3/20, Paradise Performing Arts Center
On a recent rainy Friday afternoon, I spent an hour talking with David Bromberg. He was in his shop in Wilmington, Delaware, the place where he makes finely crafted stringed instruments. I was in Magalia, not far from where Bromberg will be playing on Thursday, March 20, when he brings his quintet to the Paradise Performing Arts Center.
Bromberg has worked with damn near everyone in contemporary music, from the Beatles to the Beastie Boys. On one of his most recent albums, Use Me, he worked with Linda Ronstadt, and I asked him to react to the sad fact that Linda Ronstadt’s singing voice has been lost to Parkinson’s Disease.
“She is,” he said, “quite simply one of the smartest people I know. Her recent autobiography (Simple Dreams) reveals that fact, though it doesn’t dawn on you until you’re halfway in. The scope that she had as an artist is enormous. Y’know, she started singing country rock, then rock ‘n roll, and then she started singing light opera on Broadway. She was a huge success at that, though the critics didn’t expect her to be good, but then they had to write raves. And then she took up jazz standards and made great records, and then she followed all that up by returning to her roots singing Mexican songs, and she remains one of the largest selling Spanish language singers in the world.”
I asked what he thought of the current music scene. His answer might surprise some of his fans.
“There’s a lot of great music around,” he said. “In every genre there are fine musicians.
Britney Spears is someone lots of people pick on. It’s not music I listen to very often, but she’s a consummate professional, and she’s very good at what she does. I’m also a big Beyoncé fan, and Christina Aguilera; I’m a fan of hers, too. The Avett Brothers are doing roots music as well as anybody, ever. I love the band Ollabelle. That’s Levon Helm’s daughter’s band, and they’re terrific. And among musicians more my age, people are just now starting to recognize the genius of Mavis Staples. Anyone who wants to hear unparalleled singing only needs to hunt up those old Staple Singers albums.”
Since Bromberg’s musical roots are in the blues, I wondered if he would name one bluesman he thought was indispensable.
“Can I give you two?” he asked. “And they’re both named King—B.B. and Albert.” But then he immediately wanted to add other names. “Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, those names would have to be on any blues list that made sense. And Leroy Carr and Blind Black. Oh, and Lonnie Johnson. He recorded with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, but he was a blues player through and through. And if you want to talk about underrated or lesser knowns, Tampa Red was just an amazing bottleneck player. Oh, and King Solomon Hill. His song “The Gone Dead Train” should be way better known than it is.”
Dave Bromberg should be better known than he is, too, though he has legions of enthusiastic fans who will, no doubt, fill the Paradise Performing Arts Center on the evening of March 20. If you care about the best of American music, you should plan to be among them.