When local bluegrass band the Brombies gets to work, it always feels more like a family reunion than a professional musical performance. Now in their fourth year of an every-Monday residency at Burbank's Viva Cantina, their fast-moving style, far-ranging repertoire and incandescent, spontaneous soloing underscore the fact that these are some of the most tenured and talented musicians in Southern California.
But band leader George Doering's day job is not quite what one may expect from a humble bluegrass picker.
Earlier, Doering spent the day on set with Clint Eastwood, performing live accompaniment to the singing cast members of “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood's latest feature and first stab in the musical genre. And while the Brombies rarely miss a Monday night, last year the band took a six-week hiatus while Doering was in London's Abbey Road studio throwing down the iconic 007 guitar theme for the “Skyfall” soundtrack.
“I'd never been to London before and it was just a fantastic experience,” Doering said. “But I must say that playing the James Bond riff did feel a little weird.”
The self-effacing multi-instrumentalist is one of Hollywood's best traveled, go-to soundtrack session players, with a 30-year-plus resume that goes back to 1977 when he appeared on camera backing up Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese's “New York New York.”
Doering works primarily as a guitarist but he's also contributed mandola, sitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, saxophone and percussion to more than 800 film and television projects. With command of such a wide array of instruments, he quickly became an in-demand force among those who oversee the scores and soundtracks in Hollywood.
“Often when I first show up at the studio they aren't exactly sure what they want yet,” he said. “And since I play so many different instruments, I just start pulling things out of their cases, see where that takes us until they [say] ‘Oh yes, that's perfect.' And a lot of these people are the same ones I've worked with for years, so I have been very lucky.”
With the strictly-for-pleasure Brombies, he plays mandolin. “Acoustic stuff is so much fun,” he said. “You don't need anything, microphones, a PA or those pesky drums! And the harmony singing is something else I really enjoy, and doing it with Jo Ellen makes it that much better.”
Jo Ellen, his wife of 33 years, is an integral part of the band, along with well-regarded local banjoist Patrick Sauber and the fine bluegrass-country veteran bassist-singer Bill Bryson. They often welcome impressive guest talent like Bryson's longtime colleague Herb Pedersen, a banjo picker of such renown that when he was just a teenager, Lester Flatt hired him to fill in for an ailing Earl Scruggs.
The Brombies' Monday night shows are always well-attended by a cult of ardent bluegrass fans, and the free-flowing mix of hot music, witty banter and all-around down-home mood and setting combine for a rich, rewarding atmosphere. Doering's mandolin struts and shimmies with an almost acrobatic precision and the perfectly realized vocal harmonies are downright intoxicating.
“I love the simplicity of bluegrass,” Doering said. “And the audiences are always sweet, good people. We really have a good time. It just doesn't get any better than that.”
Where: Viva Cantina, 900 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: Every Monday, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
More info: (818) 845-2425, vivacantina.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”