Doyle Bramhall II

Doyle Bramhall II was raised in a home filled with the blues and rock and roll sounds that are indigenous to his birthplace - Austin, Texas. His father, Doyle Bramhall Senior, was the drummer for blues legend Lightning Hopkins and a regular collaborator with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
When Doyle was 16 years old, he toured as second guitarist with Jimmy Vaughan's band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Shortly thereafter he and fellow Texan, Charlie Sexton, co-founded the rock band Arc Angels. Doyle and Charlie enlisted the rhythm section from Stevie Ray Vaughan's backing band, Double Trouble, to complete the lineup. The group enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success.
Following the release of "Jellycream," Doyle's 1999 RCA debut recording, he received phone calls from both Roger Waters and Eric Clapton. Doyle ended up joining Roger Waters for a summer tour while Clapton, along with fellow blues great B.B. King, chose two of Doyle's songs - "Marry You" and "I Wanna Be" - for their collaborative recording entitled "Riding With The King." Upon completion of the "Riding..." project, Doyle, his wife - Susannah Melvoin, and Clapton co-wrote and performed "Superman Inside" for Clapton's album, "Reptile." Doyle's playing is also heavily featured on the album.
The latest offering from Doyle Bramhall II, entitled - "Welcome" - is the purest sampling of Doyle's talents to date. Doyle entered the studio with Smokestack, the band he put together a couple of years ago, and co-producers Benmont Tench and Jim Scott to record the 12 - song set. Joining Doyle in Smokestack is J.J. Johnson on drums and bassist Chris Bruce. Susannah Melvoin contributed background vocals, Benmont Tench pulled keyboard duty and Craig Ross played second guitar.
The album, "Welcome" showcases the diversity of Bramhall's talent; from his songwriting to his intense, soulful vocals and virtuoso guitar playing. Doyle's gravity explosion can be readily heard on such tracks as the driving "Green Light Girl" and the uptempo "Soul Shaker." His dedication to the blues can be felt on tracks like "Life," "So You Want It To Rain" and "Send Some Love."

Doyle and his band are set to open for Eric Clapton on the first leg of a worldwide tour this year.

Marcia Ball Band

Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist/vocalist/songwriter Marcia Ball's new CD, Roadside Attractions mixes equal parts simmering soul fervor and rollicking Crescent City piano. Over the course of her 30-year career, Ball's infectious, intelligent and deeply emotional songs have won her a loud and loyal fan base. Roadside Attractions is Ball's fifth release for Alligator, and twelfth overall. Three of her previous four CDs have received Grammy nominations. Ball has also collected seven Blues Music Awards since 2001, including the 2009 "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Of The Year" award, and was voted "Female Blues Artist Of The Year" and "Most Outstanding Musician--Piano" in the 2009 Living Blues Readers' Poll. Ball was inducted into the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Recording in Austin and in Nashville, and produced by famed songwriter, musician and producer Gary Nicholson (Delbert McClinton, Wynonna Judd, T. Graham Brown), Roadside Attractions finds Marcia Ball at a creative peak. Ball wrote or co-wrote every song -- something she had never done over the course of her forty-year career. Throughout the proceedings, her stellar musicians add power and nuance to the music, perfectly complementing Ball's expert piano playing, slice-of-life lyrics and melodic, storytelling vocals. Born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family whose female members all played piano, Ball grew up in the small town of Vinton, Louisiana, right across the border from Texas. She began taking piano lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley tunes from her grandmother's collection. From her aunt, Marcia heard more modern and popular music. But it wasn't until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in 1962, she sat amazed while Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited performance the young teenager had ever seen. In 1970, Ball set out for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn't long before she was performing in the city's clubs with a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs, while beginning to perfect her songwriting skills. It was around this time that she delved deeply into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. "Once I found out about Professor Longhair," recalls Ball, "I knew I had found my direction." When the band broke up in 1974, Marcia launched her solo career, signing to Capitol Records and debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen in 1978. Discovering and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. Her recordings and performances received glowing reviews in major music publications, and Marcia was featured on leading television and radio programs, including Austin City Limits and NPR's Fresh Air and Piano Jazz. Since the release of her Alligator debut Presumed Innocent in 2001, Ball has received more popular and critical acclaim than ever before. 2003's So Many Rivers continued the push forward, with Billboard declaring, "Ball is a consummate pro -- a killer pianist, a great singer and songwriter. Powerful. Righteous." 2005's Live! Down The Road received equally impressive praise. The New Orleans Times-Picayune said simply, "Bayou boogie has a queen and her name is Marcia Ball." Billboard said, "Peace, Love BBQ is a welcome ray of sunshine. This is a potent batch of tunes, highlighted by Ball's keyboard mastery." Living the life she loves, Marcia has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. "Forty years of roadside attractions and the life of roaming ‘round has never worn thin," she proudly says. "I love it when the wheels start rolling, when the band starts playing, when the crowds start dancing." Now, with Roadside Attractions and a long list of high profile tour dates, Ball will bring her blend of Texas roadhouse boogie and Louisiana swamp blues to fans around the globe. "What's not to love about Marcia Ball?" asked The Austin Chronicle. "Scrumptious, Southern-fried boogies, blues, and ballads with the infectious street beat of New Orleans at the core." Clearly, in whatever city she performs or wherever her songs play, there is no better roadside attraction than the foot-stomping, soul-stirring music of the great Marcia Ball.

