Even David Bromberg doesn’t know what songs he will or won’t be playing at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Saturday, June 21.
A spontaneous, “instinctive” musician, Bromberg said he never has a concrete plan in advance of a performance.
“I know how I’ll begin, that’s all. Then, depending on my own flow, and the way the audience responds, I’ll know where to go next,” he told NJJN in a phone interview.
Bromberg said the seven members of his Big Band have known him so long and worked with him so often that they’re sure to function together without a hitch.
And it’s not because he specializes in a limited number of offerings. On the contrary, Bromberg, a traditional American music maker sometimes called “the godfather of Americana,” boasts a wide repertoire, ranging from blues to rock to folk. The day after the Red Bank appearance, he’ll be playing at the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, where he’ll participate in a tribute to Pete Seeger, the legendary folksinger who died in January.
“As a kid, I listened to rock ’n’ roll and whatever else was on the radio,” said 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.”
Today, Bromberg said, his music encompasses bluegrass, ragtime, country, and ethnic music, and his Big Band features not only guitars, mandolins, a bass and drums, but a violin, trombone, trumpet and reed instruments as well.
Now in his late 60s, the artist has been strumming a guitar (or mandolin) for more than 50 years. He comes from a fairly illustrious family of Jewish performers and activists. A grandmother was a star of the Yiddish theater. His grandfather Baruch Charney Vladeck was a union organizer and general manager of the Jewish Daily Forward. David’s brother Charney was a civil rights activist and onetime executive director of Meretz USA, a precursor to the organization Partners for Progressive Israel.
While enrolled at Columbia University as a musicology major, he explored the Greenwich Village folk scene, initially playing “basket houses” for tips, then graduating to backup musician for Tom Paxton, Jerry Jeff Walker (who wrote “Mr. Bojangles”), and others. Walker has praised Bromberg as being “the reason man created stringed instruments.”
In 1970, a successful solo spot for 600,000 concertgoers at the Isle of Wight Festival in Great Britain led to a solo deal with Columbia Records. Bromberg’s debut album included “The Holdup,” a song he cowrote with former Beatle George Harrison, who also played slide guitar on the track. Bromberg also met the Grateful Dead and wound up with four of their members playing on his next two albums. Andy Statman, who is often credited with inspiring the revival of klezmer music in America, has also played with Bromberg.
Bromberg, in turn, has appeared on records with such luminaries as Bob Dylan (New Morning, Self Portrait, Dylan), Link Wray, The Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon. His own popular songs include “The Holdup,” “Sharon,” which was sampled by the Beastie Boys on their hit “Johnny Ryall,” and “You’ve Got to Suffer If You Want to Sing the Blues.”