It's a pretty impressive feat to have become one the UK's most in-demand freelance bass players without having really intended to. Typically, those who get to the top start out with a burning childhood ambition, but Dave Bronze, a player with a hugely impressive list of credits, had already established a career as a medical technician, complete with wife and children, when what had been an enjoyable semi-pro career suddenly got serious.
'One day I got a knock on the door from a band that had seen me playing locally, asking me if I wanted to join them. They'd just been signed by Warner Bros., were halfway through making an album and had fired their bass player. Somehow they found my address and asked me to join the band. They were doing Top Of The Pops the following week.'.
The band in question was Glider, and the choice must have been a difficult one. Not many people with an established career dare take the chance if it comes their way, but with his wife's encouragement, he took the plunge, expecting, he says, the gig to last a year - 'And here I am, some 30 years later, still doing it.'
Glider wasn't the biggest success in the world, and when he left the band he became a guitar repairer for a shop in Southend. There, in a perfect demonstration of the wonderful serendipity of music, he found himself working alongside Brad Trower, Robin's brother.
'It was one of those funny coincidences, because in about 1983 Robin suddenly needed a bass player and I kind of stumbled into it,' he says. 'You know how it is when you're a freelance: you meet people at sessions, they take your name and it's just like a domino effect from there. And that's what happened for the next thirty years.'
This, of course, modestly overlooks the essential ingredients of being a first class player, capable of learning parts in a hurry and (who knows - maybe the most important skill of them all?) being someone other people can easily get along with. Armed with those talents and the aforementioned domino principle, Dave's career has seen him working with an astonishing list of bands and artists, including Procul Harum, Dr Feelgood, Ray Davies, Jeff Beck, Duane Eddy, Bryan Ferry and some chap by the name of Eric Clapton, with whom he has had a long association.
Recently, there has been a re-uniting of the Trower band from the early 1980s, which has kept him busy, not to mention an Andy Fairweather-Low album produced by the legendary Glynn Johns, a major open air charity gig with Eric Clapton, in a band featuring Ringo Starr, Mike Rutherford, Gary Brooker, Paul Carrack, and the aforementioned Mr Fairweather-Low. Add production duties and studio work and you soon realise just how busy is Dave Bronze's diary.
But back to the beginning: what had made him want to play bass?
'Partly it was an accident. I was very interested in bass from listening to Staxx and Motown, but my first instrument was harmonica and I started out as the harp player in a Blues band. Then, a band was forming at school, one of the guys said they couldn't find a bass player and asked if I wanted to do it. To which I said, "Well, great but two things. I haven't got a bass and I can't play." But he gave me a bass to play - some horrible great big semi-acoustic with a neck shaped like a banana, and a week later we had our first rehearsal - that was my introduction to bass,' he laughs.
His first amplification wasn't a lot better - a large hi-fi cabinet and an amp made by an electronics engineer friend. But that's what it was like in the 1960s!
'I scrimped and saved from there and my first proper bass was a Fender Precision. I've more or less stayed with that basic Fender style since then - well, with one interruption.'
That interruption, given Dave's solid soul style and tastes, comes as a surprise. 'I fell completely head over heels with Chris Squire's playing when Yes came along. All my pretensions to being a soul bass player went straight out the window and I became a prog rock man so, of course, I bought a Rickenbacker - what else would you do? I stuck with that for a few years and loved it, actually - in fact I've just bought another one off eBay for old times sake.'
But then came his metaphorical vision on the road to Damascus. Though it was, he reflects, more probably Chelmsford.
'By this time I was in my medical job and visiting hospitals all over the place. One day I was driving to work and a track came on the radio and caught my ear. I turned it up and the louder it got, the better it got. In the end I had to pull the car off the road and turn the engine off so I could hear better; and that moment redefined my understanding of bass. The song was 'How Long' by Ace and hearing Tex' (Tex Comer) 'playing this simple but beautifully honed bass part with no fat on it at all, was a revelation. I thought, "that's the way", sold the Rickenbaker and got another Fender!
'From that point on I've always been basically a Fender player. I go though phases with the high-tech stuff but always seem to end-up with Fender or Fender-style instruments.
'I've probably got about 15 basses, but among the ones that get used regularly is a '61 Precision, which was a gift from Eric Clapton. It's absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful, sounds great and is my favourite bass. But it is a bit precious to take on the road for general use, so I only take it out on special occasions, like recording sessions, or when I used it on the Concert For George. It was the bass I used it on Eric's 'From The Cradle' album and the subsequent tours for that album, so it's got a special place for me.