Denny Freeman

As an adolescent and young teen in Dallas, Texas in the late1950's, Denny Freeman heard on the radio the radical new sounds of people like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Chicago and Louisianna blues artists like Muddy waters and Slim Harpo. Freeman would go to concerts that featured folks like Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Ruth Brown, and the Clovers. In the 60's there was Jimi Hendrix and Cream, and the wonderful jazz of the time. All of it contributed to the music that Freeman would come to play. Primarily a guitar player, he has played piano and organ on his own and other folks records and gigs over the years. Jennifer Warnes has him playing piano on one track (The Well [Reprise]) on her latest release. His piano playing also appears on James Cotton and Jimmie Vaughan albums. He toured on Jimmie Vaughan's first solo outing as the piano player.
Denny has been the main writer on the songs on his four, mostly instrumental albums, and teamed up with Kathy Valentine of the GoGos and Clem Burke of Blondie, to submit music to Deborah Harry for the Blondie "No Exit" album. Deborah wrote the lyrics, and "Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room" was born. He also co-wrote "BaBoom (Mama Said)" with Jimmie and Stevie Vaughan for the Vaughan Brothers' "Family Style" album.
After touring for a year and a half with Jimmie Vaughan in the mid nineties, he toured w/ Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band until late 2002, playing guitar. It was during this period that Taj' Grammy winning CD, "Shoutin' in Key" was released. "Playing with an American icon like Taj Mahal was a real honor for me. We went all over Europe and to Japan, and it seems that there are Taj fans in every nook and cranny, all over the planet."
After growing up in Dallas, going to college in north Texas, and a brief sojourn in L.A., Freeman moved to Austin, Texas in 1970. Jimmie Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall, and Stevie Vaughan soon followed. If you were a musician, a part of the sub culture, or just had long hair, Austin was the place to be in that part of the world, at that time. It wasn't so much of a music town, Freeman observes. " It was the kind of place that musicians in the early 70's found hospitable. Lots of pretty girls, cheap rent, a laid back atmosphere, those things were especially helpful, in those days." The word got around and musicians are still moving there, today, although things have changed, like everywhere else, and cheap rent is certainly a thing of the past. The main thing, though, that these folks had in common, was that they came ready to play blues. Unhappy with the direction rock was heading after the demise of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, blues was the only thing that appealed to these and a few other people. But still it was a struggle. Of course, Jimmie, w/ his Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Stevie finally found some commercial success. Freeman lived and played with Jimmie and Stevie off and on through the 70's and 80's. There just weren't many players interested in playing blues, so the pool was small. "I first heard Jimmie Vaughan play in Dallas, when he was 16, and Stevie a few years later, in Austin, when he was around 17. It was obvious, even then, that we would be hearing from these guys. It took a while, but eventually most fans of guitar, the world over, came to know about them, too. We became friends, roommates, bandmates. Stevie still owes me $30 rent."
In 1975, the world famous Antones Night Club opened up. At first, the T Birds were the house band, providing backing for the famous Chicago, and other, blues artists that were booked. In the early 80's, another house band was formed, and Freeman had guitar and piano duties, backing up blues giants like Otis Rush, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Lazy Lester, and many, many more. "It was beyond anything I could have imagined. I never thought I'd see most of these guys, much less get to play with them. Some of the shows were recorded, so I'm even on records with my heros."
In spite of Freeman's work with Austin blues bands and blues artists in L.A., where he lived from1992 until late 2004, he doesn't consider himself a "blues guy". "I'd rather think of myself as a guitar player." The compositions on his four albums display a love of three chord rock n' roll, soul jazz, blues and old school r&b and soul music. "I'll always love listening to my old blues records, and trying to play it (blues), but I don't want to be stuck in that bag. I like to go out on a limb, sometimes. I also love ballads." Clem Burke plays drums on his latest CD, "Twang Bang."
Some of Freeman's early recordings (late 80's) ended up in low budget, mostly horror films. One, "Mortuary Academy", featured Paul Bartel and Wolfman Jack. He recently was in the studio (eraly 2004), playing on the new Percy Sledge album, "Shining Through the Rain", which includes a Denny co-write (w/ Fontaine Brown), "Love Come and Rescue Me", as well as his own new project. In October (2004), he was in the studio, with C.C. Adcock, and Scott Nelson and Mike Keller, working on Doyle Bramhall's forthcoming album, "Is It News?". (Spring release)
Denny played in the Bob Dylan Band from 2005 until August 2009, and plays on the Bob Dylan album, "Modern Times". Since the autumn of 2009, Denny has been playing in Austin, Texas a lot, mostly at the Continental Club, Antones, and The Gallery, and in DFW area clubs, and is preparing to record.

