Multi-instrumentalist extraordinarie David Bromberg burst into my consciousness the first time needle hit vinyl on the 1975 album Midnight on the Water. Here was a guy who had been on the road as the guitar player for Jerry Jeff Walker, produced John Hartford’s seminal Aereo Plane album, and played with artists from Bob Dylan to George Harrison. But my real introduction came as he put out one amazing album after another in the early-to-mid-1970s. His musicianship and ability to play multiple styles, all while singing quirky lyrics with the straightest of faces and most distinctive of voices, hooked me from the beginning. We’ll take a look at his music and legacy in today’s Saturday Soundtrack.
Many people first heard Bromberg with Jerry Jeff Walker in his Mr. Bojangles heyday. Decades later, Bromberg has played the song thousands of times, and still makes the music — and his monologue in the middle at the 2:50 mark about Jerry Jeff’s “not-quite a research project” visit to the drunk tank — seem fresh.
From early in his career, this video is of Bromberg performing Yankee’s Revenge — a medley of Irish fiddle tunes from the Midnight on the Water album — at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ. Here you can see him as the young guitar slinger at the peak of his talents, flatpicking fiddle tunes and then setting down the guitar to join in on the triple-fiddle ending. This medley originally made me want to hear more from Bromberg, and this video from the era is a wonderful find.
The demands of touring led Bromberg to leave the road in the early 1980s and take time off to study violin making, opening his own violin shop in Wilmington, Delaware. During that time he became one of the most respected experts anywhere on pre-1950 American violins and he and his wife became the owners of a stunning collection of historical violins.
The twenty-two year performing drought ended in 2006 with the release of the Grammy-nominated solo effort Try Me One More Time. The title tune features Bromberg playing acoustic slide on his beautiful signature Martin guitar. That signature guitar is also featured on my favorite song on the album, the cover of Bob Dylan’s It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.
Bromberg has always had an affinity for the blues, and 2017’s The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing But the Blues — with one of the great album covers of all time — upheld Texas fiddler Johnny Gimbel’s claim that:
“‘There are only two songs — the Star-Spangled Banner and the Blues.’ The band skipped over the ‘Banner’ and headed straight for the blues, winning the 2017 Downbeat Critic’s Poll for Best Blues Album.“
Here’s a wonderful version of Dr. John’s classic How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come ‘Round? from the Whole Blues album.
Now you say you never met my wife, you ain’t never seen her befo’
Say you ain’t been hangin’ roun’ my crib;
well here’s somethin’ I wanna know…
I wanna know what in the worl’ is goin’ down
How come my dog don’t bark when you come around?
I featured a couple of David’s drinking tunes on the New Year’s Eve Soundtrack: Songs for Jack, Jim, and all of their friends. Drink is a subject that returns frequently in his sets, such as in this concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ, where he performs Sloppy Drunk.
We will end this celebration of the music of David Bromberg with another favorite, I’ll Take You Back. As in…
“I’ll take you back…
When water ain’t wet / And Congress pays off the national debt.
When James Brown ain’t funky / And King Kong ain’t a monkey!
When the preachers on TV / Start sending cash to me!!
I’ll take you back“
Pour yourself a bourbon and enjoy!
More to come…
Image: David Bromberg plays eTown with host Nick Forster (Credit: eTown)