The string king
I recently called David Bromberg Fine Violins, a retail violin shop on North Market Street in Wilmington, Md., and asked for the shop’s owner. Bromberg is the iconic and eclectic string master (guitar, Dobro, mandolin, banjo, fiddle) and singer whose colorful career includes performing with the likes of Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mississippi John Hurt, the Reverend Gary Davis, Chubby Checker, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt and members of the Grateful Dead.
“He’s with a customer,” an employee named Clint told me. “David says if you call back in 15 minutes that will be a perfect time.”
Fifteen minutes later I was on the phone with the man himself.
Bromberg is a graduate of the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making in Chicago, and we immediately got on the subject of the violin shop, which Bromberg has owned since moving with his family to Wilmington in 2002.
“I don’t make the violins,” Bromberg clarified in his calm speaking voice. “I have a very fine violin maker and a very fine bow maker. People bring me violins and I find out who made them, when and where. I buy and sell. My main job is [violin] identification. I sit in my office and, when I’m not doing paperwork, which I hate, I’m studying violins, which I enjoy.
“The main thing I like is the jam sessions,” Bromberg told me, referring to the twice-a-week jams that he leads at a local cafà at the request of the city of Wilmington in a move to revitalize the arts community. “I thought that it would be something that I would endure, and I love it.”
We got on the subject of Bromberg’s six-stop California tour—Bromberg is very choosy about the gigs he plays these days, having gotten so burned out on heavy touring.
“I thought it was over,” he said, “that I wasn’t supposed to be a musician any more.”
After realizing that it was just the exhausting and family-depriving nature of touring that was getting to him, Bromberg now sticks to the rule of “Do it enough to stay sharp and enjoy it.”
Bromberg brings a quartet of players to the Big Room , two of whom go back 30 years with him: fiddler Jeff Wisor and electric bass player Butch Amiot. Bromberg will play guitar, mandolin and fiddle, but everyone except the bass player will switch around on the instruments. Mitch Corbin will play mandolin, replacing long-time Bromberg associate Dick Fiji who died recently. Bromberg explained: “And that’s the only way out of the band!”
Bromberg’s long-time friend, and road and business manager, Stephen Bailey, enthusiastically described the quartet, saying, “To say that it’s tight is an understatement. They are shit hot!”