Malford Milligan

Malford Milligan is a world class blues/soul singer, based out of Austin, Texas. With his nationally acclaimed band "Storyville," he recorded 3 CDs; 2 with Atlantic Records, and 1 with November Records. He performed on "Austin City Limits" 3 times; twice with "Storyville," and once with Eric Johnson. Malford Milligan has also appeared on the Conan O'Brian show. Malford Milligan has toured with BB King, James Cotton, Edgar Winter, Double Trouble, Kenny Wayne Shepard, and many more. Malford is now fronting "The Malford Milligan Band."

Malford has recorded on more than 30 albums with such artists as, Hal Ketchum, Marcia Ball, Doyle Bramhall, Alejandro Escoveda, Sue Foley, Stephen Bruton, Chris Smither, Eric Johnson, Double Trouble, The Boneshakers, and Toni Price among others

Derek O"Brien

Derek “Big House” O’Brien is a Texas-style blues guitarist, sometime bassist and record producer based in Austin, TX.

A stalwart of the house band at the famous Austin blues club Antone’s Nightclub, O’Brien is most often found backing up other Austin frontmen, including Delbert McClinton, Lou Ann Barton, The Texas Tornados and almost anyone recording on the Antone’s Records label.

O’Brien has also backed up major blues names such as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Ted Drozdowski, writing on Gibson Guitars’ website, says, “O’Brien has a terse, arrow-sharp and spare style comparable to Jimmie Vaughan’s – light on flash, but soooo right. Check it out.”

Mike Flanigin

Mike Flanigin is a masterful player of the Hammond B3 Organ, an instrument that went out of production in 1974. However, in his hands, it sounds more alive than ever. Deep funk, thick chords and powerful basslines propel his sound into the modern age...twisting jazz, soul, and rhythm & blues into a sound all his own.

