Interview: Bob Brozman
BLUEPRINT MAGAZINE, UK
An Early Morning Tutorial - A.K.A. Breakfast With Bob Brozman!
By SCOTT DUNCAN
Author, ethno-musicologist and master musician BOB BROZMAN captivated the audience at this years Burnley Blues Festival with his esoteric mix of blues, Hawaiian guitar, Caribbean calypso, hot jazz, earlier Twenties’ popular song and - in another innovation from this remarkably gifted and knowledgeable performer - chanson français. Over breakfast the morning after his performance at Burnley, Scott Duncan spoke to Bob and his UK travelling partner and close friend Gary Atkinson and learned about the current state of his career, the history of National guitars, the provenance of their immediate predecessors, the Weissenborn, Brozman's theory of organized molecular disturbance, cross-cultural collisions and how they are disseminated through the advent of mass media in the early 20th century, why Fender Stratocasters are naff, the threat to the ozone layer inherent in the modern automobile, Spinal Tap's rôle in 20th century cinema, the re-discovery of Tampa Red's National, Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix’s place in the American musical pantheon - and much else besides. So take your seats, ladies and gentlemen - and pass that pitcher of orange juice and rack of toast! - for a breathtaking tour de l'horizon of American popular culture as we bring you an interview with the Albert Einstein of the National steel guitar, Mr Bob Brozman...
Scott Duncan: Where and when were you born?
Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar
Bob Brozman: I was born in New York in 1954.
And did you grow up there?
Yes I did. In the Hudson River Delta, in actual fact. My parents gave me a record of Ravel's Bolero when I was three-years-old, which was the perfect melody for a young child because it repeats, and the orchestration gets more and more dramatic as it goes on. So when I was four I stood up to the piano, stood on my toes, and played the melody of Ravel's Bolero. Then when I was six-years-old I started playing guitar. Don't really remember why, though. I think it had something to do with attracting girls.
So I did have one guitar lesson. I went to a class and the entire class was devoted to the teacher tuning everybody's guitars. I went back one more time, and when I went back I'd figured out a whole bunch of chords and started sitting there playing while the teacher was tuning, so she took me aside and said, 'You'd best leave the class!" And that's the only guitar lesson I've ever had.
This was classical guitar?
No ... just guitar.
When was the big revelation with all the Nationals, etc.?
I was about 13. That would be in 1967. I got my first National in 1968. I was living on Long Island. The very same Triplate that I use on all my gigs was in a music shop in New York City and they wouldn't hold it for me. I was working at a supermarket in a minimum wage job, saving my money, and so every day for two weeks I took the train into the city and sat with this guitar in the comer of the store, jealousy guarding it so that no one else would buy it. That was the beginning of basically an existence as a completely unemployable person.
So I got right on to blues at an early age and made a pretty deep study of it. I do have a university education, a degree in ethno-musicology. I made a deep comparative study of Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson and their musical descendants, the contention being that they had spent time together and proving it musically through their music and their descendants' music. During that period I'd buy any album that had a picture of a National on it, of course. Some of these National people are rather obsessive. I did get a lot of fan mail in red crayon. People either love Nationals or can't be bothered.
What explains this kind of pathological love - or hatred! -for them?
Several things really. They represent this industrial Americana and the blend between Old World craftsmanship and modern assembly-line industrial technique. Sonically, there's nothing in the world that can beat a National because the dynamic range is tremendous. I mean, on an ordinary wood guitar or a solid-body Les Paul, the difference in sound between your softest touch and your hardest bash is quite small. Whereas with a National you can go from a whisper to a roar and the dynamic range is incredible.
So, during this period of buying any album with a National on it, I stumbled upon a cut by the Hawaiian Sol Hoopii and just was gobsmacked and started collecting 78s at that point. I've since amassed a huge pre-war collection of Hawaiian 78s. For those hardcore blues fans, I should say that Hawaiian music (before it was commercial) packs as much of an emotional wallop as any kind of anything from Charley Patton. So I made a deep study of Hawaiian music and discovered jazz, Twenties' jazz, sort of through the back door of Hawaiian music. Because Sol Hoopii was listening to Bix Beiderbecke. I'm quite fascinated by cultural collision. For me the real interesting definition of World Music is where the First world and the Third world intersect. Third worlders use the industrialised world's instruments to create more interesting music than anybody in the industrialised world has.
