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Interview: Bob Brozman

April/May 2006

"BOB BROZMAN: Man of the World"


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Best known for his slide work on the sonically and visually stunning National metal-bodied resonator guitar, the prolific Bob Brozman has collaborated with native roots musicians from Japan and India, Reunion Island and Hawaii, as well as other far-flung locales, all in addition to recording a long trail of solo albums. A self-described "very busy guy," Brozman tours between seven and 11 months a year and often plunks himself down in the remotest corners of the world for extended periods, just to see what will happen when he and the locals start making music together.

That's what led him to Papua New Guinea, where the guitar itself is a relatively new arrival. The result, the fascinating Songs of the Volcano (Riverboat Records), found Brozman mind melding with five different local string bands, Brozman deliberately serving (and getting paid) as just another band member.

Brozman's other most recent release, Blues Reflex, on the German Ruf label, is a solo collection that finds him revisiting, "with the playing skills I have now," his first and most lasting inspiration, the legendary 1920s Mississippi bluesman Charley Patton. "What I'm doing," he said, "is not specifically Charley Patton songs but his sound filtered through my ears."

Brozman was a 12-year-old Long Island kid when he first latched onto the music of Patton. While most of his friends were rocking out to the greatest hits of the '60s, Brozman, who'd begun playing the guitar at six, found himself drawn to the ethereal sounds he heard one day in the town library. "My initial reaction was fear," he said. "I had never heard anything as remotely intense as that cry of pain. I was literally swept away by the music."

Even at that young age, Brozman became obsessed with National guitars and began a quest for any music made on the instrument, discovering indigenous Hawaiian music in the process and, soon, the sounds of many other lands. He began formulating ideas about what it all meant in the greater context. Today a conversation with Brozman, who has studied and lectured on ethnomusicology and been called a "musical anthropologist," might lead to a soliloquy on the distinct differences between the music of the "colonizers and the colonized" or "patterns of musical behavior in the human race... the frontier between what's cultural and what's biological."

But all of that lofty talk aside, Brozman is no cultural imperialist. He is conscious that he is leaving a lasting impression on the people he encounters around the world. "I establish within the first 30 minutes that I'm not some big American," he said. "I'm just a traveling musician, just a working guy. I haven't arrived with a giant entourage and we stay in the same shack and eat the same food."

The musicians on Songs of the Volcano became the first benefactors of Brozman's Global Music Aid Foundation, which donates instruments to musicians in Third World countries. He figures that's the least he can do to thank them. "I'm either the hardest-working lucky guy in the world or the luckiest hard-working guy," he said. Or maybe both.

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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