A musician’s musician...he’s impressed greats from all genres of music...Eric Clapton, Norah Jones, Jimmie Vaughan, David Byrne, Ryan Adams, Al Kooper, Bill Frisell, Madeleine Peyroux, James Burton and Larry Goldings have all sang his praises after hearing him perform.

Larry Fulcher

Larry was born in Houston, Texas and soon began his musical career singing in church at the tender age of five. At age thirteen, Larry moved to Southern California and began playing in bands at fifteen. Larry went on to record with Smokey Robinson and The Crusaders and during the eighties toured and recorded (keyboards and guitar)with many reggae artists, including The Wailers,Third World and Andrew Tosh. He was also a featured vocalist on the Emmy Award winning ABC-TV series, ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and won a Grammy and W.C.Handy Award for his work with Taj Mahal.

George Rains

George Rains played drums with Guy Parnell. He plays right-footed and left-handed because Ronnie Thayer (whose drums were set up on the Cellar bandstand) wouldn't let George move any of the drums! Nevertheless, George quickly became the best drummer in town, had the good sense to get OUT of town, and went on to play and record with San Francisco group MOTHER EARTH, and with Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs and Doug Sahm. After returning to Texas, George settled in Austin and currently plays with whom he pleases, notable among these being Austin favorites Junior Brown and Jimmy Vaughn.

Casper Rawls

The quick take on Richard B. “Casper” Rawls is the line about “a guitar players’ guitarist.” True as it may be, he’s more accurately a musician who demurs such lofty notions with a friendly smile and lets his fingers and guitars speak for his talents. Which is why he has earned the admiration of guitarists who indeed know guitar playing at its finest such as James Burton and Buck Owens. And why in and around Austin, Texas as well as around the globe, discerning fans and listeners, roots music aficionados and fellow musicians know him as a player of impeccable taste, stylish and smart economy, and ultimately — thanks to those aforementioned qualities — wonderful power and beauty.

That’s because Rawls is a guitarist who plays the songs and the music and not just the guitar. He did so for 25 years with Austin’s legendary LeRoi Brothers along with 11 years backing singer Toni Price as well as performing, recording and touring with a host of notable artists and acts within the internationally celebrated Austin scene. And he does so with a personal modesty and almost charismatic friendliness that has made him beloved by his fellow musicians and the music fans who know and enjoy his playing.

“Casper is a great guitar player and one of my favorite people,” says Burton. “He’s also become like family to me.”

Grammy winner Dave Alvin feels similarly about Rawls as a player and a person. “For many years Casper Rawls has been one of my favorite guitarists and people. Picking up where country/rock visionaries like James Burton and Clarence White left off, Casper can bend, twist and coax some powerful, abstract soulful beauty out of a six-string guitar. Hell, he could probably do the same thing with a one-string guitar. If I practiced 12 hours a day for the rest of my life I’d still not be in his league. He’s true guitar hero who plays with intelligence as well as passion. And also a really, really good guy.”

The sirens’ call of the twang guitar that is one Rawls musical trademark among many first caught the ears of Richard Rawls (pka Casper) in the Texas town of Helotes, just outside San Antonio, where he grew up. It beckoned from the country radio stations that his father played constantly at home and in the car — Buck Owens (with guitarist Don Rich) and Duane Eddy were early favorites — and on TV from the guitarist backing Ricky Nelson when he performed on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” As Rawls remembers, “I would watch the show just to hear James Burton play guitar.”

Starting on acoustic guitar at the age of eight and graduating to electric a few years later, Rawls would ride his bike over to the legendary Helotes club John T. Floore’s Country Store to hear the star country acts that played there and the local and traveling musicians jam on Sunday afternoons. He first played those jams at age 11 and started playing in public with his first teenaged band at the youth clubs on the nearby military bases, soon graduating with a succession of acts to teen dances and parties.

By then the rock revolution led by the Beatles had joined country music as influences on Rawls, who cites such guitar gods as Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, George Harrison and fellow Texan Freddie King — who he frequently saw playing San Antonio and was befriended by — as benchmarks in the development of his style.

