For Americana godfather David Bromberg, it all began with the blues. His incredible journey spans five-and-a-half decades, and includes – but is not limited to – adventures with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jerry Garcia, and music and life lessons from seminal blues guitarist Reverend Gary Davis, who claimed the young Bromberg as a son. Defined as “the reason man created stringed instruments” by Jerry Jeff Walker, Bromberg’s mastery of several stringed instruments (guitar, fiddle, Dobro, mandolin), and multiple styles is legendary, leading Dr. John to declare him an American icon. In producing John Hartford’s hugely influential Aereo-Plain LP, Bromberg even co-invented a genre: Newgrass. Add in a period of self-imposed exile from his passion (1980-2002), during which he became a renowned violin expert, and Wilmington, Delaware’s cultural ambassador; top that off with a triumphant return to music-making, and you have an amazing tale leading back to one place: the blues.
Now, with The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing But the Blues, his first release for Red House Records, Bromberg and multi-GRAMMY-winning producer/accompanist Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Paul Simon) focus on the music David discovered in high school, when, circa late 50s, he was introduced to a friend’s dad’s collection of blues 78s. He’d only just taken up guitar as a means to pass the time while in bed with the measles. “I loved those 78s so much,” says David, “I taped them on a portable reel-to-reel, so I could listen at home and learn.” That love is evident in The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues. The album is both blues primer and an opportunity to witness a master embracing this distinctly American music with passion and grace.
Bromberg’s guitar work remains a marvel; amped electric lead – both slide and fretted – and delicately powerful acoustic fingerpicking propel these songs with the same force that made him the go-to guy for acts ranging from the Eagles to Link Wray to Phoebe Snow. This is a man who can go full-on Chicago gutbucket with “You Don’t Have to Go” (a Bromberg original), then slay with the jazz inflections of Ray Charles’ “A Fool for You,” rendered here intimately solo. Although Bromberg points out he’s not the same guitarist he was before his two decades away from performing and recording. “I play differently,” he says. “I can’t play as fast, but playing slower gives me more time to think about what I’m doing.”
“He’s always able to plug into the emotion of a song,” Larry Campbell says. “He’s incredibly inventive as a player. Sometimes restrictions can be good.”