by Chad Campbell, senior producer
We’ve had several repeat guests on our program - usually when a new book or movie or CD is released - but for that second visit, after Bob has already talked with a guest for 40 minutes to an hour, we try to take it up a notch for the next conversation. In the case of David Bromberg, we decided to visit him instead of inviting him back to our studio again. One Friday morning last Fall, Bob and I took the train from DC up to Wilmington, Delaware - and walked a few blocks up Market Street to David Bromberg’s violin shop. He was known as a great guitar player across a wide spectrum of genres including blues, folk, country, rock, bluegrass and jazz and he played with everyone, including Jerry Garcia, George Harrison, Jorma Kaukonen, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Bob Dylan. In the early 1990s, Bromberg put his touring and recording career on hold to study violin making in Chicago. That became his new world, the mysteries of old violins, violas and cellos fascinated him and he became a collector and an expert on identifying the work done hundreds of years ago by talented luthiers. Now instruments line the halls of his shop and he employs three fulltime craftsmen - luthier Teal Wintsch makes and repairs violins, violas and cellos; archetier Glenn Bearden makes, restores and rehairs bows; and Jamie Goldie does a little of both jobs. On the day we visited the shop, the luthier’s daughter was there carefully counting and selecting precisely 230 Argentine horse hairs that will become a cello bow. For the tedious job she gets paid five dollars a hank, which is the term for a clump of approved pony tail hair. We didn’t want to break Kestrel’s concentration so archetier Glenn Bearden shared his love of the job with us. He says there’s very little documentation on how to do what they do. He learned as an apprentice who “lived above the shop and took his meals with the master.” As Bob says in the interview, very old school indeed. Now Bearden is passing his knowledge on to Kestrel. Her dad the luthier was making some tonal adjustments to a cello when we interrupted him.
After some very minor arm twisting, Teal Wintsch was convinced to give us a sample from one of the many instruments on hand. He pulled down a Fretschner violin made in 1799, stressed that he was not a professional musician and ran through the scales. That’s something that David Bromberg never does. He says he does not play the violins in his collection, but he is playing guitar again. In 2007, after almost two decades removed from his professional recording career, he released Try Me One More Time. His latest career didn’t take quite that long to put together, but Bromberg did spend more than two years scheduling and recording Use Me. It’s 11 songs, each guest-produced by the writer and featuring Bromberg and guests Levon Helm, John Hiatt, Tim O’Brien, Dr. John, Keb Mo, Los Lobos, Widespread Panic, Linda Rondstadt, Vince Gill - and the Butcher Brothers, Phil and Joe Nicolo, who produced the title track - a great version of the Bill Withers tune Use Me.