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Dan, Sobo, Jerusalem Blues Band Assaf, Sobo, Jerusalem Blues Band Fish, Sobo, Jerusalem Blues Band

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From Mike's Place to Memphis

By Daniel Ben-Tal

It's Friday night at Mike's Place, and the club is rocking. On the cramped stage, SOBO's lead singer, Assaf Ganzman, effortlessly breaks into a familiar bass lick, to pounding rhythms from Eli Grundman's rudimentary drum kit. Daniel Kriman's whining slide guitar and harmonica soar above, soaking the smoky room in good vibes.

By the end of its raunchy rendition of the Doors's "Roadhouse Blues," the audience of young Tel Avivans is on its feet. SOBO is about to leave for Memphis, Tennessee, where it will represent Israel in the International Blues Challenge January 29-31, competing with 95 bands from English speaking countries for $25,000 in cash and prizes, and the title of "Best Unsigned Blues Band."

The annual battle of the bands is organized by The Blues Foundation (www.blues.org), the Memphis-based umbrella organization for the worldwide resurgence in blues music with thousands of members in 24 countries. SOBO's trip will be sponsored by a body called Blues for Peace, which has been recognized by UNESCO for "promoting the culture of peace."

Ganzman hopes the trip will open doors for the largely overlooked trio. "We'll send a message of freedom and peace, and hopefully get some gigs in Europe or the US. Maybe a booking agent will notice us. It'll be a chance to show that Israel is not just about terrorist bombs."

For eight years, the Jerusalem-based trio has been playing the blues at both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem bars, both of which are operated by Ganzman and his brother Gal. Last June, a suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance to the Tel Aviv premises, killing two patrons and a waitress. The bar was reopened within days, and continues to attract plenty of support patronage. "I'm not going to advertise what happened. We don't want sympathy," says Ganzman. "Mike's Place is still kicking. You can't kill our spirit. Violence is not the answer, the bombing didn't change us - it just made us more determined to get our message out there."

This will be SOBO's second foray into the overseas blues circuit. In the summer of 2002, it was voted best band in the Neva Delta International Blues Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. It played three wildly successful shows and sold 500 copies of its Southbound Train CD.

"It was cool - we were treated like big stars," recalls Kriman, who was born and raised in the city. He began guitar lessons at 12, having already studied piano and trumpet. "I started playing slide as soon as I learned to play the guitar - no one ever taught me. I always loved this music. I think I was involved in the blues in my previous life."

Under perestroika, the former Soviet Union was flooded with Western music, and Kriman accumulated every Howling Wolf record available. As a student, he played in a rock band called Cosa Nostra and appeared in rock festivals in St. Petersburg, Tallinn, and Moscow, but his heart lay elsewhere.

"One of the reasons I left Russia was because I had no one toplay the blues with. I had to get out!", Kriman immigrated to Israel in the winter of 1992, and soon joined the growing band of immigrant musicians on the capital's BenYehuda pedestrian mall - until the day in 1995 when he wandered into the recently opened Jerusalem Mike's Place and met Assaf  "Sammy" Ganzman.

The two have been close friends since, both onstage and off. "Daniel and I grew up in different places, both listening to rock and roll," notes Ganzman. Haifa born Ganzman moved to New York with his family in 1972, at age three. He started to play guitar at nine and went into the studio when he was 12.

In 1985, the Ganzman family relocated to Jerusalem, where Assaf joined a local teenage band called China Black. After his military service, he put together another rock band, Noah's Ark, that regularly gigged at Jerusalem's Underground club. He then spent three years in Nashville and Darien, Connecticut, before returning to Jerusalem at 25.

Ganzman and Kriman used a series of drummers before linking with Eli "Fish" Grundman three years ago. A solid, reliable percussionist, Grundman was raised in New York where he worked as a studio musician and on several Broadway shows.

Together, they have penned some two dozen songs, including seven of the 10 tracks on their debut CD recorded in 1998. Over the past eight years, SOBO (short for Southbound Train, their original name) has performed hundreds of times in small venues throughout the country.

"We're not pretentious. Jazz is kind of pretentious. Ours is a laid-back show," says Ganzman, who wears faded blue jeans and open-necked shirt on stage. Though widely acknowledged as the foundations of contemporary Western popular music, the blues represents a tiny segment of the vast entertainment industry. In Israel, the market is infinitesimal.

"We're not in it for the money," says Kriman, a father of three who also holds down a daytime job as Internet website graphics designer. "We never aimed to be a hit band - do you see John Mayall on the charts? I have no delusions."

January 26, 2004

© 2004, The Jerusalem Post - All rights reserved


© 1998-2009 Blues for Peace Corporation. All rights reserved.

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