Friday, April 3, 2020

Blues in isolation

We are living in truly strange times - this Corona pandemic and the global shutdown it has triggered is like something out of a 3rd rate horror film.
I really miss playing live , and even rehearsing with my bandmates. For me music has always been about going out and mixing , reacting and interacting with musicians and audiences .Recording, the process of being alone in a studio has always been something I sort of tolerated as a necessary part of the music making process, but  I LOVE playing live, that’s what it’s all about for me. 
So now that part is temporarily suspended, and I have been forced to make music in isolation. However,I have always had a soft spot for unaccompanied harmonica playing. I love the rhythmic qualities of the instrument, how a tiny pocket-sized “toy” can sound like a whole band. The legendary Sonny Boy Williamson did a few recordings like that which I really love (like this one). Another terrific artist, who did a whole album like that is Keith Dunn.
So I invite you to check out my recent solo performances, which I call “The Corona lockdown sessions” . Click HERE to see them on YouTube.
I can’t wait to get back out and play for you in person - together with some other musicians…Until then , stay safe , stay healthy - and don’t share your harmonicas :)

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - https://www.dovhammer.com/tour


Monday, March 9, 2020

Remembering Paul deLay

I like to use this blog to write about what influences me as an artist, but also to shine a spotlight on some great artists who never received the recognition they deserved. I call them the great unsung heroes of the Blues, and unfortunately, there are quite a few incredible artists who remain unknown despite deserving fame and fortune…
One of these is Paul deLay. To harmonica players who know of him, Paul deLay is legendary, a virtuoso harmonica genius, but even in the small harmonica community there are some who never heard of him. When I first heard an album of his I was blown away. In a genre (Blues) and with an instrument (harmonica) which are crowded with cliches and copycatting, deLay sounded unique, like he had just re-invented the whole thing. He used different scales, different instruments, never played stock riffs, always sounded fresh and unique. He was a soulful singer, never mimicking Blues stereotypes, and a very original songwriter. When I heard He was coming to Tel Aviv I made sure to go to all his shows, befriended him and sat in and jammed with him, just trying to learn all I could from this master. He was warm , generous, funny and just a joy to hang with. And the main lesson I learned from him was  never copy, always bring your own flavor to the table, and keep your music honest and from the heart. 
Paul HATED cliches and always tried to break the mold. And he had a great sense of humor. At one of the shows, someone in the audience called out “play “Sweet home Chicago” “ - deLay deadpanned “put together your own band and play it yourself”. 
Unfortunately, Paul deLay never achieved commercial success, even within the Blues genre, and rarely toured outside the Pacific northwest of the USA where he lived. He passed away suddenly on March 7th 2007, at the age of 55.
If you are a harmonica player, you must hear Paul deLay, just to see how you can play the Blues without sounding like hundreds of others. If you are a music lover, you owe it to yourself to listen to Paul deLay, who’s music was funny, soulful, original, honest and swinging….

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule

Saturday, February 22, 2020

It's the singer, not the song

“It’s the singer , not the song, that makes the music move along” - one of rock’s greatest songwriters, Pete Townshend, wrote that line in The Who’s song “Join together with the band”. It’s always been one of my favorite lyrics, the main reason I chose to cover that song. And my version is quite different from the original (which actually features a lot of harmonica playing) - I turned it into a Chicago-style shuffle. 
The Blues has always been about individual expression, saying something in your own unique way. Much more emphasis is always placed on performance than on songwriting. My first mentor, Ted Cooper , always did this, playing the same song in different ways, in different tempos, according to how he was feeling it at that moment. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what song we were playing until he started singing the lyrics...But It's not just in the Blues - rock musicians often treat a song as a living, breathing and ever-evolving entity, a vehicle for self expression. Even artists who are known primarily as songwriters like to change their own compositions around. Look no further than the greatest ever, Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan, who performs his own songs in radically different ways, or Bruce Springsteen, who changed the rocking “Thunder road” to a quiet piano ballad - while the song was still a new hit! 
Needless to say, I also enjoy treating songs as living, breathing expressions,  whether I wrote them or someone else. I also enjoy letting the musicians who play with me put their own stamp on the music - I might play a song differently with a particular guitarist than with another , or a drummer might give it a different flavor than I was expecting - and these changes help keep the music fresh and alive.
That’s part of the beauty of live music - even an old song has new meanings, and speaks to you in new ways every time it’s played. So go out and hear a show - you’ll hear something new every time!

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule

Monday, January 27, 2020

Nostalgia just ai'nt what it usta be...

Nostalgia just ain't what it usta be....so often I hear Blues fans and rock fans who miss the music of the '60s and complain that nobody makes music that good anymore.
 What is true is that the music business has changed so much that sometimes it's harder to find  the good music. The late 60s and early 70s were a golden age of music for several reasons, but the bottom line is that it was a unique time in musical history that quality music was also commercially successful, and great innovative artists were also popular and wealthy. Such quality music is not high on the popularity charts anymore, but internet technology allows anyone, anywhere,  to access even the most unknown artists. Today you have to search for good music, but - "seek and ye shall find". One random example: I saw the Tedeschi -Trucks band play a few months ago and I guarantee you no artist of any other era was superior.
 In the same way , many Blues fans complain that black culture has forsaken the Blues and that there are no young African-American Blues artists. As has been the case over the past few decades, commercial interests sometimes cause record companies and festival promoters to promote white artists more than African -American artists and some great artists get overlooked and don’t get the media exposure they deserve.  I suggest you check out Grammy nominees Jontavious Willis and "Kingfish" Ingram (not to mention Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr.) and you will see a great young generation of Blues artists coming up from the roots. But great music needs an audience in order to thrive, so I urge you to continue to seek out unknown music and go see live shows!

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule

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..."


Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)

Want to hear my music?


Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule

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…

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?

Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule

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….

Join the mailing list
If you want to be updated about upcoming shows and new music, just send an email to dov@dovhammer.com and I will add you to the mailing list - you will receive 2-3 emails a month with updates (no spam !)


Want to hear my music?

Where can you see me play?
Check out my schedule and come see me live! - http://dovhammer.com/schedule