Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The harmonica don't get no respect....

The harmonica is a tricky little instrument. It is often regarded as nothing more than a child's toy, something you blow in and out of and make noise. Many musicians also regard it as an inferior instrument, limited in its range and possibilities. Obviously, ever since Little Walter released "Juke" in the early '50s this has been proven false. The only limitations the harmonica has are how much effort the player is willing to invest to master it. Listen to Howard Levy, Carlos Del Junco or Jason Ricci and you'll be amazed at what can be done with this tiny , 10-hole "toy".
The simplicity of the harmonica is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, with almost no learning or experience one can make some fun , satisfying sounds with it. On the other hand, this causes many people to stop right there and be content with this basic level - and the result is a world populated with mediocre  harp players, causing serious musicians to be suspicious of harp players...
When the great Blues artist Lucky Peterson was on his first visit to Israel, my band was going to back him up on his shows in Israel, and I was thrilled to finally meet one of my favorite artists. When he arrived at our first rehearsal , I introduced myself. Lucky asked what I play in the band and I said "Harmonica". Lucky gave me a skeptical sideways look and said "I don't usually play with harmonica players". I said nothing, since I knew exactly what he was thinking: "bad enough I have to play with a local band I'm not familiar with, now I need to deal with a harmonica too???". We started the rehearsal and after a few songs Lucky smiled and said "there are a lot of bad harp players out there, but I see you know what you're doing, so we're cool..."


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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Goin' to Jerusalem

Chicago Blues diva Deitra Farr recently posted on Facebook a photo of herself at the wailing wall in Jerusalem, reminiscing of her visit there 20 years ago. That brought back some good memories for me too, since I was the one who took her there ….
I have done short sightseeing trips like that with a few visiting Blues artists, and it’s fun and rewarding for both  me and for them. Many African-American Blues artists grew up in the baptist church, and a visit to the holy Christian sites in Jerusalem has deep meaning for them. Also, many touring artists don’t get the opportunity to see much of the country,  usually limited to hotel rooms and concert venues, so they appreciate someone taking the time and showing them a bit of the country. 
The first such trip I did was with the late great King Earnest (Earnest Baker), who I had already become close friends with. King was a devout Christian, who had even spent 15 years in “retirement” from the Blues singing in his church choir. That day, I drove him up to Jerusalem along with my wife and infant daughter, he was excited and full of anticipation. He kept saying “I can’t wait to see that cross”, which confused me at first. Eventually I understood that someone back home had told him that the actual cross that Jesus had died on was still on display in Jerusalem. I had the awkward duty of disappointing my friend, telling him that no such cross existed, and if anyone tried to sell him a piece of the cross it was just a scam...he got a good laugh at that, and we had a fine day in Jerusalem - even running into a group from his church right on the Via Dolorosa - which was very moving and meaningful to King.
Being a young aspiring Blues artist in Israel, so far away from Chicago and other authentic Blues scenes in America, these trips  had a lot of meaning for me too - they were my opportunity to spend time and bond with musicians who I admire and respect, to pay back some of the debt I feel to these artists for the amazing music and Blues tradition that I love so much - and to try to mine a bit of “Blues wisdom” along the way…

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Paying my dues to play the Blues

