|He doesn't say much more, and he doesn't need to. Everyone in the joint knows he played with Bob Dylan and Chubby Checker and Ringo Starr and the Grateful Dead and countless others. And they know he led his own big band on a never-ending tour of colleges in the 1970s, whipping up a blistering mix of blues and bluegrass and everything in between.|
|Listen to David Bromberg on "Spanish Johnny" (©Paul Seibel)|
"I'm sorry," he says, shrugging. "Too many drugs." There were more than a few smoke-filled nights in those years when he and his band zigzagged the country, a traveling jukebox spitting out Chicago blues, Texas waltzes, country, Dixieland, rock and folk. Then there were his own tunes, often humorous meditations on carnival dancers, gamblers, cruel lovers, betrayal and revenge. Music critics liked to describe his appearance: gangly and whiskered, with long, thick hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Some flayed his often nasal, tremulous, straight-from-New York vocal style. "Wretched" was the way one put it. But no one questioned Bromberg's mastery as a musician. He could play guitar, fiddle, mandolin and dobro. Unlike folkies penning sensitive odes to love, Bromberg could perform virtually any genre of traditional American music. "It made him a highly valuable sideman, someone who was instant authenticity," says Anthony DeCurtis, a Rolling Stone contributing editor. "What set him apart was his skill." At the same time, DeCurtis says, Bromberg "didn't seem to need the success all that much. He was a player, he enjoyed it. But I don't think he needed to be a big star." Peter Ecklund, who played horns in his band, says Bromberg has always had a pronounced sense of mission, whether choosing an eclectic set list or deciding to sell violins: "He always knows what's right for him."
Then one day he heard a message on his answering machine (he says he was an early owner of the device), and the voice sounded distinctly like Bob Dylan, saying he'd be in touch. "I thought it was someone playing a joke," Bromberg says. It wasn't. In 1970, Dylan hired him as a session guitarist on "Self Portrait" and "New Morning." A year later, Dylan played harmonica on a track on Bromberg's debut record. By the late 1970s, Bromberg had cut more than half a dozen albums and kept up a nonstop tour schedule. Soon he tired of the grind. At 35, he found himself sinking into a deep depression. "I wasn't practicing, I wasn't writing, I wasn't playing," he says. "As far as I could see, I wasn't a musician anymore." So he went back to school -- to learn how to make violins, a decision he compares to "jumping off a diving board with a blindfold on." He reunited with his band here and there, but he focused on studying violins, and buying and selling them wholesale in Chicago, where he lived for more than two decades with his wife, Nancy Josephson, and their two kids.
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