Keeping the blues alive with Dov Hammer

“There’s amazing music all throughout the movie,” Hammer said.

July 2, 2019 21:14
3 minute read.
Keeping the blues alive with Dov Hammer

DOV HAMMER: It’s down-to-earth, it’s straightforward. That’s the beauty of this music.. (photo credit: PETER VIT)

Blues may not be the most popular musical genre in Israel, but thanks to local musician Dov Hammer, it is alive and growing.

Hammer, 52, brings sounds from the streets of Chicago and Old Mississippi halfway across the world through his new album BlueSoul, which will be released on July 13.

Hammer was born in Akron, Ohio, and moved to Israel with his family at the age of six. As a child, he drew musical inspiration from his older sister, who played John Lee Hooker records that inspired him to want to make music which would communicate something real to audiences.

Hammer said his first real exposure to the blues came from the movie The Blues Brothers, which featured music from James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin – all artists who would serve as strong influences for his music. He was moved by the simplicity and stories of the human experience within the songs.

“There’s amazing music all throughout the movie,” Hammer said. “I went out and bought the soundtrack record and started digging around, seeing what else I could find in that style.”

At age 12, Hammer realized he wanted to play music and dreamed of playing bass guitar in a rock & roll band. He played the bass guitar all throughout high school, until he was drafted into the IDF and could no longer carry around a bass guitar and amplifier. Eventually, he picked up the harmonica, a much more portable instrument, which prolonged his fascination and practice with the blues.

“Carrying around a bass guitar and amplifier got to be a little bit impossible when I was in the army, so then I switched to harmonica because it was small and you could play it anywhere,” Hammer said. 

While he currently leads his own band as a harmonica player and singer, Hammer hadn’t always planned on singing. He found his singing voice when he couldn’t find groups that wanted a harmonica player.

“I started singing out of necessity,” he said. “It’s really what I always wanted to do, but I was intimidated and shy about it.” 

The essential skill Hammer acquired from singing the blues is listening. He started out playing on street corners of Israel with another English-speaking musician, Canadian-born guitarist Ted Cooper, who would never reveal what song he’d play ahead of time. Hammer recalled that he’d have to carefully watch where Cooper placed his fingers on the guitar in order to guess at the song. The blues taught him how to play spontaneously and develop a unique sound.

“It’s communicative, simple. People relate to it on an emotional level,” Hammer said. “It doesn’t just speak to one mood; it speaks to the entire experience.”

Hammer composes blues songs to speak about day-to-day experiences. The music is designed to be universal and move people emotionally. While most music requires structure, the blues requires instinct.

“When I first heard it, it moved me emotionally, which is what music, really any art, is supposed to do,” Hammer said. “It’s down-to-earth, it’s straightforward. That’s the beauty of this music.”

Hammer admits that creating an album and expanding his music career in Israel can be challenging at times since the blues are not popular locally. Over the years, he’s traversed the country, as band leader for Dov Hammer & The Allstars, Dov Hammer’s Blues, The Daily Blues, and CG & The Hammer, while releasing eight albums.

He finds encouragement in how many locals are open and welcoming to his sound.

“Israelis are not set in their ways,” Hammer said. “They like to try new things. They like to come out and hear music they haven’t heard before. It’s different than a place where there’s tradition of blues fans.” 

Hammer hopes to expand his career beyond Israel’s borders with this new album. He has played in the US and Europe in bands many times, but wants the world to hear his fresh take on what the blues can be. His new album will feature songs that combine the blues with other genres such as rap, hip-hop and old school Mississippi blues. The album is influenced by feelings of transition and dealing with difficult times.

“One of the misconceptions about the blues is that often people think there’s a formula,” Hammer said. “Blues is playing by feel. It sharpens your instincts as a musician. All you can do in blues is listen and react to the audience, to your partners... it’s a conversation.” 

The BlueSoul album launch concert will take place at Beit Hayotzer Namal in Tel Aviv on July 13 at 9:30 p.m.

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