Friday, June 17, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 17, 2005

He’s performed with Jerry Jeff Walker and John Prine, and recorded with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Doug Sahm, Phoebe Snow, members of the Grateful Dead and even Sha Na Na.

He had a respectable solo career of his own, combining all sorts of American roots styles — blues, bluegrass, first-generation rock — fronting a band that could play Dixieland jazz one moment, a cowboy lament the next followed by white-boy funk and then come right back at you with furious Irish fiddle reels.

And then, about 20 years ago, David Bromberg basically hung it up.

He stopped touring, gave up on recording. Turned his back on the rock ‘n’ roll, traveling troubadour game to study making violins. Bromberg now operates his own store in Wilmington, Del.

“I just got burned out on all that,” Bromberg said in a recent telephone interview from his violin shop. Talking about his lack of studio recordings since the ‘80s, Bromberg said, “I was spending so much time in windowless rooms, I kind of ODed on it.”

Or, as his Web site biography says, “... the days on the road for extended periods simply do not fit his primary interests as a father and businessman.”

But the good news is that he’s starting to feel a little bit of the old itch again and has been doing some touring. And the really good news is that he’ll be in Santa Fe Sunday night with his band for a show at the Lensic.

Bromberg, 59, is a Philadelphia native who began his musical career in the coffee houses of New York’s Greenwich Village when he was a student at Columbia University.

One of his first breaks was hooking up with a then-unknown New York singer-songwriter named Ron Crosby, who would transform himself into Jerry Jeff Walker. Bromberg toured with Walker and recorded on his first album Mr. Bojangles. (Though he’s pictured on the back cover holding a banjo, Bromberg actually played electric guitar on the album.)

After years on the folkie circuit, Bromberg got a recording contract with Columbia Records, releasing his first album David Bromberg in 1971, the highlight of which is the five-minute “Sammy’s Song,” a disturbing — and graphic — tale of a boy losing his virginity in a Spanish whore house. Bob Dylan played harmonica on the song.

Around that time Bromberg was playing guitar on Dylan’s albums Self Portrait and New Morning. It also was during this period that Bromberg was producer for one of the greatest acoustic country albums of all time — John Hartford’s Aereo-Plane.

Three other Columbia albums followed before Bromberg went on to smaller labels. He never became a “star,” but with some tunes became staples of hipper FM stations of the day.

Among these were “Sharon,” a funky tale of a carnival snake dancer; “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair,“ a Bessie Smith tune updated to name check Watergate Judge John Sirica; and Blind Willie McTell’s “Dyin’ Crapshooter Blues,” turned into a Dixieland stomper.

He sang in a voice distinctively his own, a just-this-side-of-comical nasal. He could bring belly laughs in some tunes like “Will Not Be Your Fool” or “Bullfrog Blues,” then break your heart with his version of “Mr. Blue.”

And his frequent touring kept his fandom alive. He played New Mexico several times in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, including a packed show with his band at the old Golden Inn. He played several times as a solo artist at Paolo Soleri shows in the early ‘80s.

He stopped touring and recording in the mid ‘80s, a period that was hard on many performers of his generation and particularly hard on those specializing in American roots music.

“I’d been studying violin making for a few years when I stopped touring,” Bromberg said. He graduated in 1984 from the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making in Chicago, where he’d moved in 1980.

Though he knows how to make a violin, Bromberg said he doesn’t pretend to be a master of that instrument. His main instrument is guitar, though he also plays dobro and mandolin.

“I bought and sold violins for a living,” he said. Traveling to Europe to look for violins and bows he said, was more fun than touring and recording.

Two years ago, he left Chicago for Delaware.

“My wife and I had had enough of Chicago winters,” he said. “We were looking for some place back east. My former road manager now works as associate director of the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. Wilmington has the right kind of climate and we were able to make a good deal on the shop.”

According to some published reports, the city of Wilmington sold old building that houses David Bromberg’s Fine Violins in the Market Street area for $1 in exchange for Bromberg helping to promote arts in the downtown area. There he buys, sells and repairs violins and bows.

After years of being off the road, once in Wilmington, Bromberg started regular blues and bluegrass jam sessions at a Wilmington club. “I discovered this 15-year-old kid — I guess he’s 17 now — who’s one of the most brilliant electric blues guitarists I’ve ever heard,” he said.

And he’s started touring again, and for the first time in a quarter century, with a band — horn section and all. Right before Santa Fe, Bromberg and his group are performing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Bromberg still hasn’t gone back to the “windowless room” to resume his recording career, though there's a “new” Bromberg CDs available at his Web site.

“I’m finding stuff from old concerts that people recorded surreptitiously,” he said. “We have one for sale, a concert in New York City.” This 1982 show is the first legal bootleg Bromberg is offering.

He says he has no plans to try to get a new record contract. “These days record companies are pretty much superfluous,” he said.

But he has started writing songs again. “I wrote me a song in a dream,” Bromberg said. “It’s called ‘Outside Man.’ It’s stone blues.”

Sounds like this “outside man” might be coming back in again.

Who: The David Bromberg Band
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 West San Francisco St.
How much: Tickets range from $39 to $27
Call: 505-988-1234 $27 Ticket Phone: (505) 988 -1234

Hear a lengthy set of David Bromberg music tonight on The Santa Fe Opry, 10 p.m. to midnight on KSFR, 90.7 FM. (The Bromberg set will start around 11 p.m.)

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