By the time British slide guitarist, Jack Broadbent took the Montage Music Hall stage for his second set at last year's Jazz Fest, the buzz was on and the word was out. Armed with a Hofner archtop guitar and a whiskey flask as a slide, Broadbent played those beautiful blues to a knocked-out audience.
I let out a collective "hell yeah" when I heard he was coming back this year, so I gave Broadbent a jingle to see what made the man tick, what makes the man slide. The problem was he was quiet and shy — I mean his first three answers were "Montreal," "Uh-huh," and "Thanks" — not at all what I expected. I had a deadline. I had to think fast on my feet.
Broadbent practically makes his guitar talk, so why couldn't I conduct the interview that way — by talking to Broadbent's guitar? I still speak a little conversational guitar and I'm fairly fluid with English. Problem solved.
Broadbent kicked it off about his introduction to the slide guitar.
"I played in a lot of blues bands when I was growing up," Broadbent says. "The slide guitar thing kind of just fell into my lap, if you'll pardon the expression. It wasn't something I was consciously looking for. It sort of found me, I guess."
Broadbent's roots are in busking throughout Europe. The antiquity of busking combined with YouTube videos (one in Amsterdam had 425,000 hits) have made him an Internet darling. Here was a guy sitting down with a conventional guitar across his lap using a hip flask as a giant slide to cajole out of his guitar some of the greasiest slide I've heard since the late John Campbell. The sound is a cross between a weeping angel and an air raid siren.
Broadbent looks a lot like Jesus, but it's his guitar that walks on water. I said this to Miss Hofner (Broadbent's guitar) and she thanked me with a reverberating "bomp-bomp" on the low strings.
One of the things that's cool to watch is Broadbent's treatment of other musicians' music and how he gets lost in it. He tears into Jimi Hendrix and Canned Heat voraciously.
"It's less about the song than it is how I feel about it," he says. "It has to be something that I want to play every night or means something to me on a personal level, I suppose." Miss Hofner concurs with another set of "bomps," this time an octave higher and with a twinge of feedback.
When pressed for introspection and self-definition, Broadbent opens up a bit.
"I guess I'm gonna have to start saying it's a combination or a mixture of folk, rock, and blues," he says. "As far as I'm concerned it all comes from the same place. It's about the songwriting for me. I consider myself a singer-songwriter." Miss Hofner lets her low E-string hum in agreement.
In between jaunts in all directions, Broadbent is in the studio working on an album with an anticipated summer release.
"It's going to be more folk-oriented," he says. To which, Miss Hofner disagrees and lets fly with a wailin' 12th fret attack on an Elmore James riff. It's probably a good thing Broadbent doesn't play Tuba.
Seriously, I'm going to have to conduct more interviews this way. Ta-wang, y'all.
Jack Broadbent plays Saturday, June 23, at Harro East Ballroom, 155 North Chestnut Street. 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. And again Sunday, June 24, at the Xerox Auditorium at Xerox Plaza, 100 South Clinton Avenue. 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Each show $30 or Club Pass. jackbroadbent.co.uk.