SOBO Blues Band from Jerusalem returned to Memphis in February to compete for the second time at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) on Beale Street. They performed at several venues during their stay including the Center for Southern Folklore with special guest Israeli musician Ori Naftaly. (Naftaly plays with the Memphis band Southern Avenue).
SOBO Blues Band was founded in 1995 by the song-writing team Assaf Ganzman and Daniel Kriman who met when Daniel was performing at a Jerusalem Rock and Blues bar. That night they jammed together and have been a musical team ever since. As Assaf remembers: “I stumbled into a small, smoky club and there’s this long-haired kid playing a beat-up acoustic guitar. He has a broken glass beer bottleneck in his hand playing slide, a harmonica in his mouth and a tambourine tied to his foot, and he was wailing like you wouldn’t believe! It was nothing like I’d ever seen…and that’s how we got started.”
SOBO’s inspired blues jams and intense funk rhythms helped establish the growing Israeli blues scene. They performed throughout Israel and the Netherlands and in 1998 released their first album, “South Bound Train,” which was a sellout. In 2004, the band was chosen to represent Israel at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis where they were spotted during the showcase competitions and hired to play at Blues City Cafe on Beale Street.
Since then the band has toured Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic and are currently playing regular bookings at Mike’s Place Sports Bar in Tel-Aviv. The band ─ Ganzman (vocals and bass), Kriman (slide guitar, harmonica, backing vocals) and Eden Bahar (drums and backing vocals) who joined SOBO in 2015 ─ is an international rock and blues project that integrates American, Russian and Eastern influences. Based in Jerusalem, SOBO’s musical message of freedom is known throughout Israel for its powerful and energetic rock, rhythm and blues, funk and unique slide guitar. The band performs traditional blues and rock classic covers as well as their own bluesy songs.
Recently, Assaf Ganzman of SOBO Blues Band shared his thoughts on Memphis, the Blues, playing at IBC on Beale Street and what the SOBO Blues Band has coming up in the future.
JSM: How did you get the name SOBO?
AG: We started out as Southbound Train. We had a strong fan base at the time that liked to scream out our name at shows, but the name was too long, so they started calling us SOBO and the name stuck.
JSM: Describe your music.
AG: Our music is happy with an underlying message of freedom. We have a good time with it and like to keep it groovy and sexy. The blues are a great place to express all emotions; it doesn’t have to be sad. Musically you’ll hear country, rock and blues in our original tunes.
JSM: Each band member played music since childhood. When did SOBO decide to play music professionally?
AG: Music has been an integral part of all our lives. Eden plays music full time, but Daniel and I both make our living elsewhere. Daniel is a Web designer. I own Mike’s Place Bar, a live music and restaurant venue with five locations ─ two in Tel Aviv and others in Jerusalem, Herzliya and Eilat.
JSM: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
AG: Mostly Classic rock and roll. Led Zeppelin, Hendrix and other bluesy rock. Eden comes from a classical music background.
JSM: Who were SOBO’s early musical influences?
AG: Without a doubt, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. They had a big influence on us early on. “The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions” album is great!
JSM: Who are SOBO’s musical influences today?
AG: It’s hard to say, with so much great music out there. Life and its trials and tribulations are probably our biggest influence in writing our music today.
JSM: What is SOBO’s definition of the blues?
AG: The blues to us is groove and emotion. It can be happy or sad, fast or slow, but it has to be real, heartfelt and a little bit sexy.
JSM: As blues musicians, what does it mean to the band to play on Beale Street?
AG: Hanging out on Beale Street and actually playing there is a great inspiration to each of us. It’s one of the Blues Capitals of the world ─ right after Tel Aviv!
JSM: How is it different performing the blues in Israel than in Memphis?
AG: SOBO is fortunate to tour a lot. We play Europe, Russia and Israel often. The people are our inspiration and wherever we are, we give 110 percent. I don’t think it’s any different.
JSM: How did SOBO get to compete in the International Blues Challenge?
AG: We had to win regional competitions in Israel to be nominated to participate in 2004 and again this year. We can’t wait to return!
JSM: What has been your experience in the Memphis Jewish community?
AG: We made some good friends in Memphis on our last visit and also performed for the Jewish community. We will be playing at the Center for Southern Folklore on Jan. 30, so we invite all your readers to please come say hello and show your support for the blues.
JSM: What are you looking forward to most about returning to Memphis?
AG: The musical vibe on Beale Street and meeting so many wonderful people and musicians.
JSM: What has SOBO learned from playing the blues?
AG: That people are the same everywhere. They want to have a good time at the show and live their lives in peace.
JSM: What’s next for the band?
AG: We have our fourth album cooking, and as soon as we get back we will start to record it. We also have plans to tour Poland, Russia and Canada this year.
Meet the Band
Assaf Ganzman (vocals, bass guitar)
Born in Haifa, Israel, in 1969, Assaf moved with his parents to New York City when he was 3. He took guitar lessons at 9 and by 12 had recorded an album of Beatles and Eagles covers. When he was 15, he and his family moved back to Israel where he sang and played music with various bands. When he was 19, he was drafted into the Israel Defense Force. Upon finishing his service he continued his passion for music and moved to Nashville, then Connecticut, before returning to Jerusalem in 1994 where he met Daniel Kriman and formed SOBO Blues Band in 1995.
Daniel Kriman (slide guitar, harmonica, backing vocals)
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1973, Daniel began playing guitar at age 12. He had studied piano for five years, also played trumpet and developed his musical passion in high school as a bass player. He moved to the Holy Land in 1992 and began “busking” on Ben-Yehuda Street (during the repatriation wave from USSR) where he was one of the first street musicians in Jerusalem. He began playing at Mike’s Place where he eventually met Assaf Ganzman and formed SOBO Blues Band.
Eden Bahar (drums, backing vocals)
Born in Israel in 1992 to musical parents, Eden began playing drums at 3. By age 8, he was performing with his father, renowned pianist Yaron Bahar. At 12, he began his studies at the Tel Aviv School of Arts while performing as a professional drummer. He met Assaf Ganzman and Daniel Kriman in 2015 when he joined SOBO Blues Band.