playing nor do I understand his appeal.

I’m not saying that Doyle Bramhall II is without talent. He has co-written songs that are decent, including the single from Clapton’s 2001 Reptile album, Superman Inside (ok maybe that is not the best example). As previously mentioned I also feel that he is competent rhythm player, not great, but competent. I just don’t understand why Clapton (1) chooses to keep playing with him and (2) continues to allow him to solo. I’m sorry but with the cost of ticket prices these days; if I’m paying to see a Clapton show I want to see Clapton play. I’m not paying to see some guy that quite frankly may not be any better at soloing than me!

Here is an example of what I'm talking about. He's not exactly bad, but he's not great either. I've seen fairly unknown local guitarists with more talent.

In addition to seeing him with Clapton, I have also seen Bramhall perform on his own on two occasions and in preparation for writing this article, I listened to several of his solo albums as well as his efforts with Arc Angels. I certainly would never go as far as to say that he is "bad", but I do not care for his playing or his voice and can't help but feel that he is a little overrated. It is only an opinion and I would never claim that mine is the only correct one...but it is how I feel.

Check out some NYC Blues with J. Blake & The Earthquake at: or
as well as on Facebook.

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

Eric Clapton Set Lists:
June 5, 2008
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh NY

01. Tell The Truth

02. Key To The Highway
03. Hoochie Coochie Man
04. Little Wing
05. Outside Woman Blues
06. Double Trouble
07. Don't Knock My Love
08. Ramling On My Mind
09. Rockin' Chair
10. Motherless Child
11. Travelling Riverside Blues
12. Running On Faith
13. Motherless Children
14. Little Queen of Spades
15. Before You Accuse Me
16. Wonderful Tonight
17. Layla
18. Cocaine

19. I've Got My Mojo Working (with Robert Randolph)
February 25, 2009
Budokan Hall, Tokyo Japan

01. Tell The Truth

02. Key To The Highway
03. Hoochie Coochie Man
04. I Shot The Sheriff
05. Isn't It A Pity
06. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
07. Driftin' (EC Solo Blues)
08. Travelin' Alone
09. That's Alright
10. Motherless Child
11. Running On Faith
12. Motherless Children
13. Little Queen of Spades
14. Everything's Gonna Be Alright
15. Wonderful Tonight
16. Layla
17. Cocaine

18. Crossroad

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery