By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Legendary acoustic steel and slide guitarist and ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman died Wednesday in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he lived. He was 59.
A blues and roots music legend, Brozman was the master of many acoustic guitar styles, including Hawaiian, blues, jazz, Gypsy swing, calypso, sega and even the most modern hip-hop and ska beats.
“Apparently he died of heart failure at home,” said Kona bluesman and slack key artist Colin John, who called Brozman “one of my heroes.” “He was an intense, incredible, intelligent musician and ethnomusicologist and educator.”
Born March 8, 1954, in New York, Brozman released more than 30 albums, starting with “Blue Hula Stomp” in 1981. He collaborated with the best guitarists worldwide, with albums including “In the Saddle” with Ledward Kaapana, “Four Hands Sweet & Hot” with Cyril Pahinui and “Kani Wai” with George Kahumoku Jr. His solo album “Blues Reflex” was nominated for the Blues Foundation’s 2007 Blues Music Awards in the category of “Acoustic Album of the Year.”
“He was so young and so talented. I just can’t believe it,” said Pahinui. “Our album took (Na Hoku Hanohano) Instrumental of the Year. I played tours with him. I’m gonna miss him, boy. He’s a nice guy and he’ll be missed all over the world. He’s a great, great, great lap steel player.”
Brozman, who played often in Hawaii, started playing guitar at age 6 and discovered National resonator guitars at age 13. His fascination with Nationals led him to build a large collection of the art-deco era instruments. He’d sometimes joke that if he had to buy his guitars now, he couldn’t afford them.
“Bob had an incredibly wicked sense of humor and an incredibly keen eye on the world,” John said. “He was not afraid to speak his mind on social injustices and political tomfoolery and I admired him for that, because politics had nothing to do with his music.”
Brozman’s playing style was bold, and his stage banter with audiences was witty. As he was tuning a guitar during a show at Kilauea Military Camp in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, he said that an audience member once asked him why he tuned his guitar so much, noting that Eric Clapton had not tuned an instrument once during an entire concert. Brozman said he told the person “I tune because I care.” He then explained that Clapton had roadies to tune instruments while he was onstage, while Brozman toured alone.
“He never forgot his working-class roots,” said John. “He would travel with six to eight instruments and I asked him once, I said, ‘Ever get too expensive?’ Because he and his wife, Haley, would go to certain gigs and ultimately, he was lugging that stuff himself and setting up, and absolutely refused to have a tech or roadie or anything like that. He had a very strong work ethic, so doing that would have gone against his values — even when he could afford it.”
In 1988, Brozman rediscovered the legendary 1920s Hawaiian recording artists, the Tau Moe Family. Together they recorded a landmark album, “Remebering the Songs of our Youth,” a historic re-creation of the family’s Hawaiian music from 60 years prior. The 1989 album received the Library of Congress Select List Award.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.