So I got completely into collecting jazz 78s - Beiderbecke, [Louis] Armstrong and the rest - and I've since branched out into Caribbean music, African music. Basically, my reason for living now is I sort of travel the frontier between the First and the Third world. I'd like to think of what I do as blues of the world. Basically, any place where white people came where they didn't belong and left instruments behind, that's where all the good music happens. So for me there's the continuous aesthetic thread between African and Hawaiian, Cuban, Mississippi Delta blues - all that music, aesthetically, works the same for me.
So are you saying great music is only coming out of areas where there has been some form of oppression?
Absolutely! Absolutely. And, you know, as I say every night on stage, I'm grateful to Great Britain for accidentally creating most of the world's interesting music by colonising most of the world!
It raises an interesting point, though. Would it have been better to do without the music and not had the oppression?
Oooh, well, as a human being, yes! As a musician, no!
You've also amassed, I would imagine, a huge number of instruments. Isn't there an album sleeve picture of you surrounded by instruments?
Yeah, but you'd need a very wide-angled lens to fit my whole collection in one photograph.
But you just kept acquiring instruments?
Right! And this was well before guitar collecting became a thing. I mean, when I first started acquiring Nationals they were really cheap and there were maybe four more people on the whole planet who called themselves vintage guitar dealers. Now there are several monthly publications, there are thousands of people who have hung out a shingle saying "'VINTAGE GUITAR DEALER." 1983 pointy Hamer guitars are considered vintage nowadays! And there are guitar shows everywhere. I'd really like to see a gentleman's guitar show where only people who’ve been in it for more than 20 years and only pre-war instruments were shown. I just can't be assed about Stratocasters and all that stuff that were baked by the dozen while you sleep! It's a bit like collecting baseball cards or trainspotting. I think a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that these are instruments. They're made for music. And, quite honestly, when prices of vintage instruments got into five figures, suddenly it no longer became a shameful thing to collect without playing. I've become quite disenchanted with it. I mean, I had no idea my Nationals would be worth the kind of money they're worth. I wish they'd all go down to $5 - I could finish my collection! When I did my National book I was really torn, because I had to do it to set the record straight, to give John Dopyera the credit and so forth. But I knew I was committing suicide as a collector because I was able to do quite well finding stuff, because I was the only one on the planet who knew what was rare and what was produced. Now I've shared that knowledge and there are a lot of people with a lot more money than me, who I simply can't compete with.
So I'm actually thinking about maybe dispersing my collection at this point.
It's interesting what you said about collecting only pre-war instruments, the war being like an arbitrary historical dividing line, I think...
Well, it's not arbitrary! There are some very definite things that make it a dividing line.
The rise of mass media, for absolutely certain. I mean, for me the history of music vis-à-vis technology, and how that affects the dispersion of music, is quite interesting. Prior to the 1890s there was strictly live performance and oral tradition. Then the sheet music industry got going and so suddenly you have people across the United States playing the same songs as they were coming out. Then you have the rise of cheap mail-order guitars in the late 1890s. Basically, any black string musician of the 19th century was either playing fiddle or banjo. And by 1920 you'd be very hard-pressed to find many black fiddlers or banjo players - they're all playing guitar.
That was purely because of the Sears Roebuck-type scenario ...?
Right, the availability of cheap guitars. Of course, the next step is the phonograph record. And for me the dawn of the recording era, the first 20 years, is fascinating because you get musicians listening to other musicians' records, and influences crossing like that. So you've got, for example, the mystery of where does bottleneck guitar come from? Well, it's a bit of a mystery because Hawaiian guitar was invented by one man, Joseph Kikuku, in 1889. There is evidence of African instruments and Indian instruments being played with a slide long before that. At the same time, in Mississippi, you've got travelling Hawaiian shows resulting in people like Black Ace or Casey Bill Weldon, who even billed himself as "The Hawaiian Guitar Wizard." I'm fascinated by that cross-cultural thing! Sol Hoopii and Benny Nawani, they were recording blues titles in the Twenties.
Were they aware they were recording blues tides?
Absolutely! And so this period of musicians listening to other musicians' records was rather brief. The record industry almost died during the Depression because of the rise of radio and the cost of records. So radio was free and it's definitely my contention that radio is the beginning of the destruction of regionalism. I mean, records sort of began it, but radio really killed it, because a blues record from 1929, you can identify the town, practically the street address, of where the artist came from. But by 1935 everybody sounded like Tampa Red and Big Bill [Broonzy], and a lot of individualism kinda got lost. The end point of that, of course, is people in rural villages in India knowing who Madonna is!
From your tone, it would appear you think that that's regrettable.
I do. The destruction of regional culture ... let's just take African music, for example. Even as late as the 1970s the different countries were readily identifiable but thanks to a combination of the Western drum set, synthesizers and producers in London and Paris, African music's all starting to blend together into one kind of generic, world beat music. I think in 200 years everybody will just sort of be listening to a 120bpm drum machine and nothing else!
Surely our humanity will still find some means of expression?
Well, there are pockets, yeah, absolutely. But, I mean, who am I to say? I make CDs and I hope to sell lots and lots of 'em. I'm not a Luddite. I'm not anti-technology.
Well, technology isn't solely to blame for the growth of a kind of "nerd culture" -even if you go into any well-stocked book-shop 90 per cent of the books aren't worth reading...
Some wise man once said 90 per cent of everything is crap and I include pre-war blues in that! I mean, let's face it, when you've got these Document recordings of every record ever made by Barbecue Bob ... well, he made some good records but I've got one 78 in my collection that I keep simply because it's probably the worst blues record ever made! "Momma You Don't Suit Me" backed with "Easy Rider Don't Deny My Name." He's out of tune, he's out of time and he's searching for lyrics. And my copy is in mint condition, probably because it was such a bad record no one played it!
For me, as far as pre-war blues, I can name on one hand the artists that still give me a chill. Mostly, that's Charley Patton. Charley Patton is the one guy, every time I listen to him, I feel like a 14-year-old kid again. I quite like the Charley Patton book by Wardlow and Calt, particularly because they spend quite a bit of time discussing in musical terms what it was that set Charley Patton apart from everybody else and his three-dimensional qualities and his use of texture. Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James, Bukka White - after that it gets pretty thin for me and all rather clichéd.
How did you acquire this phenomenal technique you have?
Technique is only a means to an end. What is the end? The end is the musician has a thought in his head and he's trying to imprint that thought into the listener's head. I always describe what I do as I take large metal objects strung with skinny metal objects and I use them to disturb air molecules in an organised fashion and those disturbed air molecules land on the nerve-endings of the listener's ear, which generates a weak electrical signal in their brain, which squishes some chemicals into their bloodstream, which they perceive - hopefully - as pleasure.
So that's what's happening! I suspected as much!!!
That is what's going on! Sound is nothing but disturbed air molecules, in an organised fashion. So, to me, I'm dead fascinated by musical psychology. What is it that makes a minor chord perceived as sad, and a major chord perceived as happy? Well, there actually is an answer in physics about that. I don't want to go deeply into that but, basically, it has to do with a half-step fight way up in the harmonic series between the root and the minor third that subconsciously disturbs the listener. But... it's quite fascinating. Take something as abstract as disturbed air molecules and it gets translated as emotion. Well, what is emotion but some chemicals that are squished into your bloodstream by your brain? Your brain, your muscles, your hands, the guitar strings, the microphone, the PA system - all those are basically obstacles to be overcome between getting your emotions across to the listener. I may be coming off rather scientifically here, but when I'm in that moment of playing, I'm not thinking with my left-brain, I'm completely just in a trance and doing my thing and dead emotionally into it. I couldn't do it if I wasn't feeling genuinely emotional.
So when you ask about technique, I was looking at my fingerboards on my two Nationals that I've used all my life. I was a bar musician from 1973 till 1980 and I calculated, looking at these worn-out finger-boards, that just in that period alone I have played 11,000 sets of music, 11,000 45-minute sets of music. Since then I've been a full-time musician so I estimate, roughly, that my guitars must have at least 50,000 hours of play on 'em. Now the original Nationals, people put them aside in a few years as soon as the electrics came out. So I really do believe that the two Nationals that I use on stage have probably been played longer and harder than any National ever.
They're surviving under the stress?
Yeah, I mean the wood under the fingerboards is almost gone, frets are almost gone, but they still function and the cones are perfect. They're still pretty shiny.
Some people have a fetish about them and you're almost not allowed to touch them. You're not like that?
Well, no. I maintain them in terms of cleaning 'em off after the gig and, you know, I change my strings and lubricate the gears. It's not like in Spinal Tap when Nigel says [Fey English accent], “This one must never be played. Don't look, don't point. It's still got the old tagger on it."
[At this point, the interviewer serendipitously pulls a "Spinal Tap" plectrum from his wallet!] Oooh, I must have it! I must have it! I'm a big Spinal Tap fan!
OK, there you go!
Oh, thank you so much!
That came as a free gift with the CD-ROM version of "This Is Spinal Tap," which has three separate sound tracks you can listen to.
I'd love to see that! Believe it or not, I think that's one of the best films of the second half of the 20th century. Anybody who's in the music business should see that film once a year, to check in! Absolutely! It's brilliant. Even the stuff that's mumbled off camera is brilliantly written and executed.
In any event, I do have some Nationals at home that are mint and beautiful. But I play them, I don't drag 'em around the world and sweat all over 'em. I've recorded with every instrument that I have and, as I said earlier, instruments are meant to be played. They are meant to be cared for. These things are gonna outlive us. There's a certain musician, who shall remain unnamed, who has a one-of-a-kind National that was in pristine condition when he got it and he's trashed it. We've fallen out about this, not so much because I want the instrument but because I feel that it was a crime against history for the instrument to be trashed. I don't think that's right. OK, the two working Nationals I have are being worn out, but, boy, they're being worn out through 50,000 hours of play. And they're standard models, there's nothing absolutely unique about them. So I feel that that's reasonable. I also own George Beauchamp's guitar, who was the president of National. This guitar was a presentation, engraved model, one-of-a-kind, made for him. I've got the paperwork from the board of directors, stating the day that they decided to give him this guitar and so forth, with the description. And I've recorded with that guitar, I've played it, but I certainly would not take it around to every gig and sweat all over it and drop it and, you know, all that.
So, yeah, it's a fine line.
What was that instrument you used last night?
That's a Weissenborn. This was the immediate predecessor to the National. In fact, if I could just digress for a second, and say that the Hawaiian guitar is the most uniquely American instrument I can think of. It's one that went through such a rapid series of evolution. Briefly, in 1889 Kikuku takes a Martin guitar and puts it on his lap and starts playing it with a bar. So, for the first 10 years, that was what Hawaiian guitar was, simply with the nut raised to facilitate the slide playing. Then came the Weissenborn, which was the first dedicated Hawaiian guitar. It's all koa wood, with a hollow, square neck and high action and no frets, just markers. That's immediately followed by National, which is then followed by the electric Rickenbacker, then the seven-string, the eight-string, the ten-string, two necks, three necks, four necks, pedal steel - and all that happened in about 50 years, littering the by-ways of history with players who got on at each stage. There are seven-string players, there are eight-string players etc. I can't think of any other instrument that evolved that way.
In any event, the Weissenborn is a really magical instrument. They used to be quite common. I'm on the same label in France as Ben Harper and so, of course, all these French journalists are saying [adopts Vairry French accent] , “Oh, Monsieur Brozman, you are using ze same eenstrooment like Ben 'a-pur." And I'm forced to reveal my age by saying, “Yes. I bought my first Weissenborn the same year Ben Harper was born." Which is kind of a double-edged thing…
Anyway, they're fascinating instruments. They have an incredible bass. You know, the body depth is quite shallow, actually. But you've got this long piece of wood on the back that's the entire length of the instrument. They're lovely instruments to use on stage. I just think they're fascinating.
I've got my set of them and I'm happy. But I don't expect that I'll ever get any more. Harper's got about 30 of 'em. Now there are makers actually starting to make them again - but it's really a case of function following form. If you don't make it exactly like the old ones they just simply don't have the sound. There's some real secrets to how they were made.
Do you go about acquiring these instruments and then fit the repertoire to them, or do you find the repertoire then find the instruments to play it on?
Mmmmm…a little of both really. I've been lead around by the ears by the National. I was very fortunate that the first National I got was a Tricone. Because it's really affected the way I play bottleneck. Good, bad or in-different, I play bottleneck differently than anybody else. And it's partly because I was lucky enough to find a Tricone with all the tonal capabilities that that instrument has - it told me how to play. The Weissenborn is meant to be played on the lap, which I do quite a bit, of course, as a Hawaiian guitarist, but I've pioneered this thing of holding it upright and playing it with a bottleneck, just to get a different kind of articulation. And I don't know if you noticed last night, I reversed my hands. Because of the hollow neck you can actually play on the negative fretboard. So I'll play a melody on fret 3-2-1-0 and then I'll play on fret negative 3-2-1-0. It kind of "ghosts" the melody in a very interesting way. And I'm using some very strange stringing. In fact, I used to use very heavy strings - 16, 18, 27, 39, 49, 59. But I've changed now. I think you'll be very happy to hear that now I'm using 16, 18, 27, 40, 50, 66.
And how did you and Gary meet?
It's a lovely story... Gary?
Gary Atkinson: Around about 1988/89 I was considering ... researching into writing a book on Nationals and I kept bumping into people who would say to me, "Oh, you're interested in Nationals? Well, you should hear Bob Brozman," or "Oh, you play slide guitar? You should hear Bob Brozman." This name Bob Brozman began to stop interesting me and began to haunt me really.
BB: Annoy you, I think is the word!
GA: I'm trying to be diplomatic! And eventually I decided to ring Bob, which I did, rang him in California and said, "Well, I've heard so much about you I feel that we're either going to be very good friends or worst of enemies. What's it gonna be? Fortunately, Bob's humour appreciated what I said and we got into a very long conversation and Bob mentioned that he was playing a gig at the ICA Theatre, part of the "Sliding Round The World" concert celebrating 100 years of slide guitar. And he said to me, "If you know of anywhere else where I could play I would appreciate that." I put the phone down and thought to meself, "Well, I don't know where the hell he could play." But, I suppose, having my head full of a very recent divorce, something like that seemed like a good idea to freshen my head up with. So very naively I put together a 14-date tour and the following year we did I think it was 21 days.
BB: Fourteen and 26, then 35 the following year, then 63 dates in one tour. Sixty-three dates in 75 days. And then we’ve since thought, "OK. Let's preserve our health and keep in to 20 a year!"
GA: So we've clocked up a few hours together, both here and abroad. As we mentioned earlier on in the day, I think it's about 18 months since we last saw each other. There has been a break. But like a couple of bad pennies we've turned up again. I was quite surprised at how in the first couple of days being together we were able to amuse ourselves with many great reminiscences. I'm sure that everybody else that was anywhere within earshot was rolling their eyes up to the ceiling. But it's been interesting.
BB: We've been through the wars together. Gary, of course, contributed to the National book, both in terms of having contributed a chapter - two chapters, actually - and, as well, many hours of deep philosophical discussion in the garden about the deeper meaning of John Dopyera and the resonator guitar. I feel that Gary's a great writer and it was just a pleasure to have him on board. Part of his disgruntlement with calling me up was he was contemplating doing a National book at the time and I was already in progress doing one. So he just called me and said, "Bastard!"
GA: You know, the traditional English writer's approach! We had some interesting times thinking about the book in particular. When Bob refers to "the garden" this was over at his house in California. We realised that the only way that we could understand a lot of what had happened was to try and put ourselves back into 1927 and forget everything that had happened since then. It was very interesting realising that all of what National was doing in their experimentation, making the prototypes and what have you, was using methods and materials that were very much at the cutting-edge of the time. The experience of figuring that out together was quite enjoyable.
