David Bromberg is a guitar and fiddle player who has graced hundreds of fine recordings in his career of fifty years or so. He has worked with an amazing array of top-line artists, including Dion, Doug Sahm, Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, Richie Havens, Tom Rush, Joan Baez, Link Wray, The Beastie Boys, Pearls Before Swine, Al Kooper, Tom Paxton, Rick Derringer, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, The Eagles, The Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow, Gordon Lightfoot, Carly Simon and scores of others. After a long hiatus (1980-2002), in which he opened up his own violin manufacturing business in Wilmington, Delaware, he has, in recent years, returned to the world of recording and performing.
Bromberg was born in September 1945 in Philadelphia but was raised in Tarrytown, New York. He took up the guitar aged 13 after a bout of measles and began picking up on the sounds of old Folk and Blues recordings. Whilst attending Columbia University in New York in the sixties, he became attracted to the vibrant musical scene of Greenwich Village, the productive crucible that threw to the fore an amazing array of talents – from Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens and so many others.
He was lucky enough to meet one of his guitar-playing heroes, the Reverend Gary Davis, in Greenwich Village and in his own words, Bromberg became Davis’ ‘Seeing-Eye Dog’: “I used to lead him to places where he was doing concerts and more frequently, to church. I walked him to church to preach. I’m not Christian, but that didn’t matter to the reverend, and it didn’t matter to me!” The Reverend showed him the finger picking style but Bromberg’s appreciation of music didn’t end with the Blues. He loved Bluegrass and Folk tunes, rock and roll – he covered all the bases and more.
Bromberg managed to secure his own record deal with Columbia following an appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 as an accompanist for a singer named Rosalie Sorrels. They followed Kris Kristofferson who’d had a tough time with the audience but Bromberg sang one of his own songs and the crowd liked it so the promoters asked him to come back on later and do some more. He played for an hour and got two or three encores. It went down well.
The deal with Columbia yielded four albums in the period 1972 – 1975, namely David Bromberg (1972), Demon In Disguise (1972), Wanted Dead or Alive (1974) and Midnight on the Water (1975) and this month we bring you The Player: A Retrospective, a selection of choice items from all four of them, offering a superb introduction to this talented and engaging artist.
Highlights include ‘Sharon’, from the second album, Demon in Disguise, where Bromberg is backed by three members of The Grateful Dead, namely Jerry Garcia (electric guitar, vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums) and Keith Godchaux (piano). ‘The Holdup’ is a witty co-write with George Harrison, no less. Although the song was actually recorded live, Harrison overdubbed his distinctive trademark slide guitar in an old church that was converted into a recording studio later, and this version is known as the ‘Harrison Version’ as a result. And the very sad, and lyrically very frank ballad, ‘Sammy’s Song’, which shows what a masterful composer Bromberg can be in his own right – he even roped in his old friend Bob Dylan to add plaintive, melancholy harmonica for added texture.
David Bromberg has made a successful return to the world of recorded music, a man with a whole lot to offer, and he has this to say about his career “I don’t know how I got so lucky but there is no question in my mind that I’ve been very lucky. I guess I was in the right place at the right time a few times. You know, when you stop playing for twenty-two years, you can lose a little fluidity, so I lost some of that but I gained some other things which I treasure. So I can’t completely complain.”
With thanks to Alan Robinson