On moving to Austin to attend college at the University of Texas in 1973, Rawls came under the sway of such master guitarists then on the thriving local scene as Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan, Bill Campbell, Johnny Richardson as well as blues masters that came to town to play Antone’s nightclub like Hubert Sumlin from Howlin’ Wolf’s band (who Rawls came to be friends with). He also played in local country bands such as The River City Rounders and The Country Sounds that made the rounds of the thriving central Texas Honky Tonk scene including The Broken Spoke and Dessau Hall. The late Townsend Miller ( then entertainment editor for The Austin American Statesman) approached Rawls while he was playing the legendary Skyline Club and asked him how things were out in Bakersfield! He was more than surprised to learn Casper hailed from Helotes. Casper also fell in with a band of Mississippians relocated to Austin known as The Howlers that included Omar Dykes (later leader of Omar & The Howlers) and producer and songwriter R.S. Field, earning himself a nickname that became his professional first name in the process.

“I nicknamed everybody back then,” says Field, “and so I named him Casper because of the irony of his sweet disposition and his intense, electrified guitar style.”

Rawls played with Mississippi transplants Webb Wilder, Suzy Elkins and Gerry “Phareaux” Felton in an Austin group called The Eveready Brothers, and then further honed his chops playing with the house band at a country dance hall called The Short Line Station in McAllen Texas, opening for Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Asleep at the Wheel and many others, and backing singers like Johnny Rodriguez (a sensation on the order of Elvis in South Texas), Johnny Paycheck, Moe Bandy and Mel Street. He also met and spent time with another guitar hero — Roy Nichols of Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers. “He let me use his amp during the show and play his guitar during sound check, one of the first Fender Telecasters I ever played,” says Rawls, who up until then was known for his black Gibson Les Paul.

Though Rawls was playing constantly, he had really never considered making his living with the guitar. “I thought it as just a part time thing,” he recalls. “For me it was just fun. I didn’t think about it as a career. Make a living at this? What a concept!”

One way he did make his living then was going on tour with superstar bands like Styx, Kansas, Heart and Supertramp as a sound tech and rigger. “It was great,” he says of those days. “It was lot of hard work, but also a really eye-opening experience to learn about the music business on that level —those bands were selling out arenas and places like Madison Square Garden for a week.”

In between tours he spent some time in Mississippi with his friends who had returned there, playing in a band called The Drapes with Wilder and Suzy Elkins. It was there that he was first introduced to the Parsons/White B-Bender — invented by Gene Parsons and Clarence White (another major Rawls influence) of The Byrds — that has become another trademark of his style.

Soon Parsons would become a fan of Rawls. “Casper Rawls is, first off, one of the greatest people you’ll ever be fortunate enough to meet, and a guitar player whose playing reminds me of the few great classic country-rock guitarists that I am fondest of, with the addition of Casper’s own wonderful and unique touch,” says Parsons.

When The Drapes disbanded, Rawls returned to the road with Supertramp, and played with the group and their musical friends at an end of tour party in Los Angeles. “After I played, everybody came over and said: “Didn’t know you could play guitar. That was fantastic.” Then Roger Hodgson, Supertramp’s singer, came over to me, and shook my hand and said: “Look, I know you’ve been out working on the crew for us on this tour, but I don’t ever want to see you out here again. Basically, you’re fired. You take that guitar and you go play music for the rest of your life.” “ And that’s what I did.”

And on returning to Texas, Rawls was soon asked to join the LeRoi Brothers, and for 25 years was a member of the legendary Texas roots-rock combo through recordings and tours of North American and overseas.

Around that time he was asked by Gene Parsons and Fender Guitars to demonstrate the new production model Telecaster with a factory-installed B-Bender at the annual NAMM show in Nashville, playing guitar at Fender’s display booth throughout the event. “I looked up at one point, and there’s James Burton listening to me play,” Rawls recalls. “Holy cow! Where’s the neck here? Oh yeah. There’s six strings on here? Oh wow…. Throughout the rest of the weekend I would look up and there he would be.”

