It’s easy to take for granted how much influence eclectic combinations of stringed instruments — acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, dobros, pedal steel slides, banjos, violins, etc. —have had on the sound of American music. Thanks to advances in the art of arrangement, today these configurations can be heard in everything from traditional bluegrass to Top 40 pop. If one were to draw up a genealogical tree of all the musicians who have succeeded in weaving together bright tapestries of strings for popular and roots music, you would find David Bromberg, who will be at the Lobero Theatre with a quintet on Thursday, June 23, sitting on one of the main branches, strumming on an old banjo. Or playing guitar. Or fiddle, or mandolin. Pretty much whatever you’ve got.
Musical versatility and a wry sense of humor first put a young Bromberg in front of the public as a sought-after sideman for Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Dylan, and Ringo Starr, among countless others. Talking by phone with him from his violin store in Wilmington, Delaware, last week, I asked if he had any specific memories of those session days, and he replied with the characteristically dry observation that “you’re not going to forget playing with Bob Dylan,” something that Bromberg did for three albums.
His solo career earned Bromberg a place in the hearts of many hipsters and not a few aspiring musicians. Listening again to underground classics like “Bullfrog Blues,” one hears a certain self-awareness in the comedic tone of his vocals that influenced such singers as Gordon Gano, Jeff Buckley, and even Jad Fair. Bromberg’s own influences go deep into the rich history of roots music, starting with the Reverend Gary Davis, whom Bromberg took lessons from in New York City for $5 a session. As for what to expect on Thursday night, well, that information is not available at this time because, in Bromberg’s words, “I’ve never had a set list in my life. We decide as a group what to start with, and then we see where it goes from there.” —Charles Donelan
The David Bromberg Quintet plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Thursday, June 23, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.