Roots are showing
David Bromberg bringing four decades of American music history to Paradise
“I never plan a set, ever,” said guitarist David Bromberg when asked for a hint as to what parts of his repertoire might fly off the fret board at the Paradise Performing Arts Center Sunday, Jan. 8. “I do whatever feels right. After I finish one tune it tells me what kind of energy I want to use for the next tune.”
Bromberg became a member of the musical fraternity of folk musicians that flourished in Greenwich Village clubs in New York City in the 1960s, and he has thrived as a skilled picker, proficient songwriter and engaging storyteller ever since. Joining him for the Paradise gig will be iconic blues and roots outfit Hot Tuna, and the collaboration between the two, both playing acoustically, is a natural one, explained Bromberg, talking by phone from his violin shop in Wilmington, Del.
“We’re both blues hounds,” Bromberg said of himself and Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Both are devoted scholars of American roots legends such as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and most of all the Rev. Gary Davis, to whom Bromberg was a student back in New York and whose work Kaukonen has frequently immortalized on record and on stage. With that shared blues lineage in mind, Bromberg said that, in addition to their own songs, their shared sets have in the past included tunes such as Walter Davis’ “Come Back Baby” and storytelling bluesman Doug McLeod’s “50 Dollar Wig.”
Both Bromberg and Hot Tuna are coming off album releases of new material in 2011. Bromberg took a novel approach for his latest project, Use Me, by asking some of his favorite musicians to write a song or choose a cover and then “use him” prominently in the recording of the song.
“I’m fiercely thankful,” Bromberg said about the collaborating musicians and the resulting album. “It was humbling. … It takes real balls to ask them to do this, but I must not have been too much of an asshole ’cause they agreed to do it. Some of them I had never met until we stepped into the studio, but they all knew how to use me and they all used me differently. I did a Mexican waltz with Los Lobos, blues with Keb’ Mo’, and a jam-band tune with Widespread Panic.”
Use Me also includes collaborations with Dr. John, John Hiatt, Linda Ronstadt and Vince Gill. Bromberg said that when Gill was a member of Pure Prairie League in the late ’70s, they were on the same touring circuit, and that he and Hiatt “used to do shows all the time.”
As for his work at David Bromberg Fine Violins, Bromberg said the shop came about after a period of burnout that he felt in the 1980s. “I didn’t just want to drag myself on stage and do an imitation of what I used to do,” he said. Living in Marin County at the time, he said that a local violin store was the most stimulating place in his life. A fiddler himself, he was fascinated with the craft.
“A good dealer or maker can look at a violin and he can tell who did it and when, by the chiseling, the varnish and the brush strokes,” he said. So he went to violin-making school, learned the ropes and opened his shop.
For their part, Kaukonen’s Hot Tuna (a split-off from Jefferson Airplane more than 40 years ago) released Steady as She Goes in 2011, the band’s first new record in 20 years. It includes a dozen tracks that are of a tamer variety than their 1970s ultra-amplified works, but still show a sharp propensity for innovative rock and blues.
When Bromberg and Kaukonen get together, things play out like old friends sitting around the living room, playing without a script and having a lot of fun. And this weekend they’ll be opening their living room, stocked with a lifetime’s worth of acoustic folk, blues and roots music, to an appreciative Paradise audience.