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Blues Improvisation
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Blues For Peace

Sittin' In With SOBO

By Beardo

*** Unsung Heroes of the Blues ***

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*** Unsung Heroes of the Blues ***

Join Beardo as he sits down with the Jerusalem-based Blues band SOBO. After competing in the 2004 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, the power trio offers interesting insights into the Blues in Israel and the world.

It was while scouring the net for Blues-related stories that I first learned, quite by accident, of Blues For Peace, although not noticing then, this particular band from Jerusalem. Sponsored by said organization, SOBO (formerly known as Southbound Train, but we will get into that later) represented The Holy Land in Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt) at the International Blues Competition this past January 2004. I had the pleasure of seeing them on Beale Street at Blues City Cafe, performing their heavy brand of Blues-Rock and of talk with them a few times.

Beardo for BluesWax: So Assaf Ganzman [aka Sammy the bass man and lead vocalist], you were actually born in New York, right?

Sammy Ganzman of SOBO: Yeah, I spent my years leading up to high school there. Then I went to high school and the army in Israel. When I got out I lived in Nashville for three years then returned to Israel and have been back for almost ten years now. I would say though, I got into Blues when I was in Israel.

BW: You're starting to answer questions I haven't even asked yet. I love that! I'd like to ask all of you, what did you hear first, your biggest influences, when did the Blues come down, who's your favorite Beatle, stuff like that?

SG: I grew up listening to the Stones, The Who, Dylan, it's all bluesy, but always in the background and I didn't recognize it as Blues. When I got to Israel I stumbled into a bar named Mike's Place that played a lot of Blues music, got into it, and started playing with Daniel [Kriman] [electric resonator slide with occasional wah and harp]. We discovered Stevie Ray, which led us to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and other Bluesmen I hadn't heard before. That was the beginning for me and I've been hooked since.

BW: That's a variation on stories I've heard by most people getting exposed to English Blues variations, only to dig deeper to find the source. Kind of a left-handed introduction...

SG: It's like when I heard "They're Red Hot" by the Chili Peppers, then heard Robert Johnson's version. There is so much Blues music out there as the foundation of almost all popular music. Let's face it, every Rock band out there is based on the Blues.

BW: Talking to Bill Wax [XM Radio] this weekend we agreed that the actual word "Blues" has a negative connotation in the current musical lexicon due entirely to the public misconception of what Blues really is.

SG: You are so right, I tell people at home that I play Blues and the usual response is: "Cool, I love Jazz!"

BW: So, what is the Jerusalem Blues scene really like? I know I'm not the only one interested in your answer.

SG: I think we should have won an award for bringing the Blues to a faraway place. You wanna talk about keeping the Blues alive. When we first started playing there was only Mike's Place, it is very similar to Wild Bill's juke joint in Memphis, a very informal and low-key place where we really educated our own audience. Over the year as Mike's has gotten bigger so has the scene with us as a liaison between aspiring Blues musicians, which has turned into more Blues bands.

BW: You became a network...

SG: Also, over the years there are more Americans coming to Israel and they know what's going on. They "get it" even though they like the Grateful Dead, that's a lot closer to Blues than Middle Eastern music!

BW: What performers do you hold in highest regard?

SG: I'd have to say Muddy Waters' material is the best of the old Bluesmen and of the white players it has to be Stevie Ray Vaughan...he was just so special and different.

BW: Are there larger venues booking Blues talent?

SG: Not really, we almost opened for B.B. [King] a few years back, but the ticket sales didn't support an opener and they eventually moved to a smaller place.

BW: Our perception of Israel is only what we see on the news and is pretty depressing. Does religion permeate everything...are you guys particularly religious? I remember during your set on Saturday night you alluded to the fact that, yeah it was the Holy Land, but we have beer and Blues and clubs just like you.

SG: No we aren't religious; it just seems like everyone should be when you view it from the outside. Of course, every religion is represented from Muhammad to Jesus and everyone in between are connected to that area. 

SG: You can drink and smoke, people live normal lives. I know when you say Jerusalem in America all they think of is religion and war. If that was what it was like I wouldn't be living here, you know? [Laughter]

BW: Daniel Kriman [guitar, harmonica, piano, trumpet, etc.]. You were born in Russia and reluctantly followed your family who was already in Israel. Tell me your Blues icons and how the band got the name SOBO?

Daniel Kriman of SOBO: Bukka White, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and all the guys that do the train beat. That is what I am really into. The name was originally Southbound Train, the song itself is really about coming home and that rang true for us...Er, ha ha, also our fans would tire of yelling our name because it was so long and started chanting, "SOBO, SOBO, SOBO" at shows so it stuck. That and we couldn't get the domain name [Giggle] and SOBO was available.

BW: Yeah, I don't think anyone had that...

DK: Oh, there is Sobo glue and Sobo bicycles...

BW: Oh man, that's funny. You're in Israel for ten years now, but where did you first play Blues?

DK: For years I played in the streets. There just wasn't anyone playing Blues then but me.

BW: I loved the juiced up resonator you played with a slide the other night in Memphis.

DK: On the album I play acoustic and it sounds much clearer. I just got that guitar a little while ago and the sound wasn't that good....

BW: Are you kidding me? I thought the band sounded huge! It was great.

DK: Really? Well, that is the whole idea, three guys making a lot of noise...

BW: What harmonica were you playing in the rack while also playing lead guitar licks?

DK: Ha ha, that's a good story for you. It is like a Chinese-made toy harmonica that costs maybe three bucks! No other ones work in the same way, not the Hohners, it is just, how do you say...different, you know?

BW: I'll say! It was really ethereal behind the heavy guitar riffs. I loved it. Way different, just like your version of "Not Fade Away" that you guys said you worked up in the hotel room the night before.

DK: I just want to have my own sound. That is the idea. The minor key harp and major key Blues is what is all about. I was afraid it would be too different for the people here.

BW: I can only speak for myself, I really go for the different stuff. It was special for me. Eli Fish Grundman [drums], born in Brooklyn and now living in Israel. How did you hook up with these guys?

Eli Fish of SOBO: I was a fan for a while then joined the band about three years ago.

BW: Correct me if I'm wrong, I get the impression SOBO is the shit in Jerusalem, right?

EF: [laughter] Yeah, we are. We definitely are, and that's a modest way to say it. [laughter] We are the shit, period.

I concur; for more on Blues musicians in The Holy Land check out Blues For and future pages of BluesWax.

Beardo is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. Check out Beardo's website - click the banner below.

Bandana Blues

The article appeared in BluesWax on 2/19/2004. Used by permission.

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