Three long-awaited words: David Bromberg’s back!
Roots music fans around the world will rejoice in the release of “Try Me One More Time,” the first new CD in almost two decades by guitarist/vocalist David Bromberg, a master practitioner of folk, blues, bluegrass and other musical genres. This new recording is undiluted David: one man, one acoustic guitar, and a repertoire of mostly traditional material performed with the intimate, assured touch of a musician who has nothing to prove.
Originally a “must-have” session man for everyone from Bob Dylan to Jay & the Americans and subsequently a hard-touring bandleader and recording artist with an enthusiastic following, Bromberg gradually phased himself out of the continual record-tour-record cycle starting in 1980. “I got burned out, but I didn’t know it was burn-out,” he reflects. “I thought I wasn’t a musician anymore. I wasn’t writing or practicing. And I didn’t want to be one of those musicians who ends up ‘phoning it in.’ Music was too important to me to treat it that way.”
So he switched his focus from performing to studying, moving to Chicago in 1980 to attend and graduate from the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making. Based in the Windy City until 2002, when he relocated to Wilmington, Del., to open a violin store, Bromberg has continued to tour periodically, but has mostly stayed away from recording studios, with 1990’s “Sideman Serenade” his last album until now.
On “Try Me One More Time,” Bromberg harkens back to the acoustic folk and blues music of his early days on the mid-’60s Greenwich Village folk scene, a period when he guided the blind gospel-blues singer Reverend Gary Davis to concerts and churches in exchange for guitar lessons. Bromberg performs two of “the Rev’s” compositions on his new CD – “I Belong to the Band” and “Trying to Get Home” – as well as songs written by Robert Johnson (“Kind Hearted Woman”), Elizabeth Cotten (“Shake Sugaree”), Tommy Johnson (“Big Road”), Blind Willie McTell (“Love Changing Blues”), sometime Bromberg employer Bob Dylan (“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”), and songs from the traditional realm, including two exquisitely rendered instrumentals (“Buck Dancer’s Choice,” “Hey Bub”). The title track is Bromberg’s first recording of a song he wrote more than 30 years ago.
In liner notes as conversational as his distinctive, low-key vocals, Bromberg maintains that “Try Me One More Time” is the first record he’s made where he “wasn’t trying to impress anybody . . . I’m just doing the tunes.” Nonetheless, the outcome can’t fail to delight listeners who appreciate an understated virtuoso playing and singing the music he loves.
David Bromberg’s new CD on Appleseed Recordings is one of the major releases scheduled by the independent, idealistic record label to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2007.
ABOUT DAVID BROMBERG:
He’s played with everyone, he’s toured everywhere, he can lead a raucous big band or hold an audience silent with a solo acoustic blues. Here’s the story of David Bromberg, or at least some of it . . .
Born in Philadelphia in 1945 and raised in Tarrytown, NY, “as a kid I listened to rock ’n’ roll and whatever else was on the radio,” says Bromberg. “I discovered Pete Seeger and The Weavers and, through them, Reverend Gary Davis. I then discovered Big Bill Broonzy, who led me to Muddy Waters and the Chicago blues. This was more or less the same time I discovered Flatt and Scruggs, which led to Bill Monroe and Doc Watson.”
Bromberg began studying guitar-playing when he was 13 and eventually enrolled in Columbia University as a musicology major. The call of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the mid-’60s drew David to the downtown clubs and coffeehouses, where he could watch and learn from the best performers, including primary sources such as his inspiration and teacher, the Reverend Gary Davis.
Bromberg’s sensitive and versatile approach to guitar-playing earned him jobs playing the Village “basket houses” for tips, the occasional paying gig, and lots of employment as a backing musician for Tom Paxton, Jerry Jeff Walker and Rosalie Sorrels, among others. He became a first-call, “hired gun” guitarist for recording sessions, ultimately playing on hundreds of records by artists including Bob Dylan (“New Morning,” “Self Portrait,” “Dylan”), Link Wray, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon.
An unexpected and wildly successful solo spot at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival in Great Britain led to a solo deal with Columbia Records, for whom David recorded four albums. His eponymous 1971 debut not only included the mock-anguished “Suffer to Sing the Blues,” a Bromberg original that became an FM radio staple, but also “The Holdup,” a songwriting collaboration with former Beatle George Harrison, whom he met at his manager’s Thanksgiving dinner festivities. Harrison also played slide guitar on the track. Through Bromberg’s manager, Al Aronowitz, David also met the Grateful Dead and wound up with four of their members, including Jerry Garcia, playing on his next two albums.
Bromberg’s range of material, based in the folk and blues idioms, continually expanded with each new album to encompass bluegrass, ragtime, country and ethnic music, and his touring band grew apace. By the mid-’70s, the David Bromberg Big Band included horn-players, a violinist, and several multi-instrumentalists, including David himself. Among the best-known Bromberg Band graduates: mandolinist Andy Statman, later a major figure in the Klezmer music movement in America, and fiddler Jay Ungar (who wrote the memorable “Ashokan Farewell” for Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, “The Civil War”).
Despite jubilant, loose-limbed concerts and a string of acclaimed albums on the Fantasy label, Bromberg found himself exhausted by the logistics of the music business. “I decided to change the direction of my life,” he explains. So David dissolved his band in 1980, and he and his artist/musician wife, Nancy Josephson, moved from Northern California to Chicago, where David attended the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making. Though he still toured periodically, the recordings slowed to a trickle and then stopped.
After “too many Chicago winters,” in 2002 David and Nancy were lured to Wilmington, Del., where they became part of the city’s artist-in-residence program and where David could establish David Bromberg Fine Violins, a retail store and repair shop for high quality instruments. Frequent participation in the city’s weekly jam sessions helped rekindle Bromberg’s desire to make music again, as did the encouragement of fellow musicians Chris Hillman (The Byrds, Desert Rose Band, Flying Burrito Brothers) and bluegrass wizard Herb Pedersen, and David’s manager, Steve Bailey. The jams also led to the formation of Angel Band, fronted by Nancy and two other female vocalists, with David serving as an accompanist.
With the release of “Try Me One More Time,” David continues his musical revitalization, playing shows on his own, backed by (and supporting) Angel Band, his own David Bromberg Quartet, and reunions of the David Bromberg Big Band, the configuration depending on the circumstance. Listen for that joyful noise – David Bromberg’s back!