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Nov 2006. Interview by David Atkinson

Spoken of with reverence by slide guitarists around the world, Bob Brozman is more than a virtuoso. Armed with a clutch of National guitars and usually a charrango or some such esoterica, when he’s not recording with musicians in remote parts of the globe, he’s performing in front of open-mouthed audiences. He’s a world musician in the truest sense but the blues is where he started and he still includes it in his repertoire.

He’s playing a few dates in the UK in November so BiL bagged an interview with this interesting and unique musician…

What attracted you to early blues and Hawaiian music in the first place? Can you tell us a bit about how and why you started looking beyond the blues to isolated folk musics?

Blues was the first “non-conventional” music I heard as a child.  I was drawn to the improvisatory qualities of the music, and also very deeply moved by the timbres, grooves, and general emotional cry of the human soul.  With my youthful interest in national guitars, I discovered Hawaiian music, which from 1900-1935 shared the same qualities.  From there I branched out to other cultures, and it gradually dawned on me that there is so much great guitar music at the fringes of colonialism!  Another common thread that turned me on was the concept of open tunings, found in all of these cultures.  It yields an unconventional way of playing guitar, which has little to do with rock guitar or contemporary western pop.  And yet another common thread was INTERESTING RHYTHMS in colonized cultures, again in contrast to much conventional music.

You're an extraordinarily prolific recording artist. What has been the most enjoyable or satisfying of your collaborations and why?

They have all been satisfying for various reasons, both musical and personal, but I would say the strongest and best musical and personal bond of all is with Rene Lacaille, from Reunion Island, Indian Ocean.  His music is so deep and rich - it was a revelation for me in terms of my own musical betterment.  We have toured extensively in Australia, Europe, Africa, and a bit in the UK and Ireland, with every moment stress-free and full of humor and passion, and exciting, challenging, evolving music.

Is it tricky to avoid cultural imperialism when you visit places?

Not for me, I am very respectful and humbled by great musicians, and I make it clear right away that my name is second, and that my goal is for the musical and personal benefit of my collaborators.  We sleep in the same accommodation, eat the same food, carry all the gear, and share all the rewards equally.  I only work with people I would share my home and table with…in other words, all of my musical and business relationships are with people who love their work, are kind and intelligent, and very dear friends. Life is too short !

You've been a champion of National guitars for years. What got you hooked on them and what make them so special?

First thing is the incredible dynamic range. A wood guitar and especially a solid body electric both have a very small sonic difference between a soft and hard touch of the strings, whereas a National goes from a whisper to a roar, controlled by muscle action, which ideally is controlled by emotional feeling.   I never use pickups, only a microphone, thus the dynamics of the instrument, plus listening to the microphone as I move around it, has trained my ears to be ever-more sensitive to sounds, and their relationship to emotion.  Music is communication of feeling, after all, which is why - unlike language - music needs no translation. Its delivery of emotion is universal.  The National led me to all that!  Then there is the full frequency range of a drum kit available with percussion on the body, another strong part of my music.

Are you now an Australian citizen? I seem to remember you mentioning at a gig that you were planning it a few years ago. What's your take on the state of the States now?

I remain a US citizen, though I spend a lot of time around the world for long periods. We are waiting to see what happens in 2008 before making any decisions.  To be clear, a true patriot loves his country and observes what is going on.  Our system is in trouble, and the public wealth of the country has been systematically drained and looted.  Socially, I find a lot of aggression, selfishness, xenophobia, and fear in the prevailing atmosphere at home.  Discourse is diminished, distraction, by consumerism and celebrity culture, is king.

What have you coming up in the next 12 months?

Leading up to the UK, I have, just since September, toured Australia, Japan, Belgium, and a few Sweden shows!  After this UK tour, I finish the year in Italy and Greece for concert tours.  January is California and Canada, February is recording a new blues record, March sees the release of my new “orchestra” world project, wherein I play 12-27 instruments myself for each song, all strings and percussion.  March and April I will be in Australia, end of April to May in France and Germany. June in Hawaii, teaching Hawaiian music, July back in Italy for a summer tour, September a few US dates, October is all-Scandinavia tour, etc., and so forth! I have bookings for 2009 already, so there is a lot coming up!

More info:

Our 2007 interview with Bob here >>