When singer-guitarist Doyle Bramhall II was a kid in the 1970s, he used to sleep at a club in Austin called the Armadillo-under the stage. "My dad would baby-sit me by taking me to shows," he says of Doyle Sr., a drummer, singer and songwriter who worked with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. "I would either watch the show or sleep under the stage. So, by osmosis, I definitely got it" - "it" being the inspirational electricity of Texas bluesmen such as Freddie King, Albert Collins and Lightnin' Hopkins.
Now thirty-two, Doyle II is throwing his own lightning - in very stellar company. Since 1999, the Dallas-born, L.A.-based Bramhall has toured with Roger Waters and recorded with Eric Clapton. This summer, Bramhall and his band, Smokestack (featuring his wife, vocalist and co-writer Susannah Melvoin), are showing off the gritty songcraft and live-in-the-studio heft of their new RCA album, Welcome, as the opening act onClapton's current tour.
"If I tell people what I've actually done in my career," Bramhall says, "they think I'm a lot older than I am." At eighteen, he was already spittin' licks with Jimmie Vaughan as a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. A promising spell in 1991-92 with Arc Angels, a group that also included guitarist Charlie Sexton and Stevie Ray Vaughan's rhythm section, Double Trouble, ended when Bramhall went into a three-year heroin tailspin. By '96, he was clean and back to work, enduring a bizarre gig backing up actor/rock wanna-be Steven Seagal and cutting two overlooked solo LPs, including 1999's Jellycream, from which Clapton pulled two songs for his hit project with B.B. King, Riding With the King. "It took me a long time to get away from being looked at as the next Stevie Ray," says Bramhall. "I just listen to everything that's going on around me and play off of that. I don't feel I'm a great technical guitar player. Everything I do comes from instinct."