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MUSIC : A Good Sense of Timing : Drummer Tony Braunagel beat his own path to R&B success after leaving chiropractic college.

June 09, 1995|DAVID S. BARRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; David S. Barry writes regularly for The Times

UNIVERSAL CITY — When Houston-born drummer Tony Braunagel left chiropractic college in 1970 to work with a band on the Southern rhythm-and-blues circuit, his parents were desolated.

Twenty years later, Albert and Jody Braunagel watched their son Tony on national TV, playing with blues singer Bonnie Raitt at the 1990 Grammy Awards show. Raitt's album "Nick of Time," featuring Braunagel on drums, swept the awards, and it was clear he'd made the right move.

Today Braunagel, 46, of Studio City, enjoys both the rewards of doing Los Angeles studio work and playing at B. B. King's in Universal City and the House of Blues in Hollywood.

He traces his passion for blues to a cousin who baby-sat him in his preschool years. "She'd play stations KCOH and KYOK, and I remember hearing deejays named Dizzy Lizzie and Sister Lou play Jimmy Reed and Etta James."

He took up the drums on his own. "Later on, in junior high, I was listening to guys like Little Willie John, Lloyd Price, Ray Charles and Bobby Bland," Braunagel says, "and I began working out a style on the drums from what I heard on records."

While still in high school, Braunagel played with bands in local clubs for audiences that were sometimes black, sometimes mixed. Then he enrolled in chiropractic college and worked at night with a 10-piece soul band.

"One night the band leader said to me, 'You're not doin' too bad for a part-time musician. You oughta think about turning full-time.' " Braunagel has been full-time ever since.

"I went on the road in 1970 and '71," he says, "playing places like Galveston, Jackson, Atlanta, Shreveport, and really digging the whole adventure."

Road work included playing with childhood legends Jimmy Reed, Lightning Hopkins and John Lee Hooker--experiences Braunagel describes as being "like jewels in your life."

In 1973, Braunagel moved to London for a job as a studio drummer for Island Records, recording and touring Europe and the Middle East. Five years later, he moved to Los Angeles and worked on the road with Rickie Lee Jones, then went on tour with Bette Midler.

"Bette Midler's show was tremendously tight every night," Braunagel says, "with a high degree of organization. Rickie Lee Jones encourages way-out, spontaneous playing, and her show was just the opposite. Between those two extremes, I really honed some skills down."

Braunagel then joined Raitt's band for a seven-year stint of touring, which included the recording of two Raitt albums. In 1991, he decided to give up road work for a permanent address in Studio City. He left Raitt's band, got married and joined the local L.A. soul group Jack Mack and the Heart Attack.

He managed the transition from touring musician to session player, and recorded albums with Maria Muldaur, Otis Rush, Taj Mahal and Buddy Guy.

"Tony always plays the perfectly appropriate thing," says Maria Muldaur, best-known for her early '70s hit "Midnight at the Oasis." "And he does it perfectly. What he plays is simple as breathing, and funky to the bone. And his time is flawless."

On the Muldaur, Mahal and Buddy Guy albums, Braunagel was joined in the studio by horn player Marty Grebb of Malibu, a former member of Raitt's band.

"Music is kind of a spiritual thing for Tony," says Grebb, "of being with the other musicians, rather than trying to be a flash guy and impress people. He really listens to what everybody else is doing."

Braunagel has no complaints about his life and work.

"I really feel lucky in life to be able to play the drums every day," he says. "My wife Lisa is a songwriter with a writing contract, so she gets paid to write songs."

Braunagel spends limited time teaching selected drum students.

"I don't work on being incredibly fast or playing a lot of strokes. I work on making what I do complement everybody else's playing, and I try to teach my students the same approach."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Where and When

Who: Drummer Tony Braunagel with the Arthur Adams Band.

Location: B. B. King's Blues Club, Universal CityWalk, 100 Universal City Plaza.

Hours: 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday.

Price: $6 cover.

Call: (818) 622-5464.

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