Looking Back: Interview with Larry Campbell & David Bromberg
Note from the Editor: This interview took place five years ago.
Author’s note: I wrote about John Prine’s being deathly ill, and he’s still around. This may seem silly, but an article about Larry Campbell may just help. When I feel helpless, I grasp for straws. Say prayers for Larry.
We’re all in this together.
Campbell and Bromberg – Legends by Any Other Name
Americana guitarists Larry Campbell and David Bromberg share many musical touchstones, particularly The Reverend Gary Davis and Bob Dylan. But those two connections only begin to tell the story of how significant these two are as master string men. They play together Sunday night at The Egg.
“We’ll just sit up there with a couple of acoustic instruments and see what happens,” says Campbell. “Basically, that’s the way this goes when we get together. It’s very much recreating what him and I were doing in the dressing room before the Dylan shows back then.”
Campbell has the distinction of being one of Dylan’s longest tenured sidemen, having been on the road with him for the Never Ending Tour from March, 1997 to November 2004. “After I started working with Bob Dylan, David would come around every once in a while, and before the show him and I would sit in the dressing room for hours and just play songs together. We have a pretty strong influence from the same sources, and we just swapped tunes back and forth, mostly Americana stuff although there wasn’t a name for it back then, but old bluegrass tunes and blues and gospel and country tunes and stuff we just had the same affinity for.”
Campbell, working with Levon Helm, provided a couple of tunes for Bromberg’s Use Me album in 2004 and Campbell produced Bromberg’s Only Slightly Mad CD in 2011. “David was Americana when Americana wasn’t cool,” says Campbell.
The label “Americana” is now being overused and bastardized to cover any original, contemporary music that doesn’t neatly fall into either folk or rock. Another overused term is “legend.” While neither Bromberg nor Campbell fit the moniker’s criteria of being household names, their experience and skill on any and all stringed instruments surpasses most artists to whom the term legend is generally applied.
Campbell alone has earned three Grammys for his work with Levon Helm. He and Helm finished a Hank Williams song “You’ll Never Be Mine” for the LP The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, an experience that was almost out of body. “Yeah, I co-wrote with Hank Williams. How about that,” he says as if to confirm to himself that it really happened. Campbell also produced Jorma Kaukonen’s just released Ain’t In No Hurry album, co-writing “Seasons in The Field” with the Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane veteran.
But it’s with Rev. Gary Davis that Campbell shares the closest kinship with Bromberg. Campbell teaches a workshop on Davis’ fingerpicking style at Jorma’s Fur Peace Ranch, and Bromberg helped the legendary – there’s that word again – blues/gospel guitarist get around in Greenwich Village back in the’60s. Davis was blind. Campbell, Bromberg, Jorma, Danny Kalb of the Blues Project, Hugh Pool of Mule Bone and countless other tradition-based guitarists consider Davis to be the Holy Grail progenitor of the Americana finger picking style.
“When I’m trying to interpret one of Davis’ performances, what I try to do is find a way to get the essence of what he’s doing but with a steady thumb,” says Campbell. “I try to alter it just to suit myself. Jorma in his own way has re-interpreted that stuff, too. That’s kind of the difference between being a diehard protégé of what he does and respecting it, admiring, and flowing the influence of what he does.
“(Bromberg) is highly influenced by Rev. Gary Davis, too,” Campbell explains. “In fact, David used to lead him around to church and was a student of Rev. Gary’s. He knew him quite well, and David also made his own thing out of that influence.
“Ultimately, friendship and the camaraderie are as important as the music,” says Campbell about his musical affiliations. “I’ve reached the point in my career now where I just don’t want to work with anybody that I don’t have a personal affinity for.” He cites Bromberg, Kaukonen, the people in Little Feat, and his wife vocalist Teresa Williams.
So, how did he last seven years with Dylan?
“It was an experience, and I wanted to get the full experience, and once I’d felt that I had gotten it that I would kinda move on. I’m a better man for it. I’m a better musician for it. I’m a better human being for it.”
Kind of like my experience in Vietnam, I say to Campbell. If you live through it, you’re a stronger person.
“Yes. Yes, yes,” he answers. “That’s an excellent correlation.”
Here’s the link to the Nippertown Review of the show: LIVE: DAVID BROMBERG & LARRY CAMPBELL @ THE EGG, 4/19/15