I want to ask you to stay tuned for our annual Bobfest in honor of Dylan’s birthday this coming Friday. As long as it’s not dark yet, we will continue to celebrate him. These notes on David Bromberg are something of a placeholder in advance of May 24.
There is of course a Dylan connection. Dylan is one of the many great artists with whom Bromberg has played and recorded over the years. He is 73 years old. He has put on a few pounds, but he remains a master of the blues (and more, as I mention below).
I only vaguely remembered Bromberg as the blues virtuoso I used to hear on the cool old KQRS back in the day. As I recall, the cool old KQ had Bromberg’s “I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning” (below) in regular rotation. Whatever happened to him?
He came through town this past week for two nights at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. I hadn’t even noticed that he was coming until my old Highland Park friend Tom Edelstein invited me to join him for this past Thursday night’s show. We sat off to the side of the stage. I shot the photo at right from our seat. The sound, by the way, was perfect.
I was deeply impressed by the show. The place was packed with rabid fans. Unlike me, they hadn’t lost track of Bromberg. They were thrilled by the opportunity to see him live at such a first-class venue. The gentleman sitting next to us had seen David in years past at a small town in rural Wisconsin and at the Cedar Cultural Center on the so-called West Bank in Minneapolis, now the heart of Little Mogadishu.
I was never a rabid fan. Less than rabid fans might well have lost track of David. Trying to retrace the steps of his career, I discovered that he took a long-term break from his performing career starting in 1980. Mark Deming’s Allmusic profile notes that “in 1980 Bromberg decided he was tired of the rigors of touring and took a sabbatical from the road, occasionally playing sessions for friends and staging occasional live shows but devoting most of his time to studying at the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making in Chicago.” According to the bio he has posted, his sabbatical amounted to “a period of self-imposed exile from his passion (1980-2002)[.]”
Some time in that period he opened David Bromberg’s Fine Violins in Wilmington, Delaware. It’s still going strong, as is his love of the instrument. He
sold unsuccessfully sought to sell his lovingly acquired collection of more than 250 violins to the Library of Congress in 2016. Jon Kalish told the story for NPR’s All Things Considered here.
What else? David has put together a fabulous band. The extended versions of the songs he plays live show off their talents. He opened Thursday night with Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues.” The live version below derives from a 2014 eTown episode.
One of the highlights of Thursday night’s show was “I’ll Take You Back.” The relatively condensed version below also derives from the 2014 eTown episode. He really kept it going Thursday night, both vocally and instrumentally. You can tell he loves singing this song. It was a delight all the way to the end.
David has kept the band on display in the eTown episode together for an unusually long time. It was the same one he had with him Thursday night.
David plays every form of blues music and makes each one beautiful in its own way. Yet he also adds bluegrass, country, rock and gospel to the mix. His show provides a living lesson in the Cosmic American Music. He’s on tour with the band. If you enjoy this kind of music, you won’t want to miss the chance to see him.
UPDATE: Let’s bring him back for an encore. Reader Geoff Mike recommends Bromberg’s beautiful live performance of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” (below).
CORRECTION: I rashly assumed that Bromberg had consummated the sale of his violin collection to the Library of Congress. Jon Kalish advises in the comments that agreement was not reached. I thank Mr. Kalish for the correction.