8-3-1954 - 24-4-2013
Bob Brozman, who has died aged 59, was a virtuoso guitarist and musical pioneer who explored a vast range of cultures in more than 30 albums, the fruit of trailblazing research and recordings in Hawaii, India, Africa, Japan, Australia, Greece, Papua New Guinea and Reunion Island.
Constantly touring, he was a master of styles, playing everything from blues and jazz to calypso and gypsy swing, even experimenting in later life with modern hip hop and ska rhythms, on which his finger work was so rapid that many observers mistakenly assumed he was using electronic effects. Always acoustic, he was equally adept on mandolin and ukulele, but was best known for playing slide on the National steel resonator guitar - an instrument on which he became a leading authority.
Born in New York on March 8, 1954, he first started playing guitar at six, and his future was decided at 13 when he heard the unique sound of the slide guitar. The intense 1920s recordings of the great Mississippi bluesman Charley Patton became the young Brozman's enduring obsession, inspiring him to study music and ethnomusicology at Washington University, specialising in the roots of Delta blues.
He learned that the National guitar had been introduced to Delta bluesmen in the 1920s and '30s by visiting Hawaiians and, by the 1970s, Brozman had also developed a consuming passion for Hawaiian music. His first album, Blue Hula Stomp (1981), was conceived as a tribute to the 78rpm recordings of the early American music from that period. Brozman did not own a CD player, and at one point he said he only ever listened to old music because he believed a "mental pollution" attached itself to the mass-media culture that sullied anything produced after the 1930s. He particularly hated rock, believing its rigidity stifled imagination, although his antipathy towards modern music was softened slightly by the onset of hip hop, whose rhythms he adapted to great effect on some of his later recordings. Though it never brought him major commercial success, Brozman's constant breaking down of musical barriers did much to open minds and introduce lesser-known styles to a wider public. He was at his happiest exploring ideas with other guitarists from different backgrounds; one of his best-loved recordings is Remembering the Songs of Our Youth (1989), a
collaboration with the great Hawaiian star of the 1920s, Tau Moe, by then in his 80s. Brozman also worked extensively with another great Hawaiian musician, Ledward Kaapana, as well as Australian singer-songwriter Jeff Lang; English folk guitarist Martin Simpson; and the Indian classical player
Debashish Bhattacharya. On his travels he liked to play impromptu sessions with local musicians, living with them and absorbing their culture. "I'm not some big American with a giant entourage," he said. "I'm just a travelling musician, a working guy." Through the years, Brozman gathered a large collection of National steel guitars, gave lectures, ran workshops, directed film music scores, and wrote The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments. Despite suffering pain as a result of a car accident in 1980, he never stopped touring. He is survived by his wife and daughter.