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In Fine Fiddle

Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians.
Abandoning band tours and some renown, Bromberg now owns a violin store in Wilmington, Del., and jams with local musicians. "It has given me back my chops," he says. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

During his sophomore year at Columbia, he suffered an emotional breakdown, took a leave and never returned. He taught guitar and hung out at coffeehouses in Greenwich Village, meeting future stars like Richie Havens and Jerry Jeff Walker, with whom he toured for a couple of years.

Then one day he heard a message on his answering machine (he says he was an early owner of the device), and the voice sounded distinctly like Bob Dylan, saying he'd be in touch.

"I thought it was someone playing a joke," Bromberg says.

It wasn't. In 1970, Dylan hired him as a session guitarist on "Self Portrait" and "New Morning." A year later, Dylan played harmonica on a track on Bromberg's debut record.

By the late 1970s, Bromberg had cut more than half a dozen albums and kept up a nonstop tour schedule. Soon he tired of the grind. At 35, he found himself sinking into a deep depression. "I wasn't practicing, I wasn't writing, I wasn't playing," he says. "As far as I could see, I wasn't a musician anymore."

So he went back to school -- to learn how to make violins, a decision he compares to "jumping off a diving board with a blindfold on." He reunited with his band here and there, but he focused on studying violins, and buying and selling them wholesale in Chicago, where he lived for more than two decades with his wife, Nancy Josephson, and their two kids.

Five years ago, after digging out from yet another snowfall, the family planned a return to the East Coast, but New York was too expensive so they ended up in Wilmington. It turned out Bromberg's road manager, Stephen Bailey, a close friend, lived there.

At the same time, Wilmington officials trying to revive downtown learned that Bromberg was interested in relocating, and offered the couple a dilapidated, vacant brick building across from a Caribbean eatery and the Delaware College of Art and Design. All Bromberg and his wife had to do was agree to stay there for four years, and volunteer some of their spare time playing music and promoting the arts.

Another small matter: They had to make the four-story building habitable, a renovation that cost them more than $600,000. Bromberg acknowledges that he might have gotten more for his money elsewhere ("Maybe it was a stupid move, what do I know? I'm not an expert in real estate"), but he wanted to be downtown, where there's daytime foot traffic.

When the deal was signed, the mayor celebrated with a press release announcing the arrival of a "World Famous Rock/Musician and Classical String Collector."

Although artists haven't quite rushed to relocate downtown since the couple arrived, William Montgomery, chief of staff to Mayor James Baker, says developers have shown renewed interest in the area in recent years and that Bromberg has helped generate buzz. At the very least, he added, the weekly jam sessions draw crowds that otherwise wouldn't have any reason to go downtown. "It adds to the whole panache," he said.

In a city known for button-down bankers, lawyers and du Ponts, Bromberg and Josephson don't exactly blend in. She's an artist studying to become a voodoo priestess, and dyes her short hair a vibrant purple. A sequined miniature cow, two alligators and roses adorn the hood of their blue Pontiac minivan. On the roof is a beaded egg resting on a pair of duck's legs.

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