David Bromberg was born in Philadelphia, came up in Tarrytown, NY, and initially taught himself to play the guitar, much to his father’s disapproval of a musician’s life, for personal reasons that Bromberg did not learn until his father was dying. In addition, he became proficient on the fiddle and many styles of the guitar. He got into the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s while attending Columbia, and refined his guitar technique with Reverend Gary Davis, a blues and gospel singer. Bromberg not only learned how to play blues guitar from him, but also learned about the style of phrasing from the gospel church, telling stories and captivating an audience while shaping music in time, a practice he would take in his live concerts.
As Bromberg assembled his band, he collaborated with many other artists. George Harrison co-wrote “The Hold-Up” on Bromberg’s first album, a jaunty folk song with trumpets about a robbery. When hearing his music, it’s listening to lengthy stories while being amazed by the talent that Bromberg surrounds himself with. The 1970s were a glorious time for music, where musicians collaborated closely with one another, crossing genres, and supporting each other in a drive to entertain audiences and have fun with playing music. Vince Gill, interviewed as he recorded a duet for Bromberg’s 2011 album Use Me, said of him “A Jewish man from the Northeast playing bluegrass would be a stretch, so to speak, but I learned that it wasn’t.” These are artists who are true to what they do, and it is more satisfying to hear that than artists who claim to be about the music, but are more attracted to celebrity or excessive rock star lives.
In 1980, after ten years of touring and recording albums, Bromberg was burnt out. Because he loved music so much, he wanted to preserve his sanity and stay focused at home. In an interview from that time, he said “Nobody ever holds a gun to your head and says ‘Go on the road.’ And I’d get to the point where I’d go, ‘Oh God, I hate it out here, I’m going crazy, this is awful.’” It was a healthy decision for Bromberg to leave, and he and his wife, singer/artist Nancy Josephson, raised their family in Wilmington, DE.
In 2002, Bromberg and Josephson opened a violin sales and repair shop, and it’s here where Bromberg’s expansive love for music is further developed and cherished. It is really wonderful to see Bromberg speak so knowledgably about the craft and history of violins, and beaming as he watches a customer play them beautifully. Bromberg owns the largest American violin collection in the world, and the shop is clearly is his safe place in the world. He says of it “I love my shop. I get up in the morning, go down to the shop, day after day. And the grind is difficult. And when I was touring, the grind was difficult.” It’s a good kind of grind, less taxing than when he toured for many years with little breaks. The shop is his other life, separate from his music career.
Bromberg has worked to revitalize Wilmington’s urban economic growth through the arts, being considered the “cultural ambassador.” According to city officials, he has been a major component to bring Wilmington back to its former glory. He and Josephson donated funds to rebuild the Queen Theatre, creating a beautiful space for the cultural arts, and he has made a performing comeback with friends like Dr. John and the late Levon Helm. He also performs regularly at the New World Café at the Queen Theater, in a weekly jam session with many other local musicians, continuing his tradition of simply enjoying music as a collaborative community.
David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure is a wonderful little film about how much fun music can be. I personally enjoyed it because my father is a major music aficionado, particularly 1970s rock bands who blended genres and worked together a lot, without too much ego getting in the way, and his record collection is of many well-known and obscure rock bands whose music had a richness and creativity that is hard to find today, but well worth it when you do.