For Texas musician Doyle Bramhall, the long road was filled with detours and battles with self-doubt. But finally, after nearly 14 years, he has reaped the rewards of his perseverance.
Begun basically as just a single 45-r.p.m. recording session in 1980 and eventually utilizing 27 different players, his long-awaited recording debut, "Bird Nest on the Ground," was finally released in February on Antone's Records.
"Taking so long was not something I did consciously," the 45-year-old Dallas native explained Tuesday from El Paso, Texas. "There were personal things I needed to deal with, money delays, frustration in not getting the sound I wanted, and . . . I was still working with other bands over the years. Unfortunately, (the delay) turned into somewhat of a joke."
But something kept bringing Bramhall back to the project.
"When I'm 50, I'd look back with regret if I didn't get the thing done," said Bramhall, who appears in concert Sunday about 3 p.m. at the Orange County Blues Festival in Dana Point. "Putting it out allowed me to move on with the rest of my life. I didn't want to cheat myself."
Blues fans didn't get cheated, either.
"Bird Nest" unleashes 11 strong cuts, including Bramhall's own "Change It" and "Other Side of Love" to songs by Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor and Johnny Nash.
Long recognized as a natural musical resource in Texas, Bramhall has played drums on the Vaughan Brothers' "Family Style" and ZuZu Bollin's "Texas Bluesman" releases. But Bramhall is better known for his contributions to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's songbook, having written or co-written songs on six of his albums.
"Stevie and I had a lot in common," Bramhall said. "We grew up in the same area and moved to Austin in the '70s. Every time we'd sit down to write songs, it was amazing--we were both thinking the same ideas and were on the same wavelength. . . .
"Some of it was very personal. We would talk about addictions and recoveries. But we weren't always real serious. We wrote fun songs, like 'The House Is Rockin.' "
With the loss of Vaughan in a 1990 helicopter crash, blues fans lost an innovative and respected guitarist. And while the sadness still lingers for Bramhall, he has fond memories of both his friendship and professional peer.
"Losing a dear friend is like . . . well, you never really get over it. I have great admiration for Stevie as a man and musician. Whatever he did, he did it 200%. He was totally focused, whether buying a pair of boots or jammin' on a song.
"We use to say to each other, 'Today is all we have.' He consistently lived like each day was his last--and that's something I take with me from Stevie. To be around him really touched me."
Now Bramhall has moved out from the shadows of others in forging his own creative path.
"For years, I was very comfortable being in the background," he said. "Leading a band takes a little getting used to, but now I'm doing more of what I've always wanted to do . . . It's very challenging, but at the same time, it's so exciting."