I have been playing music for a LONG time (over 30 years ) so I suspect that in many ways I am probably old-fashioned, or “old-school”, and probably not even aware of how different things are now than when I first started out…. But one thing I have noticed that has disappeared is the idea of mentoring, or apprenticeship  in music. 
When you read interviews with older Blues musicians, almost every  single one will mention a musician from an older generation who took them under their wing, who they followed around everywhere, in order  to learn the craft from them. You spent a while learning in the shadows, playing as a supporting musician before setting out on your own - “paying your dues”, learning how it’s done right.
It seems as though many new musicians I meet today sit at home and learn from youtube, then sit at home and record themselves for youtube, then start their own band ...Maybe it’s because live music is not as common as it was. To  find a mentor you need a “scene” , places where you know you can go to hear good music, and hang out there with people you want to learn from. Today it’s harder to find those places, harder to find the mentors - and much easier to play at home with the screens of social media ...but I think that part of the soulfulness of the music comes from having lived and experienced it in the real world.
My mentor in music was Ted Cooper. When I was a teenager, learning to play, Ted was the only guy in town playing the music I wanted to hear (playing the Blues in Jerusalem , Israel). I made it my business to go see him at every bar, cafe or street corner he played at. One day I came to his show with a record I had just bought, “Muddy Waters live at Newport” - Ted saw the music I was into and struck up a conversation with me. When I started bringing a harmonica to his shows , he’d tell me to come up and play a song or 2 with him (I don’t know why, I wasn't yet very good  at that point…) and after a while, I became part of his band. I spent 4 years playing small pubs, street corners, festivals - you name it - with Ted Cooper. I learned by watching and listening, and by making mistakes. Ted never told me what he was going to play, he’d just start a song, and I had to guess what key it was in and jump in. He never told me what to play - the only lesson he ever gave me was this: if I was overplaying , he’d turn around and put a finger to his lips “shh…” - probably the most valuable lesson any musician can get. 
Playing hundreds of shows , having to listen carefully as Ted changed songs around unexpectedly, watching for small clues and signs when he was going to stop or change - that experience was the school of the Blues for me. Later on, when I started my own bands, I knew how to do it, since I had learned from the best.
You can practice your instrument, learn the theory, read the right blogs - but nothing teaches you stagecraft like putting in the time learning from those who came before you, and there is no shortcut to experience. You gotta earn the mileage….

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Happy new year 2020

2019 is almost gone, so it’s a good time to take stock, reflect and be thankful.
It’s been a year of serious ups and downs for me. The hardest blow, of course, was the passing of my father, the late Rabbi Reuven Hammer Z”L. Losing a parent  is always a huge blow, and my father was, of course, a huge presence in my life, a great void in my heart that cannot be filled. He was a kind,supportive parent with a fine sense of humor . I am grateful to have had him for so many years, and for all I learned from him. His moral example of how to live will always guide me. 
I also lost a close friend and musical collaborator, the great drummer Shimon Even-Tzur. Over 20 years, Shimon and I played hundreds of shows together, and his danceable rhythms, his huge smile and his infectious enthusiasm endeared him to all who met him, fans and musicians alike - I sure do miss him.
But there were also moments of great joy and satisfaction for me this year- the highlight being the release of my 9th album “BlueSoul”. It was a journey that began nearly 2 years ago, hit many detours and bumps in the road, but ultimately I am very proud of the result. I set out to record a variety of styles of Blues, from traditional to radical and beyond. The Blues is an extremely personal genre, and I believe “BlueSoul” reflects my essence as an artist. Along the way I was helped by so many wonderful people : producers Tzafrir Lichtenstein, Shlomo Deshet , Ori Beanstock and Amir Hacohen. Great musicians like Gil Katzir, Yair Fine, Amos Springer, Oren Laor, Danny Manor, Assaf Rozov, and Kfir Tzairi. Tal Fogel drew magical cover art, Ma’ayan Bar Yoel gave wonderful PR advice, Sarit Kleinman made a great video clip - and I even got to record with my ultra-talented daughter Naomi Jo Hammer! All these wonderful people made the process as much fun as the result. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it seems like the same goes for an album.
In October I flew to Chicago, and re-charged my Blues batteries by playing with great musicians like John Primer, Deitra Farr, Tom Holland, Corey Dennison and others - thanks to my good friends James Craven and David Kachalon who arranged this, and to the legendary Joe Filisko who invited me as a guest teacher for his harmonica workshop.
Last but not least, thanks to each and every one of you for coming to my shows and buying or downloading my music - your support and love of music is what  makes it all worthwhile!
Have a great 2020, everyone, and remember: live music is the best music - come out and see a show!

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

CDs....

CDs - do you still listen to them? I do....sometimes....
I am old enough to remember when we went from vinyl records to compact discs.
At the time I loved it because it seemed more practical, more durable, and the sound quality was great!
No hiss between the songs, you thought your stereo had gone off.
I did , however, regret that the cover art had shrunk to a quarter of its size.
I am a great lover of album covers.
Now it seems that CDs are disappearing, there are almost no record stores left
(and the ones that remain sell vinyl records again....).
Technology has rushed ahead and made physical music formats unnecessary.
Being something of a dinosaur myself, I have a hard time adjusting to this,
I really love having my music stored on something physical that I can hold and look at - and appreciate the cover art.
My music is out there in the digital sphere, for download and streaming on all your favorite platforms,
but I still couldn't resist making a CD, with terrific cover art by Taloosh.
I did, however, print fewer copies than in the past, as most people are listening to the online formats...

