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Interview: Bob Brozman

16 December 2001

Bob Brozman


With a finger in more pies than most of us have had hot dinners, Bob Brozman continues to cook up a storm across the world with his incendiary slide style, Josh Kane investigates...

MANY guitarists think of themselves as hard working, but most would baulk at the idea of recording seven albums in 12 months. Those who might rise to the challenge would struggle to maintain a full schedule of international live dates at the same time. But then none of them are Bob Brozman.

The last year has seen the world's best loved slide player record with Hawaiian slack key genius Cyril Pahinui, tour Japan, record in Okinawa, complete an album with acoustic player Woody Mann and plan a recording tour taking in everywhere from Athens to Zanzibar via Madagascar and Tahiti. All with just a brace of beautiful, if slightly worn, National resonator guitars for company.

Although best known for playing rootsy acoustic music, Bob is far from being a stuffy traditionalist; he's always embraced a wide range of styles. Recently, he teamed up with the extraordinary Debashish Bhattacharya in India to record 'Sunrise - Beautiful Meeting Of Slide Guitars'. It's not as straightforward as blues, but Bob has his own approach to playing new styles.

"Playing any musical instrument is just making a series of muscular movements in a correct sequence and applying the correct pressure and all that. On that level I try to emulate the timbre and tone production of whoever I'm playing with.

"On the other side of the coin, you can spend a lifetime learning Indian music. It's a deep, deep thing and they approach the music with a level of discipline that we just don't have in the West. Debashish started playing at the age of three and has played 12 to 18 hours a day, every day, for his whole life!

What he can do is amazing and in no way am I pretending to be an Indian musician - I'm getting as much of the muscle stuff as I can, and as much as I can of understanding the system of music, but I can't start a career as an Indian musician now!"

You get the impression that he could do exactly that if he put his mind to it, but Bob's real interest lies elsewhere. He's more excited by the myriad of influences waiting to shape his playing.

Whatever style he's tackling, you can bet that National resonator guitars will continue to be Bob's instruments of choice. His enthusiasm for them is infectious and is based on the fact that, despite their pigeonholing as 'blues instruments', there is so much that you can do with them.

"Resonator guitars beat everything from a Martin to a Les Paul in terms of dynamic range, because on either of those guitars the difference between your loudest and softest hit is not much, maybe 10dB. With a National it's 60dB. So, I can play a tiny artificial harmonic and it'll cut through and then smack the thing and get a huge bass out of it.

"Resonators are unique in that the upper bout is where the bass comes out from and the resonator itself is where you get that nice barking mid-range. That means that the sound field in front of me is three dimensional. So by swinging around in front of a mic, I can change the amount of bass and treble that the audience hear, or that goes to tape.

The fact that all microphones get more bassy the closer you get means that even if I'm on the treble side, I can move in to fatten up the tone. I'm trying to widen the guitar's horizons. How many times have you seen a guy with a guitar case and gone, 'Uh-oh, it's a guy with a guitar'; you know exactly what you're going to get. I've been fighting that all my life!"

Because of Bob's keenness to continually evolve as a player and his willingness to learn from the great players of various musical cultures, it's no surprise that he's anything but a blues purist. As such, the recent resurgence of interest in 'traditional' blues guitar has left him a little underwhelmed.

"In America, the blues is a cliché, it's big business. House Of Blues has just been bought by Disney, which pretty much sums it up. It's just part of the general crapification of culture through commerce. To me, blues isn't some guy playing music and suffering, it's about playing music to alleviate suffering and it doesn't have to be twelve bars with these three chords. If you listen to early Hawaiian stuff; it's in a major key but it's sad - it's the sound of a culture being trampled. I find that blues quality in a lot of music.

"I admit that I cut a couple of Robert Johnson songs when I was younger and didn't know any better. When you're developing as a player you have to spend some time learning your roots, but after a certain point you have to have something to say for yourself."

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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