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Channel: David Hamburger
Video: Chromatic Nocturne
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DAVID HAMBURGER - When I want to sound like I come from a musical background, I tell people that my grandfather was born in Harlem and learned to play stride piano by ear in the Roaring Twenties, all of which is true, if slightly misleading (Harlem used to be a Jewish neighborhood, my grandfather ran an ad agency, not a speakeasy, and he picked up his "popular piano" chops as a freshman in college). My father played piano as well, mostly Tin Pan Alley tunes, Mozart and Chopin, although one of my earliest musical memories is of running around in circles while he played “Malaguena,” until I threw up. (The other is of watching monster muppets on Sesame Street sing “Lulu’s Back in Town.”) I started on the violin in the fourth grade, discovered clawhammer banjo at a groovy New Hampshire summer camp at age 12, and was subtley re-directed towards the guitar by my mom, who thought I’d stand a better chance at parties that way. My first guitar teacher was Lucille Magliozzi, a bluegrass freak and brother to the Car Talk guys, so while my friends were decoding Van Halen’s “Eruption” I was learning fingerpicking and fiddle tunes, rendering the whole guitar/party thing a bit of a wash.

At Wesleyan University I fell in with a bad lot and, to quote Dave Van Ronk, “I wanted to play jazz in the worst way – and I succeeded.” I did, however, also have my first noteworthy gig, backing up Allen Ginsburg at a packed poetry reading my senior year. He was only going to sing a handful of tunes, but when I asked if I should leave the stage in between, he told me, “no, just stay up here and…meditate.” So I did. He was Ginsburg, after all, and gave me a big smooch on the cheek afterwards (very furry, as you might expect).

On to New York City, where I spent the first couple of years gigging with Freedy Johnston and playing on his first record, The Trouble Tree, before embarking on a decade of playing guitar, pedal steel and dobro in the city’s 1990s alt. country scene and serving as de facto house session musician for a couple of indie folk/singer-songwriter labels. Around the same time I wrote an instructional book, Beginning Blues Guitar, which led to me writing for Guitar Player, cranking out a handful more books, becoming a contributing editor to Acoustic Guitar and interviewing people like John Leventhal, Jerry Douglas and Keb' Mo'.

After a brief stint as a Broadway pit musician and a season playing on the Food Network's Emeril Live, I headed for Austin, Texas in 2000, where I helped start a hardcore bluegrass band, the Grassy Knoll Boys, and went on tour playing guitar for Joan Baez. In 2004 I did my first jingle for Tequila Mockingbird, a Krispy Kreme radio spot. Since then I’ve done more spots for Tequila and worked for Juniper Music and the Listening Chair in Dallas and Duotone Audio Group in New York, writing music for Wendy’s, Comcast, Comerica Bank and Autozone, scoring corporate videos for Frost Bank and Sweet Leaf Tea, playing on spots for BMW, Shiner Beer, Scotts and Ponderosa, and writing several volumes of library music for Firstcom.

I also played on a Springsteen remake of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” last year. Now me and the Boss are like this, despite the fact that, through the magic of the studio, we’ve never actually met.

Muriel Anderson's All Star Guitar Night benefits the Music For Life Alliance