BB: My other impetus to write the book was in 1984/85 I got a letter from the son of John Dopyera, who was the inventor of the National, and the letter said: "Dad is a really big fan of yours, you should really contact him." I had no idea he was still alive and was living on the West Coast. So I immediately contacted him and went to visit him, brought a bunch of Nationals there, started talking to him, wound up visiting him many, many times, of course. Even getting past the formal interview stage, he could still play music and we'd just play music together. He got older and sicker. The last few visits I had with him he was bedridden and I would sit at the side of the bed and just played the guitar while he hummed melodies. It was quite touching, actually. The Rickenbacker book came out and basically there had been a long controversy of who deserved the credit - John Dopyera or George Beauchamp, a fellow who walked into a shop and said, "I want a louder guitar!" So the Rickenbacker book, I felt, unfairly credited Beauchamp, and I felt it was my duty to bring the credit back to John Dopyera.
And now each year in the summers I’ve been going to Trnava, Slovakia, which is the home town of the Dopyera family. They have this wonderful festival there, which I heartily recommend that all British National people should attend. It's basically celebrating the Dopyera family and their contribution to world culture. It's an amazing festival It's all around the National and the Dobro. Slovakia's a great country with really warm people. Mike Cooper's been there with me. I think Mark Makin's gonna be there this summer - it's really a lovely event. There are some photographs in my book from the Dopyera family of this town in those days and it's amazing to stand by the same buildings that are in these fuzzy black-and-white photographs and they haven't changed at all.
GA: It may be interesting for blues fans to just relate the tale that you were telling me yesterday about Tampa Red's National.
BB: Mmmm, well, it's an unfinished tale. But Tampa Red's National has turned up. He was the first black artist to record with the National. The original photo of Tampa Red shows him with an early Style-4 Tricone with rather than flow-through the coverplate engraving, it's got separate fronds of flowers on it. Anyway, this bloke called me up and said he'd found this guitar with Tampa Red's name engraved on it, in battered condition, for $65, in a rat-infested trailer outside Chicago. It had a non-original neck on it, not even a usable neck. It was a 14-fret Silvertone neck. He called me and he said what should he do with it? I said, "Well, it's probably a bit rich for me. If it was a stock instrument in that condition it just wouldn't be worth very much, but because it's Tampa Red's guitar, I suppose to some rich idiot it's worth a lot of money. The last I heard about the guitar was a dealer had it, he fitted it with a Style-1 neck which he faked Style-4 inlays on. I have seen the photographs and I do verify that it was Tampa Red's guitar because there's factory engraving with his name on it and it's clearly the engraving work of the guy who did the engraving of the factory. And the serial number makes sense with the period that it was purchased, and I heard that the guitar was being offered at $60,000. I heard that it sold but I don't know at what price or who bought it. I love myself but not that much!
GA: Leadbelly's 12-string was going for sale last year, I think, and they were asking something ridiculous. It was actually $500,000... it was just like a stupid amount of money. Bukka White's National resides in Newcastle. We were talking about Blind Boy Fuller's the other day.
BB: Nobody knows where that guitar is. Brownie McGhee told me that he had it for a while but it was stolen. Then there was a Guitar Player magazine photo of Stevie Ray Vaughan with a Duolian, claiming that it was Blind Boy Fuller's. But it was clearly not the same guitar, because the f-holes were different. You know, there's a photo of Fuller with the guitar and it's just clearly not that guitar. There’s a few that I'm still searching for. I'm searching for Sol Hoopii's Triplate. He had two of 'em with his name on 'em. I've got some other one-off Nationals, strictly one-of-a-kind custom. The mandolin on the cover of the book is silver-plated, engraved with the eastern and western hemispheres with radio towers and lightning bolts and it's quite a celebration of technology.
But as I say, if there are any very wealthy collectors out there, like Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, I've got 100 instruments and I've decided to pare it down to 25. Because I'm getting older now and having things is less important to me than it used to be.
So where do you go from here, careerwise?
Well, that first concert I did in the ICA, I was invited by Mike Cooper, bless his heart, one of my dearest friends and certainly a musician who deserves a lot of credit as being one of the first Brits to even discover this kind of music - he's really one of my dear mates. I love his music and I love what he does very much. Anyway, he invited me to the ICA and he brought a French musician, slide guitarist named Cyril Lefebvre, with him and Cyril really liked what I did and told this record company about me in France. So I had a call one day from Sky Ranch Records and they said, "We'd like you to make a blues record for us." I said, "A blues record? You've gotta be kidding! Can we call it 'Don't buy this record, buy a Charley Patton record'?" And they said, "No, no, no, no. We really want you to do this." So I made this record, "Truckload Of Blues," and it just became a smash in France. I went to this festival, Printemps de Bourges, and I was suddenly hailed as the discovery of 1992. And I've since gone on to have this smashing career in France. I'm selling thousands and thousands of records, been on TV. I'm on Virgin Records now in France, which Sky Ranch is a part of. You simply can't open a guitar or music magazine in France without seeing full-page ads and articles - it's just been fantastic. Now I've done a couple of hundred concerts in France. Actually, I'm doing so well there that I can afford to bring a band with me. So I bring a string bass player, a percussionist, and a guitar player who can be best described as kind of a cross between a Django player and an African guitarist, by the name of Michael Dunn.
I've released two more albums since then which are very hard to get in England. One is called "Slide A Go-Go," which was titled by the French. And then I have a new one with the band which is Bob Brozman and His Thieves Of Sleep and that's called "Blues Around The Bend." I think you can probably find it as an import on Sky Ranch/Virgin. I've been playing in Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Low Countries - going to Finland this summer. I've been doing so much work in Europe that I'm hardly working in the States at this point. But I am beginning to work in the States more because I've got some collaborative stuff coming out. I've got a duet album coming out in September with an English player named Martin Simpson. That's really lovely music. It's kind of a blend of Celtic modal music and Skip Jamesian Mississippi stuff. I kind of think of it as mood music for people in a bad mood. A lot of it's very film soundtracky. I've also got some duet albums coming out with a Hawaiian slack key guitarist named Ledward Kaapana - it's the first time anyone's ever put slack key and steel guitar on the same record. And that's on Dancing Cat Records, which, I'm proud to say, I'm the only white person on that label, everybody else is pure Hawaiian.
Then on my new album, "Blues Around The Bend," there are things that you would expect from me - Hawaiian, calypso, blues, some Charley Patton tunes - but there are also some things that might make some people very upset. Because I've taken he Weissenborn as a sound-painting instrument and processed it and played it over hip hop grooves with a crazed, psychedelic, middle-eastern, really strange sound - which to me is still music. People cringe if I say hip hop, but let me just issue this disclaimer: for me hip hop is not a lifestyle, it's just a rhythm, like waltz or 4/4 or anything else. Just another, interesting, groovy rhythm to play over. I feel that I've served the ghosts of the traditional musicians whom I respect very much. I’ve done very good service to them over the years and now I'm able to just use my instrument to make music that's not really definable in any particular style - just painting with sound.
Also, I'm sure some of your readers are aware of the album I did with the Tau Moe family, which in a nutshell is a family of Hawaiian musicians that made records in 1929, toured the world for 57 years - and I mean really the world. They went on every continent. They were tired. I found them and, lo and behold, they could still play just like 1929. So we recreated their session where I played steel and they did all the singing and playing of the other instruments - very authentic, Hawaiian music, completely non-commercial, really a glimpse almost into the 19th century. We've won a lot of awards from the Library of Congress and various other organizations. With my friend Terry Zwigoff, who’s a fellow member of the Cheap Suit Serenaders - he's also the guy who made the “Louie Blueie" film about Howard Armstrong - we shot a film a few years ago with National Endowment money, a documentary about Tau Moe. This is a man who is like a living history of the 20th century. He met Hitler in the late Thirties. It's an amazing story. We shot all the film and then kind of ran out of money, out of funds, but now we're talking to the BBC about completing the film. And that's about it!
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