Once the country opens back up, this folk-rock legend is itching to get back to touring it
When David Bromberg started his career as a performer, guitarist and singer, he was a relentless road warrior.
He played festivals and clubs large and small, seldom taking time off. That stopped in 1980, as he paused to reconsider his life and occupation. He looked back on those days as he was recording Big Road, the new album he cut with his big nine-piece band.
“We wanted a strong song for the title, and ‘Big Road’ fit,” Bromberg said from his Delaware home. “I’ve been on the road again, about 13 years now. I don’t know how many dates I do a year, but not as many as when I was younger. When I realized I was working way too much, and burning out, I stopped for about 22 years. I don’t want to do that to myself again, so I’m careful not to work too much. Right now, I’m hunkered down at home. I just got over a sinus infection and I’m pumped up with antibiotics, so I’m particularly vulnerable to [the pandemic that’s] going on.”
The songs on Big Road reflect Bromberg’s wide-ranging interest in folk, blues and gospel music. The title track is a thumping blues tune, with tuba and fiddle breaks that take the arrangement into uncharted waters. “Who Will the Next Fool Be” was a hit for country singer Charlie Rich in his Nashville pop phase. Dan Walker’s piano and a four-piece horn section support Bromberg’s vocal ornamentations and acoustic picking. “George, Merle and Conway” is a Bromberg original, full of twanging guitars, Dobro and pedal steel. The gospel standard, “Standing In the Need of Prayer” is an a cappella tour de force, with guitarist Mark Cosgrove, fiddler Nate Grower, drummer Josh Kanusky and bass player Suavek Zaniesienko adding their voices to Bromberg’s.
Bromberg said the album arrangements occurred spontaneously, with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell. “They happen at the soundchecks or rehearsals. Larry’s good at making an arrangement out of a bunch of guys playing together, but everyone has input. Since I’m the guy singing, I have the most say on it how it’s going to sound. That determines how everybody else treats it, so if they suck, you can blame me.”
When he can get back to playing live, Bromberg said he’ll be touring with his quintet. “I only take the big band on the road a few times a year. It’s like driving a huge Cadillac. The quintet is a sports car. There are times you want the luxury and times you want the maneuverability.”
Although he’s known for his interpretations of folk songs and the works of other artists, Bromberg also writes great songs. Why hasn’t he ever made an album of originals? “I don’t feel obligated to. There are so many great songs I like to sing. I don’t think in terms of originals and covers. When I’m performing a tune, I own it. You gotta feel that way to do it properly. If I’ve been doing a song for 20 years, I don’t feel like I’ve owned it for 20 years, but each time I’m doing it, I feel like it’s mine.
“We play gigs without a set list. You never know what you’re going to hear and that makes it more interesting for us. We have a repertoire of well over 100 tunes. Sometimes I have to tell the band what we’re going to do; sometimes I just start playing and they come in when they should.”