Bramhall's latest album 'Rich Man' channels sounds of the '60s and '70s
Doyle Bramhall II, who appears Feb. 4 at the Rex Theater, Pittsburgh's South Side, has an incredible resume, having performed in Eric Clapton's band and with artists including Roger Waters and Sheryl Crow. He's also an in-demand producer and songwriter, and last year released “Rich Man,” his first solo album since 2001. A mix of rock, blues and soul, “Rich Man” reverberates with the crossover sounds of the late '60s and '70s.
Question: When “Rich Man” was released last year, it had been 15 years since your last record. Why such a lengthy break between new albums?
Answer: I needed time to go out and gather inspiration, live my life, explore new expressions, open myself up to different cultures and raise my daughters. Also, I got more into the role of accompanying other artists like Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Sheryl Crow, et al. Those years of experience shape me as a more solid artist and performer all the way around.
Q: Songs such as “The Veil” or “Mama Can't Help You” (from “Rich Man”) sound like they could have been recorded in Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the ‘70s. Do you try to create a timeless sound?
A: Well that's definitely a really good thing since I've always been a fan of Memphis soul and Muscle Shoals. I feel like I just innately write music that sounds like it's from a different time period. I'm not really trying to do it, but it seems to come out that way.
Q: The song “November” is dedicated to your father, Doyle Bramhall Sr. What's the best advice he gave you about being a musician?
A: I don't remember any single piece of advice at the moment. But he always believed in me from the time I first picked it up and really nurtured my natural ability. Early on he booked sessions with me on guitar and would get me up on stage to sit in with his band. He made me feel like I belonged in music.
Q: The best guitarists are able to play with anyone, as your resume indicates. But if you distill the essence of your style, how would you describe it?
A: I guess I would say the style is rock and roll, blues, and soul. I started out as a pure blues player and branched off into many different styles as I became more of a songwriter.
Q: Rock/blues isn't as popular as it once on the charts but it seems that there are some young musicians (Gary Clark Jr. and Ty Segall come to mind) who are still in love with the guitar. Do you think rock music, per se, is in good shape with the next generation?
A: I think it is the end of an era because a lot of original innovators of rock and roll and blues have passed away, but with that comes new growth. There seems to be a lot of talented players coming up. I think a lot of them are able to find their own voices these days, probably because it's easier to facilitate themselves with their computer savviness and home studios. They can act as their own record label to get their music out there.
Q: You've collaborated with musicians including Elton John, Gregg Allman, Allen Toussaint, Erykah Badu and Sheryl Crow. Do you write with the artist in mind — for instance, would you write one type of song for Elton John, and another type for Sheryl Crow?
A: I played guitar on Elton, Gregg and Allen's albums. I wrote with Sheryl and Erykah. If I'm writing with someone, we usually just throw ideas into the hat and come up with something together. I don't really think about genres or what type of music it is. I just try and find the song and focus on writing the writing process, since the song is the most important thing for me. I can always stylize it after I write it.
Q: You get to choose an all-star band, no limitations, no rules. What is your ultimate lineup?
A: The band I have now is my dream band consisting of Adam Minkoff on keyboards, guitar, drums and vocals, Anthony Cole on drums, tenor sax and vocals and Ted Pecchio on bass and vocals. This band is incredibly talented and as a four piece band can pull off the most of the productions from my new songs from “Rich Man.” Everyone in the group is a lead singer so there are no limitations on where want to go vocally. I think maybe in the future I would add one or two more members. The Family Stone was and still is my favorite band.
Details: 412-381-6811, rextheater.com
AC/DC, Mozart and surgery
If you're a guy who listens to rock ‘n' roll while doing a task that requires a high level of concentration, you might want to think about tuning out. A recent study by researchers at the Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music revealed that listening to rock music while working caused men to make more mistakes. The same study (published in the Medical Journal of Australia) showed listening to rock music had little or no effect on women. Researchers — who admitted the study was done tongue-in-cheek — tracked participants listening to AC/DC's Thunderstruck” or “Andante” from “Sonata for Two Pianos” by Mozart while playing the game Operation. More about the study can be found at psychcentral.com.
Shows of note
Michigan isn't exactly a hotbed of bluegrass music. But the Kalamazoo-based Greensky Bluegrass, appearing Feb. 7 and 8 at the Rex Theatre, Pittsburgh's South Side, has become one of the more popular jamgrass bands. The group also is musically dexterous, prone to inventive live covers of U2, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley in addition to bluegrass traditionalists such as Bill Monroe. Details: 412-381-6811, rextheater.com
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.