[10 July 2011]
Born in Philadelphia in 1945 and raised in Tarrytown, New York, “I listened to rock ‘n’ roll and whatever else was on the radio,” says David 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 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. (source: Cary Baker’s Conqueroo website).
The Grammy nominated Americana musicians’ musician, released his new CD, Use Me this month. John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Linda Ronstadt and others were happy to join in with him. This beloved collaborator talks with PopMatters 20 Questions about the many musical influences that have shaped him.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The latest book that made me cry was the booklet accompanying my federal income tax form. The best book that I’ve read in decades was Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. It’s out as a movie now, which I saw, but I liked the book much more.
I’m also reading a book at the moment called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It won a Pulitzer Prize and is very engrossing. I like it a lot.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Probably Ishmael from Moby Dick. He got himself into all kinds of trouble but survived.
3. The greatest album ever?
Pick any Ray Charles album, or almost any Beatles album. I’ll bet that a lot of people say Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited are in there.
Although I started out focused on instrumental music, I find that vocal music is my favorite. If I was on a desert island and had one of The Staple Singers early gospel records, I would be happy.
There’s an album called The Real Bahamas that has singing that is wonderful for the rhythmic syncopations as well as the harmonies if not the intonation of the singers. It also features Joseph Spence playing some extraordinary guitar on a couple of cuts. I should point out that it might be an acquired taste.
I also love a CD by The Bulgarian State Orchestra and Chorus that is amazing, but again, might be an acquired taste.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
5. Your ideal brain food?
I like to read. I’m pretty omnivorous. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the Founding Fathers in a few different books. I’m also interested in early religion. The Dead Sea Scrolls and their history are fascinating to me. On planes I read crime novels.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I played as a studio guitarist on a session with Tom Rush. He’d spent three hours and countless takes trying to get a particular song right. When I played it with him, the first take was it.
My part wasn’t on the LP, but Tom says, and I believe that he wouldn’t have gotten the performance he liked without me. I’m proud of the track even though I didn’t appear on it. I did my job; I brought the singer into the song.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
Professionally I’d like to be remembered as a good, sensitive, and powerful musician who never took himself too seriously. I’d like to be remembered as an accompanist as well as a band leader. I’d also like to be remembered as someone who was generous on stage.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I’ve been inspired by so many musicians: Ray Charles, Bill Monroe, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Jody Stecher, B.B. King, Albert King… I could go on for a long time.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I wish that I could have done Highway 61 Revisited. I wish that I could have been all of the Staple Singers at once.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I’m an Olympic class sleeper.
But seriously, I’ve been honing my expertise as an appraiser of old violins and bows. Really.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Phoebe Snow gave me some tips on singing that when I finally tried, worked well. I also took voice lessons from Jane Sharp, who helped me a great deal.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
The best thing that I ever bought was a guitar that my brother found for me. It was a ‘40s Martin 00-42 which I used on countless recording sessions. I loaned it to a friend and never got it back.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
If I had an Armani suit, I’m sure that there are times that I would feel great in it. At times when I feel not quite up to it, dressing snazzy has helped. Most of the time I feel better in jeans, though.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I’m often uncomfortable with strangers, so it’s hard for me to imagine a dinner with someone that I haven’t already met and feel comfortable with. To answer the question in the spirit that it was asked, however, I’d love to have dinner with Martin Luther King.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I’ve fantasized about being alive in the ‘30s and playing with all the great musicians of the time. I’d have the advantage of knowing a few styles and techniques that weren’t common then, and would love to be able to converse and play with the best guitar players and horn players of the day. Lonnie Johnson and Louis Armstrong would be the first two people I’d want to meet.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I’m not partial to any of the choices. I guess a spa vacation is the closest to my preferences. I’ve spent time in St. Thomas and treasure those times. No spa, though.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
I believe that coffee, chocolate and peanut butter are the three major food groups.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I’m definitely a city boy. I loved living in New York, and would love to live there again. You can never be bored in New York City. If you get close to being bored there, it’s your own fault.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I’m very proud of my country, and of the president. I’d like to encourage him to keep on keeping on.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?
Right now I’m organizing ideas for a tour behind my new CD, Use Me. It would be impossible to reproduce the tracks, exactly. I had a lot of very talented people who are much in demand write the songs, produce and perform on each track.