By Mary Houlihan/For Sun-Times Media
Here are the three phases of David Bromberg’s career.
In the first, among many other high points, folk-blues singer Bromberg studied blues guitar with the Rev. Gary Davis, co-wrote a song with George Harrison, played fiddle on an Eagles album, performed with the Band at the Last Waltz and was backed by the Grateful Dead on his second album.
DAVID BROMBERG QUINTET With Al Rose with Steve Doyle When: 8 p.m. Thursday Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $45-$55 Info: (312) 733-9463; citywinery.com [/one_third] In his middle chapter, Bromberg left the road in 1980 and decided to focus on a different lifestyle. He settled in Chicago to study violin making. He became so dedicated to the process that he eventually stopped writing, recording and touring. Then in 2002 the cold weather finally drove Bromberg and his wife, singer and visual artist Nancy Josephson, to relocate to Wilmington, Delaware, where they live in a renovated four-story building that now houses not only them but Bromberg’s violin store and workshop. It was here that local jam sessions finally lured him back to writing and performing. Bromberg, who is currently touring with his quintet, answered a few questions about these chapters in his life. Q. You stopped performing for many years. What brought you back? A. When I moved to Wilmington the mayor told me there used to be live music up and down the street I live on, and he wanted to see that happen again. The only way I thought I could help was with jam sessions. I figured I could endure them for a couple of months and they would die out. But really fine musicians started showing up, and I really enjoyed playing with them. So that got me started again. Q. Your collection of nearly 300 violins covers the history of American violin making. What’s so fascinating about them? A. I didn’t really think of collecting when I got my first violin. At the time everyone told me that the American-made violins were no good. It astounds me to this day how people thought so little of them. I thought they sounded so good. Now American violins are starting to be recognized as good as anything made anywhere at the time. Q. Since then, you’ve become a sort of violin detective. A. It always fascinated me how someone could look at a violin, without looking at the paper label inside which is often wrong, and tell you when and where and sometimes by whom it was made. That’s what I decided I wanted to learn and that’s what I do today. Q. What do you remember about playing around Chicago? A. I played a little bit back in the day with a band I put together called the MVPs. We played Buddy Guy’s a couple of times. And, of course, Orphans. I loved that club. It’s sad that clubs like Orphans and the Earl of Old Town are gone. They were great places to perform. Q. You were a student of the Rev. Gary Davis. What comes to mind with that memory? A. There was a night in Greenwich Village when I was playing at the Gaslight and the Rev came to the show. I played one of his tunes and talked about him and dedicated a song to him. Afterwards he stood up and gave a sermon in the club, and I remember very clearly that the first part of it was, I have no children but I have sons. Those few words meant a great deal to me. Q. Many of your fans include your albums among their favorites. What’s on your favorite album list? A. When I’ve thought about that question in the past, I was very surprised because I think of myself as an instrumentalist and all my favorite records are vocalists. There’s an album called The Real Bahamas that has wonderful harmonies. The Penny Whistlers, seven women from the Bronx who sing Balkan music. And almost any Ray Charles album, any Aretha Franklin album and the early gospel records of the Staple Singers. Q. Anything special on the menu for the Chicago show? A. You know I’m really terrible; I never have a set list. I just get up there and do what feels good. I’ll have my band with me, and I’m crazy about playing with those guys. It’s nice now to say it’s just so much fun.