Doyle Bramhall 1949-2011
by Sarah Rucker
We’ve lost a lot of legendary blues artists in the past year: Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eye” Smith, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, and just last week – the great Etta James and the producer who discovered her, Johnny Otis. The blues is something that is near and dear to my heart, so with every one of these losses comes an indescribable pain as the living history of this music seems to be fading away.
I started writing this blog last November when I got the news about the passing of blues drummer Doyle Bramhall. This shocked and saddened me, most of all, because he was not at the age at which one might expect this to happen – the same age as my parents. I’ve been a Doyle Bramhall fan since childhood, as Family Style by the Vaughan Brothers’ and many of the Antone’s Anniversary anthology records were constantly playing around my house. The crack of the snare drum and beautiful Texas drawl in his singing were unmistakable. I grew up hearing my father’s stories about watching Doyle play at the Studio Club in Dallas and then in the late ‘60s at the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin. In 2003, I met Clifford Antone, who quickly became my good friend (as he did with anyone he met) and collaborator. No one spoke more highly of Doyle Bramhall than Clifford. He owed a lot of his club’s success to people like Doyle, Jimmie and Stevie Vaughan who were with him since 1970 – 5 years before the opening of Antone’s Night Club.
|Photo by Sarah Rucker; Antone's November 21, 2011|
On November 21, Antone’s Night Club hosted a tribute to Bramhall. If anyone thinks it is strange to go listen to live music or visit a night club as part of the mourning process – think again. As a fan, this was very therapeutic to hear and see his closest friends playing together in his honor. The band was lead by legendary guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and included Denny Freeman, Paul Ray and many others. It was the history of Austin music and Dallas music, for that matter, all on one stage. It made me realize how lucky we are in this city, state and country to have such quality music being created all around us.
On a personal note, I’ve also been privileged to become friends with Bramhall’s daughter, Georgia, owner of Honeycomb Hair Boutique in Austin. The last time I visited Georgia at her salon, an interesting thing happened both when I arrived and left the building. As I was pulling into the parking spot at 501 Studios, “The House is Rockin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of Vaughan's biggest songs which was co-written by Bramhall, came on the radio. When I left a couple hours later, “Georgia” by Ray Charles came on my car radio, the song it has been said gave Georgia her namesake. Call me crazy, but that’s all I need to believe in angels.