Bob Brozman: National steel guitar virtuoso

 

Bob Brozman was fond of starting his one-man, two-hour concerts by saying, "We'll go right back to the 1920s, where I'm going to stay all night." He would stun audiences with his mixture of ragtime, calypso, jazz, blues, pop and Hawaiian music, played on his beloved National steel guitars as well as mandolins and ukuleles. He could play with remarkable speed but he would close with a slow, romantic "I'll See You In My Dreams" on ukulele. The repertoire was so wide that no such concert could have been performed like this in the 1920s.

Robert Charles Brozman was born into a Jewish family living on Long Island in 1954. One brother became a doctor and another a lawyer, "so you can see where I appear on the family totem pole," he joked. He first played guitar when he was six and in 1967, after being hooked on an album by the rock guitarist Johnny Winter, he decided to check out his sources. Brozman studied music and ethnomusicology at Washington University and he became a respected authority on Hawaiian music, amassing a large collection of 78rpm records and often reissuing them on CD.

Brozman then discovered National steel guitars and he was to become a world authority on them, writing the definitive history, The History And Artistry Of National Resonator Instruments, in 1993, and following it with Bob Brozman's Bottleneck Blues Guitar (1996).

Brozman began his professional career around Santa Cruz, California, and he quickly learnt the importance of dynamics when performing. "I came up as a street musician first and then I was playing in clubs where beer bottles were flying and pool cues were broken over people's heads," he told me in 1992, "I learnt very quickly that you can capture attention by suddenly going quiet instead of playing louder and louder and louder."

Despite his historical and educational intent, Brozman developed an energetic, fun-packed show. He might play the blues as seriously as Robert Johnson but "Backwards Blues" is about everything going right in his life. "There is so much seriousness around the blues that it sometimes begs for a bit of satire," he said. "The more serious blues fans are surprised but I tell them, these guys didn't play the blues to get the blues: these guys played the blues to get rid of them and they were entertainers first and foremost. They were out there to make people happy, not to make them depressed."

Brozman released over 30 albums and in particular he was drawn to music from the islands. "I realised the value of islands as musical laboratories," he said. "Musical instruments and ideas are left behind and then they percolate in isolation."

Brozman adored some 78rpms from 1929 by Mme Riviere's Hawaiians and when a musician, Tau Moe, wanted to purchase one of his albums, he found Tau and his wife Rose had both played in that band. He recorded an album with them, Ho'omana'o I Na Mele O Ka Wa U'I [Remembering The Songs Of Our Youth] for Rounder Records in 1989. Other collaborations include Jin Jin/Firefly (2000) with Takashi Hirayasu from the Ryukyu islands of Okinawa, and Songs Of The Volcano (2005) with 60 musicians from Papua, New Guinea. Brozman spent much of his time helping musicians from the developing world obtain instruments and gain access to recording facilities.

Among his solo albums were Lumiere (2008), credited to the Bob Brozman Orchestra and featuring himself 27 times. His Post-Industrial Blues (2007) dealt with contemporary issues. Brozman loved touring the UK and when I met him he was on a 60-date tour which also involved daytime workshops and demonstrations. He had the energy and commitment to fit it all in. "I'll catch up on sleep in the next life," he said.

Robert Charles Brozman, singer, guitarist and musicologist: born New York 8 March 1954; married (one daughter); died Santa Cruz, California 23 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms