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
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
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
BW: So, what is the Jerusalem Blues scene really
like? I know I'm not the only one interested in
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
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
BW: What performers do you hold in highest
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
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
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
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
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 Peace.com and future
pages of BluesWax.
Beardo is a senior contributing editor at
BluesWax. Check out Beardo's website - click the
The article appeared in BluesWax on 2/19/2004.
Used by permission.
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