“At the end of the show he came over and said, Hey man, I really dig your picking, we have to stay in touch. He gave me his card with all his numbers. And I was like, wow, what super a nice guy, what a cool honor, I got to meet James Burton and talk with him. When I got home I put the card in my drawer,” Rawls says with the usual modesty. “About three weeks later I get a call. On the caller ID it says: James Burton. Oh my God. And he says: “Hey Casper, what’re you doing? How come you didn’t call me? I said, man, I just thought you were being polite. I didn’t know you really meant it. He said, yeah, I really like your picking, I want to do something with you.”

Burton has since taken Rawls under his wing as both a friend and protégé. “It’s such a privilege to be able to meet one of my childhood heroes and then later become friends, and then later be able to call him up and bring him down to Austin for sessions. And to be able to go up to his place in Shreveport and hang out with him for a week when he does his guitar festival and help him with whatever needs doing, and play guitar with him and just learn.”

In 1995 Rawls began playing with Toni Price for a nine-year stretch at her weekly Hippie Hour show at Austin’s Continental Club that beacame a local musical phenomenon profiled on NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” The Price gig also brought him back to the acoustic guitar and helped him develop and hone his skills on it beside his formidable electric guitar talents. He also was a central player on all of Price’s albums, played and sang on a song he wrote that she included on one, and invited Burton to Austin to record with Price on her Midnight Pumpkin and Born to be Blue CDs.

And for many years now, Rawls has been the guitar player of choice for recordings by (as well as gigs when his busy schedule permits) for artists on the Austin scene within a variety of genres. His mastery of twang guitar and country picking has been employed by such acts as The Derailers, Heybale!, The Hollisters, The Geezinslaw Brothers and many others on the Austin and Texas country scene. At the same time, blues acts like Marcia Ball, Doyle Bramhall, Angela Strehli and Miss Lavelle White have also enjoyed his six-string contributions on the recordings. Rawls has played with surf guitar guru Teisco Del Rey and was a featured artist on the album Big Guitars From Texas, Volume 2. He is also a featured player on the country compilations Rig Rock Deluxe and Austin Country Nights.

“Casper Rawls is one of those rare and wonderful guitarists who only plays the notes that matter, and makes every one of those notes count in a way that hits you with sweet bliss as a listener,” says veteran Austin-based music journalist Rob Patterson. “It’s always a joy to hear Casper play guitar.”

And he has continued to win the favor and friendship of some of the finest guitar talents whose work so influenced him. Rawls and drummer Tom Lewis founded the annual Buck Owens Birthday Bash at Austin’s Continental Club, and in its fourth year, Owens himself showed up for the tribute and became a fan of Casper’s playing. Rawls later spent time in Bakersfield playing at Owens’ Crystal Palace club and time with Owens trading licks as well as guitar love and lore. The event also inspired a tribute CD that Rawls compiled and co-produced with Grammy Award winning drummer, David Sanger, “Happy Birthday Buck”, which featured a number of top Austin artists as well as Rodney Crowell, Albert Lee, Herb Pederson, Jim Lauderdale and Buck Owens himself.

Rawls has also produced albums by The Hollisters, Two Hoots and a Holler and The Lucky Tomblin Band, written songs that have appeared on albums by Price, The LeRois, Trent Summar and The Beat Tornadoes, and continued to record with Webb Wilder over the years. Now relocated home to Helotes, he can be heard playing live with a variety of acts around Austin and San Antonio many nights a week. And as a further sign of the esteem he enjoys from Austin musicians and music fans, he now hosts his weekly Planet Casper musical gatherings at The Continental Club every Thursday evening.

Of course, after all that, the best way to know Casper Rawls is to listen to him play. “Casper is one of my favorite guitar players and perhaps the greatest guy in the world,” says R.S. Field (known for his production work with Billy Joe Shaver, Webb Wilder and Sonny Landreth). Anyone else who knows Rawls and his playing would heartily agree to the greatness of this kind and self-effacing man whose guitar playing speaks for him with that true and rare six-string brilliance.

--Rob Patterson, 2008

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