The story behind Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Life by the Drop’

Doyle Bramhall via youtube
Doyle Bramhall via youtube

The July issue of Texas Monthly tells “the secrets behind your favorite Texas songs.” The issue highlights 25 songs by our state’s greatest musical artists: Freddie Fender, Augie Meyers, Willie Nelson, Cindy Walker, Selena.

And there’s one song, of course, that was recorded by Oak Cliff son Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Life by the Drop.” The Kimball High School dropout, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, recorded the song before his death in 1990, and it was released in 1991 on his posthumous album, “The Sky is Crying.”

But Vaughan didn’t write that song. It was written by another neighborhood kid, Doyle Bramhall, who was born and raised in West Dallas. Vaughan and Brahmhall were high school buddies who played in bands together in Dallas and Austin. And the song “Life by the Drop” is about his friendship with Vaughan.

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While Brahmhall, a drummer and singer, never achieved the same success as Vaughan, he did record an album with the Vaughan Brothers, “Family Style.” And he had two successful solo albums.

The first was “Bird Nest on the Ground,” which he released in 1994. Here’s how the Fort Worth Star-Telegram described his upbringing in a story that year:

Bramhall spent his early childhood in what was virtually a family neighborhood in west Dallas, a closely organized community of Bramhalls who worked for the most part at a nearby cement plant. So involved were Bramhall and his siblings in making music that formal lessons proved beside the point. Nor has Bramhall considered any career outside music.

In a story the following year, Brahmall told the Star-Telegram that his mom worked in a West Dallas grocery store, where many cultures mixed: “One one side of the store, Mexican music was playing; on the other, R&B; and in the meat market, country and western.”

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Bramhall died of natural causes in 2011, but those West Dallas Bramhalls are still making music. Bramhall’s son, Doyle Bramhall II, is a guitarist who records and tours with Eric Clapton and Roger Waters. He’s a prolific musician who collaborates with many musicians and has released three solo albums.

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  • Smokey

    Doyle spoke proudly of his “Cement City Roots”. Doyle was closer to Jimmie’s age but accepted Stevie as a contemporary and included Stevie in his Austin migration. Doyle had a great blues voice and conveyed his feelings well in his writing. He was very proud of his son’s accomplishments as well. Doyle Bramhall ll is an accomplished solo artist and most recognized as Eric Clapton’s wing man, hard to say lead guitar player where Clapton’s involved.
    Rachel thanks for bringing an otherwise back story to the forefront, where it belongs.