Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Doyle Bramhall: 1949-2011

Musician, Stevie Ray collaborator helped establish Austin's reputation as a blues mecca

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Texas music lost a titan this weekend. Singer, songwriter and blues drummer Doyle Bramhall Sr. died early Sunday at his Alpine home of apparent natural causes. A crucial piece of the 1970s Austin blues scene, Bramhall was 62.

"He was just incredible," said friend and fellow blues scene veteran Mike Buck. "Great songwriter, great singer, great drummer, he kinda had it all."

A native of Dallas, Bramhall got his start with Jimmie Vaughan in the Chessmen, which became a popular Dallas act in 1960s.

After moving to Austin, Bramhall and peers such as the Vaughan brothers, Paul Ray and Denny Freeman helped establish Austin's reputation as a blues mecca.

Many know Bramhall best from his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The younger Vaughan played guitar in Bramhall's band the Nightcrawlers, while Bramhall wrote several songs Stevie Ray recorded, including "Dirty Pool," "The House is Rockin,'" "Looking Out the Window" and "Life by the Drop." Bramhall played the drums on the Vaughan Brothers first and only album, "Family Style."

"If you listen to Stevie singing, you can hear a lot of Doyle in there," Buck said.

Bramhall also released three albums under his own name. The first two, "Bird Nest on the Ground" (1994) and "Fitchburg Street" (2003), are made up largely of blues and soul covers. "Is It News" (2007) is filled with all-original material.

Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer recalled Bramhall's drum kit was at the front of the stage when he played.

"I loved having him in the club," Wertheimer said. "There wasn't a nicer guy and he always had the best bands backing him up because he knew everybody and everybody wanted to play with him. I can't believe I'm not going to see him on that stage anymore."

Bramhall struggled with drugs and alcohol before getting clean in the 1980s.

"He was one of the first of those guys to get his life together and he helped a lot of people out, including Stevie," Buck said.

"Doyle was an inspiration to musicians, and others, struggling with addiction because he lived by example," said Continental Club publicist Dianne Scott. "He was open to talking about, and writing about, his recovery process and the challenges of being clean and sober in the music business.

"He was also one of the gentlest, kindest, most genuine men I've ever known," Scott said.

Bramhall is survived by his wife, Barbara Logan, his son, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, and daughter, Georgia Bramhall, who owns Honeycomb Hair Boutique in Austin. Information about memorial services to be held at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home at 3125 N. Lamar Blvd. is pending.

jgross@statesman.com; 912-5926