Bromberg’s back, pickin’ with pals | AspenTimes.com

Bromberg’s back, pickin’ with pals

Stewart Oksenhorn

Singer-guitarist David Bromberg performs a New Year's Day concert at the Wheeler Opera House. (Steve White)

When David Bromberg moved to Wilmington, Del., in 2000, he didn’t figure the relocation was going to kick-start his music career. Bromberg, a singer and strings player who had come up in the “folk scare” of early ’60s Greenwich Village, had been virtually retired from performing for some 20 years. And Wilmington was hardly the center of the music world.But Bromberg’s move was sponsored in part by the city, and the deal came with an expectation of at least some picking. “The mayor mentioned more than once that Market Street, the main strip downtown, used to have lots of music,” said the 60-year-old. “He wanted to see that return.”Reluctantly, Bromberg set up a series of jam sessions at the 4W5 coffeehouse – acoustic picking on Tuesdays, electric blues on Thursdays. “I figured I could endure them for a few months, and then I wouldn’t have to do it anymore,” he said. But to his surprise, he had a blast. “It turns out I love ’em to death. I got back a lot of my chops. I’ve even started writing songs again, which astonished me. I thought that part of my life was over.”More than getting his fingers in shape, or finding the writing juices flowing again, what seems to keep Bromberg turning up twice a week is the sense of community. He speaks with praise of the guitar-shredding “kids” who show up for the blues nights. And he marvels at the fun he has with the pickers who drop in on Tuesdays. And when Bromberg started doing low-level touring – no more than two weekends a month – a few years ago, it wasn’t because he missed the crowds, and certainly not because he really wanted to travel like he did in the ’70s.”I missed my friends,” said Bromberg, referring to the couple of dozen players who had joined him in his various bands over the years.When Bromberg plays the Wheeler Opera House Sunday, Jan. 1, his quartet will include two musicians – Jeff Wisor and Butch Amiot – who have played with Bromberg for more than 20 years. Rounding out the group is newcomer Mitch Corbin.Bromberg traces his fondness for collaboration to his earliest days of performing. In the “basket houses” of the Village – so named because musicians didn’t get paid by the club, but passed a basket for change – Bromberg found a thriving community of players. Bromberg says he wasn’t any good, but he was still welcomed to play.”They were wonderful places to be bad in. And I took full advantage, by being very bad,” said Bromberg, who was raised in Tarrytown, N.Y., a few miles north of the city. “But there were great musicians around. And I played guitar with everyone.”When Bromberg began performing under his own name, however, the sense of community was eliminated. Bromberg’s band, the Fabulous Torpedoes, comprised exactly one member, bassist Steve Burgh, at the beginning. It left Bromberg longing for more company, and when he had some success – notably at England’s Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 – he expanded the flock. “Like Topsy, from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ it just grew and grew,” said Bromberg, who added reed player/mandolinist Andy Statman and fiddler Kenny Kosek early on.Through the ’70s, Bromberg found much success, and many collaborators. Members of the Grateful Dead played on his albums “Demon in Disguise” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” from 1972 and ’74, respectively; he played on Bob Dylan’s 1970 album “New Morning.” But a 1977 relocation to Marin County, north of San Francisco, Bromberg considers a bad move, mostly because of a shortage of friends to play with.”I never found pickin’ buddies,” he said. “I think if I’d lived in Berkeley, it might have been different.”One big positive thing that came out of the California years was an interest in violins. “The only real intellectual stimulation I found living in Fairfax was in a violin shop,” said Bromberg. “And I found it really interesting. I’d find myself at 3 in the morning, in a hotel room, rehairing bows.”Bromberg began collecting, buying and selling violins, violas and cellos, especially American-made instruments, which he considers badly undervalued. Having become recognized as an expert in violins, he opened David Bromberg Fine Violins in Wilmington in 2002.Bromberg now maintains a well-rounded career. He plays the weekly gigs in Wilmington; he tours in his quartet, in the David Bromberg Big Band, in the Angel Band and does the occasional solo gig. About the only thing he doesn’t see resurrecting is a recording career.”I think I spent enough time in windowless rooms to last me all my life,” he said.* * * *Aspenite Barry Smith is optimistic that his one-man show, “Jesus in Montana,” has some life ahead of it. But having spent two years creating “Jesus in Montana,” he is not keen on waiting another two years before putting some fresh material onstage.So Smith is hanging his butt on the line. He has booked five consecutive Saturday nights at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, with the intention that his next show will come out of that run. Smith, who writes the humor column Irrelativity for The Aspen Times, has topics mapped out for the first three nights. (The fourth night remains up in the air; the fifth will be a performance of “Jesus in Montana,” which earned an award this past summer at the New York International Fringe Festival.) Each show will follow the “Jesus in Montana” format, of Smith riffing on a real-life episode, and illustrating the story with extensive video.The three topics he has picked thus far are: 1. The year he spent as a squatter in a London flat; 2. “Confessions of an A/V Guy,” “about what could be the most boring job in the world,” said Smith; and 3. “The basic growing up in the South, and the wacky adventures and characters that go with it.”Apart from setting the subject matter, Smith will go into the performances light on scripted material. Instead, he hopes to tap the spirit of one of his heroes, the late Frank Zappa.”Zappa went to the Garrick Theater in New York with the Mothers for six months,” noted Smith. “The took up residency every night, an ongoing show. Some nights they’d dress as waiters and serve dinner. Totally free-form experimentation.”I like the idea of having lots of time to allow things to happen. And the idea of emulating Frank Zappa in any fashion is pretty cool. I already dropped out of the same college he did. [Chaffey Community College].”Smith’s run begins March 18 and ends April 15 with the performance of “Jesus in Montana,” an account of his early ’90s experience living with a man he believed was Christ reincarnate.* * * *Joining Smith in the anything-goes sort of performance is Kinky Friedman. The Texas humorist, novelist and musician plays with his band, the Texas Jewboys, Feb. 16 at the Belly Up, in a benefit gig for the United Jewish Appeal Aspen Valley Campaign.Friedman – born Richard Friedman, in Chicago, 60 years ago – became country singer Kinky while at the University of Texas. In 1973, in Nashville, he formed the Texas Jewboys, and over 20 years, he outraged Jews and Gentiles alike with songs like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Ride ’em, Jewboy.” But after two decades, Friedman traded the road for a pen. As a novelist, he has written 17 mysteries, all featuring a transplanted Texas detective named Kinky Friedman, solving crimes in New York.But another 20 years has passed for Kinky the crime novelist, and apparently it is time for Friedman to ride yet another horse. Earlier this year, Friedman tossed his hat into the Texas governor’s race, mounting a semi-serious – and definitely humorous – campaign under the banner, “Kinky Friedman, Why the Hell Not?”* * * *

