The Red Sea Guitar Festival is set to launch this weekend

69-year-old guitarist-vocalist Mickey Shaviv is on the roster on this week’s Red Sea Guitar Festival, at the Agamim Hotel in Eilat, which takes in a broad sweep of artists and styles.

 MICKEY SHAVIV is on the roster in this week’s Red Sea Guitar Festival, in Eilat. (photo credit: SHLOMI ITZCHAKI)
MICKEY SHAVIV is on the roster in this week’s Red Sea Guitar Festival, in Eilat.
(photo credit: SHLOMI ITZCHAKI)

Several eons ago, there was a joke book doing the rounds of the Diaspora Jewish communities called something like You Don’t Have To Be Jewish To Enjoy a Jewish Joke, But It Helps.

The same could be applied to the blues. If you really want to get down and dirty with the emotive musical genre, which generally conveys some degree of trying circumstance, it can help to have been, at the very least, down in the dumps a couple of times, if not actually through the wringer and back.

Mickey Shaviv can attest to the requisite street-level nous.

“Yeah, you could say I’ve paid my dues,” he says.

The 69-year-old guitarist-vocalist is on the roster on this week’s Red Sea Guitar Festival, at the Agamim Hotel in Eilat, which takes in a broad sweep of artists and styles.

A panoramic view from the Dan Eilat Hotel beachfront showing the clear waters of the Red Sea. (credit: DANIELA GLEISER)A panoramic view from the Dan Eilat Hotel beachfront showing the clear waters of the Red Sea. (credit: DANIELA GLEISER)

The three-day artistic landscape, between Thursday and Saturday, March 24-26, features the likes of singer-songwriter Ronan Keinan, veteran rock-pop artists Danny Robas and Ephraim Shamir, Swedish-born bluesman Andy Watts, seasoned rockers Dan Toren and Dudu Levy, and rock doyen Rami Fortis.

Shaviv will front his trio of acoustic bass player Elad Muscatel and drummer Uriah Madar at 8:30 p.m. on the opening evening.

Shaviv has been there and done that. The Israeli-born musician has been a fixture on the local pop and rock scene for over 40 years, with the accent very much on the bluesy side of the tracks. He has mixed it with the likes of Israeli pop and rock titans Arik Einstein, Shalom Hanoch and Shem Tov Levi, and hit the music industry front grid, as a band leader, in the mid-eighties with the Tango rock outfit.

That valuable experience was beefed up by extended sojourns in Canada and the United States, where, as a teenager, he caught the likes of Led Zeppelin doing its thing live, right in front of his hungry youthful eyes and ears. That was a far cry from the experiences available to his contemporaries in the then-Western cultural backwater over here, where it generally took American and British rock and pop records upward of six months to get to the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.

SHAVIV GOT himself a youthful head start on the rest of his pals thanks to his dad, and a serendipitous confluence with a stranger from foreign pastures.

“My father had a store in Jaffa and, one day, this sailor walks in and offers my dad three records for 100 liras,” Shaviv recalls. It was a momentous juncture for the future musician and his father, a frustrated musician. “He placed in my dad’s hands everything he’d dreamt of becoming.”

The precious vinyls included LPs by rock & roll pioneers Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and an EP by British song and dance star Tommy Steele. This was at the tail end of the 1950s, when all three said gents were gigantic box office draws.

The asking price for the wax was astronomical for those days in the still young austerity-challenged State of Israel. But Shaviv Sr. duly shelled out, hoping the numbers would fan the flames of his son’s burning artistic ambition. “He brought me those records, and bought me a turntable, to help me realize my dream, and also live his dream.”

It worked, big-time. By the time Shaviv was 12, he had a band called The Generals, which performed covers of rock and pop hits.

The youngster learned his craft the hard way. His first guitar was an acoustic model.

“The strings were so tough to play I cut my fingers pressing down on them to make the chords,” says Shaviv.

There was, thankfully, plenty of parental backing around. “They got me a better guitar, and then I said I wanted an electric guitar,” Shaviv chuckles.

Naturally, if you are going to mostly hone your skills on your ownsome, it is a good idea to, at least, have some source to feed off. When he was 12 he saw a single by British instrumental rock group The Shadows. “I really wanted the record, and I asked my mother if I could have it if I went without pocket money for six months.” Mrs. Shaviv provided the necessary wherewithal, and her son got himself another formative reference point for his budding career.

The “necessity is the mother invention” mindset came into play, on more than one occasion, as Shaviv strove to work his way through the intricacies of music making. “We lived on Dizengoff Street for a few years, and then we moved to Holon, near Mikveh Yisrael [youth village], and I’d walk 4 km. each way to the beach in Bat Yam. There was someone who practiced on guitar in Jesse Cohen [neighborhood of Holon], and I’d listen to him. On the walk back home I’d sing the tunes he played. That’s how I learned them.”

Before long he began strumming them on his own guitar, too, and the youngster started out on his own musical pathway.

“That’s how I developed my musical ear,” he explains. “I didn’t have an amp, so I’d sing songs and try to replicate the sound of a guitar fed through an amp.” That was complemented by tuning into pop and rock radio shows, presented by the likes of Haim Keinan.

Shaviv’s musical education took an incremental bound in the desired direction when he was 15, when the family relocated to Canada. That gave him ready access not only to LPs but also to catching the real thing, live. “I saw Led Zeppelin playing in front of 1,200 people in Toronto. That was a really small audience for them. That was amazing for me.”

He also got into the leading American pop band of the day, The Monkees, and the pop and rock worlds became his oyster.

He paid his aforesaid dues on the North American scene, and back here in the seventies and eighties, went through his fair share of character-forming difficulties, and came out of all that, not necessarily blissfully happy but certainly hardened and well-equipped to keep them blues vibes coming.

“Yes, I’ve been a through things over the years,” he reflects, referencing the wealth of musical influences that continue to fuel his mind, heart and talented fingers and vocal chords. “I heard the muezzin from the mosque near our house in Jaffa, then to Dizengoff and, later, to The Beatles, The Monkees, Led Zeppelin and all the other stuff.”

Blues giant Muddy Waters also comes into the Shaviv inspirational mix, and he even got to record in the Memphis studio of legendary record producer Sam Phillips, who recorded Elvis Presley and a whole host of rock & roll pantheon members.

The Shaviv Trio audience in Eilat will get the upshot of all the above, and much more, in terms of his musical road and fundamental life experiences.

“Now it’s time to express all of that through the blues,” he says. “I was suffering. I had the blues to the point of great strife. Now I am releasing that through playing the blues, and not collecting it.”

Sounds like a truly healthy ethos, which should bring dividends for all concerned.

For tickets and more information about the Red Sea Guitar Festival: *9964 and