He’s played with everyone, and he’s toured everywhere. Now David Bromberg will grace the Grass Valley stage during a Center for the Arts performance Saturday. An eclectic Americana roots artist, Bromberg has been featured on more than 100 recordings with musicians like Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia.
Last year saw the release of Bromberg’s newest album, “Use Me,” featuring collaborations with friends, including John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Los Lobos, Tim O’Brien, Vince Gill, Widespread Panic, Dr. John, Keb’ Mo’ and Linda Ronstadt. After a 17-year hiatus from recording, Bromberg made a comeback in 2007 with his Grammy-nominated album “Try Me One More Time.” Since his return to the spotlight, Bromberg has performed selectively. Highlights include a 2011 performance for more than 10,000 people at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Bromberg is known for his quirky, humorous lyrics and the ability to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time. He never uses a set list for a concert.
“I plan the first tune, and it tells me what the second tune should be,” Bromberg said.
These days, he chooses music halls carefully to avoid burn out.
“I do gigs where I know I’m gonna enjoy ’em,” he said.
Bromberg was born in Philadelphia in 1945 and raised in Tarrytown, N.Y. His affinity for music began early on.
“As a kid, I listened to rock ‘n’ roll and whatever else was on the radio. I discovered Pete Seeger and The Weavers and, through them, Rev. 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 the guitar when he was 13 and eventually enrolled in Columbia University as a musicology major. He was drawn to the Greenwich Village folk scene in the mid-1960s, when he watched and learned from some of the best performers, including his inspiration and teacher, the Rev. Gary Davis.
His versatile approach to guitar playing earned him jobs playing the Village “basket houses” for tips, occasional paying gigs and 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 such as Bob Dylan, Link Wray, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson and Carly Simon.
A solo deal with Columbia Records resulted in the recording of four albums. His 1971 debut included “The Holdup,” a songwriting collaboration with former Beatle George Harrison. Harrison played slide guitar on the track.
Bromberg also befriended members of the Grateful Dead and recorded on two of Jerry Garcia’s albums.
Bromberg’s music is based in the folk and blues idioms and encompasses bluegrass, ragtime, country and ethnic music. He is proficient on fiddle, many styles of acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel guitar and dobro. Bromberg developed a unique blues style that prominently featured a brass section to create a sound that would later be coined “hillbilly jazz.”
“In those days, the record stores would have bins where they would classify the music. And they never had any idea where to put mine,” Bromberg said.
Bromberg’s seven-minute rendition of “Mr. Bojangles” from 1972 recording, “Demon in Disguise,” interspersed with tales about traveling with song author Jerry Jeff Walker, earned Bromberg progressive rock radio airplay.
Bromberg dissolved his David Bromberg Big Band in 1980 when he and his wife, Nancy, moved from Northern California to Chicago, where Bromberg attended the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making.
“I decided to change the direction of my life,” he explained.
Though he still toured periodically, recordings slowed to a trickle, then stopped. In 2002, after “too many Chicago winters,” Bromberg moved with his wife to Wilmington, Del., where Bromberg established his quality instrument retail and repair shop, David Bromberg Fine Violins.
He began participating in the city’s weekly jam session and his desire to make music was again rekindled. The jams led to the formation of Angel Band, fronted by Bromberg’s wife, Nancy. Since his 2007 Grammy-nominated release, “Try Me One More Time,” Bromberg has toured with Angel Band, his own David Bromberg Quartet and reunions of the David Bromberg Big Band.