If you, like me, still enjoy CDs, I have a special offer, only for readers of this blog: you can by any of my older CDs for 40 NIS (Including postage), or any 2 for 50. 
Here is the list of albums available:
The Blues Rebels: "Voodoo land"  and "Open Road"
CG & The Hammer: "Blues Heaven", "Live in Tel Aviv" and "Something good - the Memphis sessions"
The Daily Blues: "Trouble"

To order, just send me a message to dov@dovhammer,com, tell me which CDs you'd like and a postal address. I will send you details of payment.
OFFER IS VALID UNTIL JANUARY 31 2020

BUT... the best music is still live music ! Come on out and see a show!

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Monday, December 9, 2019



Last month I played at a mini-festival in Eilat together with Danny Shushan , Eli Hadad and Roy Young. I am not used to thinking of myself as young anymore, but Roy is 70 , Danny was a rock star around the time I was born and Eli played in a band I admired when I was in high school ...It was great to spend time on the road with them and watch them work their magic onstage.


Back in the 60’s rock was considered a youth movement, underscored by Pete Townshend’s lyrics “I hope I die before I get old” (thankfully, Pete is still alive , well and playing). I grew up feeling that the music I loved was something only the young could appreciate.


The turning point for me was when , at the tender age of 18 , I saw the great Albert Collins perform. Collins was the same age as my father, which, when you’re 18, seems pretty old...but he came onstage with 4 other guys the same age, cranked his Telecaster up to maximum volume and just rocked the house. I was so blown away by Albert Collins that I said “This Blues business is for me- You can still rock hard in your 50’s!”.


In 2017 Bobby Rush won his first Grammy award at the age of 84, and he is still touring , recording and performing better than ever (if you haven’t heard of Bobby Rush, you should definitely check him out - I’m a HUGE fan), and Buddy Guy (aged 84) still gives high energy shows that performers half his age can’t match.


So when I have the good fortune to meet people like Danny Shushan or Blues greats like Joe Louis Walker or Jimmy Johnson, I sit back , listen and try to learn, ‘cause they’ve been everywhere and done everything - twice - and I can still learn some tricks from these guys….

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Welcome to Dov Hammer's new Blog!

Welcome to my brand new blog! 
My name is Dov Hammer,and my main passion in life is Blues music. I have been singing, playing the harmonica and generally delving as deep as I can in to the Blues for well over 30 years. In this blog I will be sharing my love for the Blues with you, and telling tales from my personal journey ...hope you enjoy it!

How did I get on this road in the first place? There are many beginnings, with stops, false starts and detours. Sometimes you don’t know you’re on a path until you’ve been on it for a while…. But today I’ll tell you how I became a Blues harmonica player in Israel, of all places. At the age of 18, like everyone in Israel, I was drafted into military service. I had been playing bass guitar for a few years in high school, and was already quite passionate about music. But army life made playing the bass nearly impossible, as I couldn’t haul the bass and an amp to all the various out-of the way places I was serving in. Not playing music regularly was quite frustrating for me. One day I was on leave with Rami, a friend from my unit, and as we were wandering the streets we stopped to listen to a man busking in the street. He was playing guitar, and harmonica on a rack. It was Ted Cooper, a Canadian Blues musician who had moved to Israel in the 1970s. I had seen Ted play many times, as he was one of the few people in Israel who played exactly what I wanted to hear. As we watched, Rami said to me “we should buy some harmonicas, it looks pretty easy to play. It would be a good way to pass the time”. Rami was both right and wrong: in the army we had lots of long boring hours, and learning the harmonica would be a perfect way to pass the time. But it was not nearly as easy as Ted made it look….
Sure enough, the next day we went out and bought a couple of harmonicas. As far as I can recall Rami gave it up pretty quickly, but I was hooked for life - the cheap, pocket-sized instrument, that you can take anywhere, demands no manual dexterity, just breathing - it was perfect for me. I used my time in the military to start to learn it, and a few years later I was playing regularly in the Ted Cooper band! But that’s another story…

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Where can you see me play?
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