And if a Jew can sing country and western, why can’t there be a Jewish reggae singer? In fact, there is. As a 14-year-old in upstate New York, Matthew Miller was a laid-back, dreadlocked Grateful Dead fan. But late in his teens, during a trip through Colorado, Miller faced the emptiness of his life. After a few years in the spiritual wilderness, Miller found his calling as a Chasidic Jew – and as a reggae singer. Under the name Matisyahu, Miller has been opening eyes with his recent CD, “Live at Stubb’s.” He makes his Aspen debut Feb. 5 at the Belly Up.And Friedman isn’t the only one likely to draw some laughs at the Belly Up. Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond tribute band featuring Randy Cordeiro as the super-earnest Surreal Neil, is coming back. The band’s new CD, “Live on the Rocks,” was recorded not at Red Rocks, but at the San Francisco club Bimbo 365; the title is a spoof of the real Neil’s “Love on the Rocks.” Super Diamond does its shtick Sunday and Monday, Jan. 1-2, at the Belly Up. And if part-time Basaltine Diamond happens to be in town for the shows, and manages to make his way to the stage, well it wouldn’t be the first time the fake Diamond met the genuine article. At a 2001 premiere party for the film “Saving Silverman,” which featured a cameo by Diamond, the singer joined Super Diamond for versions of “Cherry, Cherry” and “Forever in Blue Jeans.”Lez Zeppelin, the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute act, would also figure to elicit some chuckles. Except that the New York-based quartet is said to take their mission, of reworking ultimate cock-rock material like “The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” most seriously. They make their Aspen debut Jan. 16.Most of the rest of the Belly Up calendar is strictly about music, with hardly a tribute band to be heard.Louisiana sextet the Benjy Davis Project, which released the CD “The Angie House,” earlier this year, is set for Friday, Jan. 6. Guitarist Tim Reynolds, former leader of the TR3 and an occasional partner of Dave Matthews, performs Saturday, Jan. 7. California jam band Tea Leaf Green, on the strength of the new CD “Taught to Be Proud,” plays Jan. 11. So-Cal ska-rockers Reel Big Fish is set for Jan. 12.Other highlights of the schedule include Chicago acid jazz band Liquid Soul (Jan. 13); ska hitmakers the English Beat (Jan. 19); reggae group the Wailers (Jan. 22-23); and Sound Tribe Sector 9, doing one of its techno-oriented Live PA sets (Jan. 31).Also, New Orleans groove quintet Galactic (Feb. 14-15); New Orleans icon Dr. John (Feb. 19); enduring roots-rockers Little Feat (Feb. 23); and modern rockabilly trio the Rev. Horton Heat (Feb. 26).Following David Bromberg into the Wheeler Opera House are Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen (Jan. 9); Stardust, a night of jazz standards featuring locals, pianist Walt Smith and singer Cathy Markle (Jan. 13); Oklahoma-born country-rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed, with a new hit album in “Garage” to their credit (Jan. 14); New Jersey acoustic rock band Railroad Earth, on the heels of their double-live CD, “Elko” (Jan. 31, with Honkytonk Homeslice opening); rockers Cowboy Junkies (Feb. 27); and young piano wizard Eldar (March 3).Some other dates to be aware of: Colorado funk band Little Hercules (Jan. 15 on the Snowmass Village mall, for Wintersköl); guitar ace Adrian Legg (Jan. 26, Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale); Colorado’s Hit & Run Bluegrass (Feb. 9, at Steve’s).And keep an ear out for announcements on Winter X Games concerts (Jan. 27-28 in Wagner Park), and Aspen Skiing Co.’s Hi-Fi Concerts (Jan. 29 in Aspen, Feb. 11, March 16 and April 16 in Snowmass).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com