I was born with a guitar pick in my hand for a rattle and a blues harp for a pacifier. I remember dancing in my crib to the "Banana Boat Song" on the radio by Harry Belafonte. When I was eight, I started guitar lessons and by the time the Beatles came along, I was ready to rock and roll!
At ten, I won a guitar contest playing "Carina", a rhumba, in a red and black Flamenco dancer outfit that my mother made. At fourteen, I went to work at Lo Duca Brothers music instrument factory tuning guitars packing Vox Cry Baby pedals for shipment. Since the factory was in the inner city of Milwaukee, I experienced first hand the riots over civil rights that summer.
In high school, I joined the Lovin' Kind with lead singer Steve Peterman. After that I joined my friend Steve Cohen's blues band on rhythm guitar. Steve taught gave me his sister's copy of "On the Road" and in our "Sal & Dean" adventures, we crashed a Jimi Hendrix concert.
Mr. Orlando, my high orchestra conductor, didn't think much of my guitar playing.
He said the guitar was good for just one thing- swatting flies and used to tease me
in front of the class. But I got even with him ...
I smashed my violin
to bits during rehearsal.
After high school, I moved to Jerusalem on a work study program and the director, Charlie Fishman, introduced me to jazz. (He later brought B.B. King to Israel and managed Dizzy Gillespie). As a volunteer on Kibbutz Gonen near the Sea of Galilee, I had a dream...
In the middle of the night, armed men burst into the room where a bunch of us were sleeping and started shooting us in our beds. I was SCARED SILLY and reached into my pocket, took out my harmonica and threw it at them!
Back in the US, I went to UW Madison and studied Hebrew and Music Education. I played guitar, harmonica and saxophone in the Black Music and Jazz Ensembles led by Jimmy Cheatham. After college, I moved to New York City, played club dates and bars, and joined Paul Jeffrey's rehearsal band. I also sat in with Charles Mingus and the Jazz Workshop and played "Flowers for a Lady" by George Adams.
Johnny Mayer sittin' in with Charles Mingus.
A few years later, I was a volunteer music teacher in Or Yehuda, an Israeli development town. Shlomo Artzi, a top Israeli singer, asked me to join his band and used to pick me up every morning at 10 AM and take me to the beach. We didn't rehearse much (ok so we never rehearsed), but hey what a great tan!
On easy street, I was teaching for Kley Zemer and performing in schools for Noar Musicalli when Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait. My Highway Blues Band was rolling along until a few nasty scuds cut short the jams. I sat out the war in the Negev and wrote a book to teach Israeli kids blues guitar called Blues & Rock N Roll Guitar dedicated to Albert Collins with his picture and quotes in Hebrew! (24 pages + cassette).
The publisher took the book to a German music festival and found a US distributor for an English edition. The book Blues Guitar Band - teaches blues guitar in a band setting - easy lead, pro-lead, rhythm & bass guitar. (48 pages + CD). You can hear the long, cool playbacks -
Blues for Peace was dreamed up one night on the way to a salsa lesson with my co-conspirator Nancy Shapira. After salsa, we planned to attend the "Black & Blues Festival" in Tel Aviv and pass out flyers on my fledging Israeli blues project. With just ten minutes to make up the flyer, here's what we came up with this...
"Blues for Peace was set up in Israeli to honor the roots of blues music, promote peace and the understanding that ALL peoples have had their share of the blues." Also the motto - And they shall beat their swords into Guitars...
A few months later, my friend mentioned Blues for Peace in his Internet column in the Jerusalem Post. This led to UNESCO recognizing Blues for Peace as helping to promote the United Nations' "Culture of Peace". Since then, BFP has appeared in Downbeat, CNN Student News, USA Today Hot Site, PBS American Masters, Maariv (Israeli paper), "The World" radio program and on freight trains in the USA - see train graffiti!
And what about performing? Whether it's playing in nightclubs, concerts, jam sessions, charity gigs or busy street corners... just call me and I'll be there on the downbeat! Check out some photo's - "Faith, Hope & the Blues" concert in Jerusalem; the "Intl Guitar Festival" in Tel Aviv; and jammin' with the singer songwriter David Broza.
OK, it's over... you can open your eyes now. As Howlin' Wolf once said, "I'll be in your town... when I get there."