A Tribute to David Bromberg

I discovered David Bromberg late, in ’76, during my farcical impersonation of a graduate school student. Instead of [forgive the vulgar patriarchal terminology] boning up on feminist theory, I was tending bar with a broken heart until about midnight, and as you bartenders know (right Charlie?), you don’t get off and go straight home.  You go to some early morning alcohol dispensary to wind down, which makes showing up an eight o’clock class on 18th Century English journalism seem as unlikely as Jackie Collins winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

From left to right, Bob Dylan, Leon Redbone, and David Bromberg

But I digress.  This post is about David Bromberg, whom I consider a woefully underappreciated American treasure.  The first record of his I copped was this one: David Bromberg Songs (1972).  Two tunes that really caught by attention were “Delia,” an obscure yet widely covered (if that’s possible) murder narrative and “Sammy’s Song,” a Hemingwayesque tale about a sixteen-year-old’s uncle-sponsored trip to a brothel.

Take a listen to this snippet from “Delia.”

 

And here’s “Sammy’s Song.”

 

Although most noted for his superb guitar playing, whether he’s laying down blues licks on a Son House cover or finger picking bluegrass at breakneck velocity, it’s Bromberg’s distinctive narrow ranged voice that slays me.  Rather than trying to imitate African Americans or white Southerners, Bromberg employs his very own Tarrytown baritone to great effect.  In addition to the acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars, he also plays fiddle and dobro in an eclectic array of genres: bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, country and western, and rock-n-roll.

I finally got to see him live last March at the Pour House.  His quintet featured Nate Grower on fiddle, Mark Cosgrove on guitar and mandolin, Josh Kanusky on drums, and Butch Amiot on bass.  They ran through a fifteen song set whose highlights included his great cover of Ian and Sylvia’s “Summer Wages,” an acapella rendition of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and his signature version of  “New Lee Highway Blues.”

David Bromberg at the Pour House, photo by Wesley Moore

And, oh yeah, and “Delia.” He provided a more complete history of the song’s origin, which is absolutely fascinating. Delia Green was a 14-year-old girl shot on Christmas Day in 1900 in Savannah. For whatever reason, her murder inspired several songs, the two most famous by Blind Willie McTell and Blake Alphonso Higgs.  In addition to Bromberg, Bob Dylan, Josh White, Pete Seeger, Harry Bellafonte, Burl Ives, the Kingtson Trio, Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash have all covered the song.  Of yeah, one more, Pat Boone.

Pat Boone? WTF?

Anyway, do yourself a favor and go out and buy a couple of his records, and if you ever get the chance to see him live, jump at it.

I’ll leave you with this.