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Bob Dylan's 'Self Portrait' Man

Dave Bromberg is well on his way to becoming one of the best guitarists and studio musicians in the business

Bob Dylan recording his album 'Self Portrait' with Charlie Daniels on guitar on May 3rd, 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
November 26, 1970

New York — "Bob Johnston, Dylan's producer, called me up and asked me if I wanted to play on New Morning." Dave Bromberg has been kicking around the music scene for awhile – he's backed up Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Pat Sky, Al Kooper, and had even worked with Dylan on the Self Portrait album – but the call was still a flash.

Bromberg is a gentle, unassuming man of 25 who may never become a rock and roll star. What he may become is one of the best guitarists and studio musicians in the business. He played lead guitar on half the cuts on Self Portrait, and his work on New Morning, especially his acoustic intro on the title song, his slide electric on "One More Weekend," gut string lead on "Three Angels," and acoustic on "Winterlude," may have already established him as side-man of the year.

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"On the Self Portrait album I was sitting right across from Dylan and I played whatever came to mind and there was hardly any discussion. On the new one there were more musicians in the studio – Dylan had the songs pretty well worked out beforehand. What they did was sit me in a corner where I had dobro, mandolin, mandocello, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and Dylan string guitar. Usually what I did rather than the solo things on Self Portrait was a lot less obvious things. Most tunes were first takes, sometimes second, because Dylan likes a spontaneous sound. Maybe the best thing I did on the album was not to play too much."

Bromberg said the new album is "much more like his others . . . much more of a band sound with no instrumentalists featured. Self Portrait was mainly me and Dylan where I was decorating his singing with my guitar, but on this one I was much more of a part of what was going on with everybody. We recorded it all live, even the background vocals. The only thing I can think of that was overdubbed was the French horns on one cut.

"The musicians are the finest I've ever played with. If anybody was the leader it was Al Kopper, he came up with a lot of ideas and helped move the sessions along a great deal. They're all pros."

Dave began playing guitar when he was 12. Measles provided the opportunity for him to learn some chords. By the time he was in high school in Tarrytown he was playing in a group. Then came a year and a half as a music major at Columbia, where he specialized in "filthy guitar." After dropping out he taught guitar and began playing in Greenwich Village "basket houses" like the Why Not and Purple Onion. He says he played the first electric guitar in the Village at the old Night Owl, but that didn't last long. He broke up his electric group because he didn't think it was good because he didn't think it was good enough, even though B. B. King's arranger showed some interest.

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Next he became house guitarist at the Four Winds, backing up Richie Havens and Buzzie Linhardt, and later found himself backing Chubby Checkers on a gig in Florida and Jack Elliot at the Gaslight. After two State Department tours with a group called the Phoenix Singers, he was back in New York, waiting for something to happen. That was when he met Jerry Jeff Walker. He played with Walker. He played with walker on the Mr. Bojangles album, which did well, and then Elektra called him for session work on a Tom Paxton LP. Since then, he has had more jobs than he can handle.

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