Are You Experienced?
Doyle Bramhall II Talks About the Experience Hendrix Tour
There's no false advertising here. The Experience Hendrix Tour is exactly that, a concert honoring the songs, life and legacy of the legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
Since 1995, the tour has featured well-known guitarists and bassists with a roster that draws heavily from the most respected rock and jazz¬†players.
Scheduled performers for this year's shows include Billy Cox (from Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band Of Gypsys), Taj Mahal, Joe Satriani, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne), Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, Doug Pinnick (King's X), Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble), Mato Nanji (Indigenous), Kenny Aronoff, The Slide Brothers, Henri Brown, Kevin McCormick, and Ana Popovic.
INsite spoke with busy recording artist, in-demand session player and frequent Clapton collaborator Doyle Bramhall II by phone from Los Angeles.
Before we talk about the tour, let's briefly discuss your recent album Shades. Like with the Jimi festival, there are a lot of styles represented on it.
Yeah, the whole reason I called it Shades is because of how many different shades of music there are on it. It's the sum of all the types of music that I've been inspired by all of my life.
That's the best kind of album - one that covers all the bases.
Yeah, not that it's that kind of record, but it's like [tour mate Taj Mahal's 1969] Giant Step album. To me, that record is such a great one because it encompasses so much music. It's almost like a music history lesson because it Includes many of the things that influenced him. The blues, of course, but early work holler songs to spirituals to country blues and even some pop. So I think Shades is kind of like that, even though I don't delve too deep into the blues. And in a way, that's kind of what this whole tour is about - sharing the music - because we all love it and we've all approached it from so many different angles. I like all the different expressions that are possible with music. It's harder to do with modern music because everybody wants things to be in a box with a definite label on it so it can be marketed and sold. But it's sort of hard to not be boxed into a genre but I just like covering them all. And with the Experience Hendrix tour, there's just so much music to hear in one night. And personally I like it because it's really representative of who I am musically.
There are so many different artists on this tour and it seems like you're connected to most of them in some sort of way at this¬†point.
Well that's one of the things about playing music for so long and touring everywhere, is that there's a network and that comes from being in the live scene, in the session scene and in the club scene and within the community in general. The musical community, once you know all the players, really is a small world once you begin to know people and play out.
And knowing the community is a great source of continual inspiration - maybe even from a session that could seem inconsequential at the¬†time.
Oh absolutely, I'm always inspired by every project. Maybe not even consciously. But I've still ended up learning from them all because sometimes I have to think outside my own box or comfort zone to make it work.
In this situation, you're sharing the bill with a number of fellow music legends, how do you keep it from getting out of control?
It's almost like each person has their own little show. For many years, Buddy Guy would end the show and that part would always feel just like it's Buddy Guy's own show. So it's like each person gets their own mini-set in the middle of the review format.
Musicians, and guitarists especially, tend to prefer their own equipment and amps. Is there a shared backline for the show or how is it set¬†up?
I think most people have their own amps on stage, which is usually pretty massive. On these wide stages, you look across and there's like 20 or 25 amps up there. So it's a revolving stage in the way everything is set up. Each artist can basically take over the stage with their¬†equipment.
In the wrong hands this could be a logistical nightmare. How do you rehearse with such a massive line-up?
It's sort of crazy that they rehearse the day of the show and then get it done in like six hours before showtime and then play, like a three-hour show. After rehearsing for six hours, the first day of the tour is usually pretty serious.
How do you select which songs to perform? Does everyone have a master list and pick from it?
Everyone sort of picks the ones that they loved growing up listening or a particular one that really speaks to them. If it's not taken by another artist, then they can do it. For instance, this year I'm just taking suggestions because usually I'll do the songs that that most spoke to me, but this year I'm sort of open to other choices or suggestions. I'm just ready to be a part of it.
That's a great place to be.
Well with this or any project I do, it's like I just wanna be of service or what is needed for the moment. I like to help create the big¬†picture.
You mentioned you often play the ones that spoke to you as you were growing up. Which ones speak to you in particular?
"Angel" is one. When I first started doing the Hendrix tour, I used to do "Remember," which was on Smash Hits. It was like a soul tune, really.
You grew up around music with a musical family, but when did you first become aware of the music of Jimi Hendrix?
I remember hearing him when I was a kid all the time because I grew up in a band house in Austin. That was the place where everybody hung out all the time. It was Jimmy Vaughn's house and all of our tribe basically were in and out all the time. My dad and Jimmy and Stevie Vaughn were actually highly influenced by Jimi so he was on heavy rotation on the record player back then. I was about six years old or so.
Did you have a rediscovery period as you grew¬†up?
I rediscovered him when I started playing guitar at around 14. I immediately got back into Hendrix. I think the first thing of his I bought on my own was the Smash Hits album. I was just immersed in his stuff at that time. For a while, it was pretty much all I wanted to listen to and all I wanted to sound like. Then as I got older, B.B. King, Cream and Jimmy Reed were most of the things I was really studying.
As a Cream fan, it must have been an incredible kick when you began playing with Eric Clapton.
Oh yeah, to have Eric call and say he was a fan of mine because of my album Jellycream, and say that he loved my songwriting and my guitar playing was incredible. To have him invite me to be on the record he was doing with B.B. King was unreal. B.B. and Eric were the two guitarists whose solos I emulated first. It was actually sort of mystical in that it all came around that way for me. It was definitely weird. I still don't know why or how it actually happened. It's just like one of those moments in time when things culminate. Now here I am playing Hendrix music, so I guess it's all somehow connected, karmatically. I don't think any of this is by chance because the odds of any of it happening are just in the billions!
Experience Hendrix rocks the Fox at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9. For more information, please visit foxtheatre.org.