'For general use, I have a number of basses and I've been very fortunate that I've met some great builders who've made them, starting with my Lakland Joe Osborn Signature - a really, fine instrument. Joe, in case you don't know of him, is a tremendously highly rated American session player. He played on all the Carpenters' records, he played on countless hits and he only ever had one bass - a Jazz Bass from 1959, I believe. The Lakland people got that bass and literally copied it microscopically, making just a few subtle changes, like a bit of carbon reinforcing in the neck. In effect, it's a perfect early '60s Jazz Bass.'
How had he come across the Chicago-made Lakland?
'Funnily enough, I found it at Ashdown Engineering. Mark Gooday is a friend and I was visiting him one day and there it was, standing in a corner. It was during the rehearsals for Concert For George in 2002 and Mark lent it to me. I really liked it and he put me in touch with the Lakland people and we came to an arrangement. What it really is is a very good Jazz bass. I've always thought of that as the Swiss Army knife of basses and the Lakland models are like idealised versions.'
For 5-string duties, Dave's main instrument is a New York-built Sadowski Vintage 5-string. 'That's goes everywhere and is the bass I fall back on. If I can only take one bass with me and I don't know what's expected, that will probably be the one I take. It's another Jazz Bass, but with a hugely wide neck - take a standard Fender, add another string and that's the kind of width it has, which does make it feel a bit lumpy, at first. But once you get used to it, it's very comfortable.
'The people at Lakland have also provided me with a 5-string version of the Joe Osborn Signature, which is also a beautiful instrument. It's still new to me, but it's great . It's got a 35" scale and that extra inch makes quite a difference on the B - cleans it up a bit, which is very noticeable in the studio - and I love it. That stays in my home studio and that's the bass I use every day.'
Also in the collection are an Ovation 5-string and, much-loved, a newer Fylde 4 string acoustic bass, not to mention a Steinberger upright bass, bought, he admits, almost on a whim. 'It's great - I've had a lot of use out of it. Despite what I said about the Sadowski's neck, my hands are quite small for a bass player and a full acoustic bass is quite a handful for me, but the Steinberger is quite easy to play and I've used it on albums where you really can't tell the difference between it and the "real thing".
Strings? 'I'm an Elite endorsee. But I don't like new strings and I make a set last weeks - I kind of dread changing them, in fact, though that's only with rounds. I have a couple of basses strung with flats and I hardly ever change them. In fact I find I'm starting to use flatwound strings more and more.'
As far as his choice in amplification goes, Dave is a recent convert to the Italian-produced Mark Bass range - to the extent of lending his name to the brand.
'I always loved Ampeg SVTs, particularly back in the '80s with the Trower band, when I had people carrying stuff around for me. They're still a great, if not the greatest, of the old amps - but they are so difficult to move around. In fact, a head in a flightcase is impossible for me to pick up on my own. Then every couple of years you have to have them re-valved, which is getting prohibitively expensive, so you look around for something lighter which will do the job. I have been a Trace Elliot endorsee in the past and I've used Ashdown and I've had no complaints with either, however, stumbling on this Mark Bass equipment has transformed everything. I've now found a rig that gives me the satisfaction I used to get from the SVT, without the weight and the cost. I've got a Mark Bass 503 head and the 6x10 cabinet and that's 1,200 Watts - loud enough for me! I used it at the recent Clapton open air charity show and I have to tell you it was more than up to the job. And on the album I just did with Andy Fairweather-Low, we completely ditched the DI track and used the amplified sound on its own. The sound we were getting from the Mark Bass rig was just so good that Glynn Johns (who, after all, knows what he's doing!) decided to use just that track. In fact for any sessions that I do from now on, I'll be using just the amped sound and I've bought a Mark Bass 4x10 for that purpose.'
If bass is divided between those who constantly seek to push the instrument into new up-front areas, and those who see it at its best as a supporting instrument where less means more, Dave Bronze is firmly in the latter camp.
'The more I become engrossed in mixing and producing, the more I like the bass in a supporting role. I think I see bass in a slightly different way than I used to. Maybe it's a bit of age as well, but whatever the reason, I find I play much less now - much simpler bass lines. I'm basically a songs man, I really like good singers and you've got to leave space for them - if the bass is jumping all over the it can be very distracting. I really like good singers and you've got to leave space for them - if the bass is jumping all over the lace it can be very distracting. Put on a well produced Nashville record, or something with Willie Weeks on it, you can hear they are playing very simple, but very groovy stuff. Although it maybe doesn't stimulate the brain as much as some bass players would like, it very much gets to the emotion of the song.'
That probably gets us close to the secret of Dave Bronze's success as a player and if it reminds us that you don't have to be an up-front, busy virtuoso to make a creative musical contribution (let alone a great career) with the instrument, it's a lesson well worth the learning.