Israeli rock icon on life support

Nation keeps fingers crossed for much-loved rock icon.

Itzhak Klepter (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Itzhak Klepter
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Yitzhak Klepter is in a bad way.
The veteran rock guitarist and vocalist, who turns 68 on Saturday (March 31), has pneumonia and is currently on life support at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Klepter, a heavy smoker, has a history of health problems. In the late 1970s he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and was hospitalized with respiratory complications in 2011. In 2000 the full complement of seminal Israeli rock band Kaveret got together for an impromptu reunion show at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, as a fundraiser for Klepter’s impending brain surgery.
Klepter has basically been around for as long as the Israeli rock scene has been with us.
He was born in Haifa and set out on his musical road at a very young age. Fired by the pop and rock coming out of the States and Britain, in the Sixties, he quickly began aping his idols, the likes of Hank Marvin from early Sixties British rock outfit the Shadows. By the time he hit 15 he was already accomplished musician, and got together with fellow budding teenaged rockers, guitarists Haim Romano and Mickey Gabrielov. They formed the Churchillim, one of the country’s pioneer rock bands. The group’s title came from the nickname Klepter got in school. “I had a friend called Gabi, and we were both fat,” Klepter recalled in a TV interview he gave last year. “I told Gabi he was as fat as a Sherman tank, and he said I was as fat as a Churchill tank. Since then everyone calls me Churchill – even my own brother.”
Klepter, Romano and Gabrielov did the rounds of parties, weddings and the odd club venue, until Klepter joined the army. He served in a tank unit and, on weekends, played with Hasignonot (The Styles) a pop-rock-psychedelia band that sang in English.
After being demobbed Klepter earned a crust as a session musician and also played in Arik Einstein’s backing group, and contributed several arrangements for Einstein’s 1972 record Yasmin. By that time Klepter was one of the leading rock guitarists in the country, and some of the established stars were only too happy to take advantage of his talents to push their musical envelope out a little further. Crooner Arik Lavi, for example, coopted Klepter into his performing schedule, with the then 24 year old guitarist imbuing the balladic Shir Stav (Fall Song) with some feral rock vibes, on a guitar solo that owed more to Jimi Hendrix than Lavi’s Francophile-leaning folkie vocal style.
Klepter found a more suitable vehicle for his rock sensibilities with the Acharit Hayammim (End of Time) rock group he formed, in 1971, along with bassist-vocalist Eli Magen, drummer Zohar levy, guitarist-vocalist Gabi Shoshan and vocalist Miri Aloni. The group won across-the-board critical acclaim, but didn’t do too well at the box office. The venture lasted just one year, but managed to put out an eponymous record which was something a milestone in the evolution of Hebrew-language Israeli rock.  Premature breakup notwithstanding, Klepter’s solos on such numbers as HaEtz Hoo Gavoah (The Tree Is Tall) and Pitkhee Lee Et Hadellet (Open the Door) helped to cement his status as one of the local guitar gods.
In terms of wider public recognition, the turning point for Klepter came in 1973 when guitarist-vocalist Danny Sanderson told him that he and some army pals were forming a new group, and said they’d like him to join. Despite initial reservations, Klepter went over to Sanderson’s home for a jam with the guys. “I was already a well-known guitarist and they were just out the army,” he recalls. “They”, besides Sanderson, were bassist Alon Olearchick, guitarist-vocalist Ephraim Shamir, drummer Meir “Poogy” Fenigstein and singer Gidi Gov. they’d all served in a Nahal army band, and had been joined by keyboardist Yoni Rechter.”I heard them play at Danny’s place and I straightway told them ‘count me in’. That was that.”
And so Kaveret came to be. With Sanderson writing most of the material, the band’s madcap comic skits and satirical political observations, and some scintillating musicianship, the band became wildly successful and Klepter found a good home for his polished and, by now, seasoned rock instrumental gifts. He also wrote several scores for the group, including Yo Ya, Shir Hatembel (The Fool’s Song) and Hee Kol Kach Yaffa (She’s So Beautiful). In 1974 he flew to Britain to perform with the group at that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, with Kaveret placing a creditable seventh with Natati La Chayai (I Gave Her My Life).
Kaveret broke up in 1976 – Sanderson latter attributed that to a loss of identity, as the songwriting began to be shared more equally between the band members. Later that year Klepter played on Ha’ahava Pannim Rabot La (Multifaceted Love) album, released by Einstein and Rechter, with Olearchik and Fenigstein also on board.
Never too bothered about the financial realities of life, after the Kaveret breakup Klepter found himself out on the street. But he was never short of working opportunities. His next artistic port of call was the Small Talk project headed by songwriter and satirist Yehonatan Geffen, with Sanderson, Klepter and guitarist David Broza in tow as the Good Band. The Geffen project produced one of Klepter’s best loved scores, with lyrics by Itzik Weingarten, for Shir Ahava Bedoui (Bedouin Love Song) with Broza, and occasionally Yael Levy, on vocals. Klepter’s contribution to Small Talk also took in Ee Yarok Bayam (Green Island in the Sea)  Tmuna (Picture) and Ad Olam Achakeh (I’ll Wait Forever).
Financial straits aside, Klepter maintained his status as a peerless blues-infused rock giant of the local scene and also began up his writing tempo, particularly after joining forces with Argentinian-born guitarist-vocalist Shlomo Yidov, and flutist-keyboardist-vocalist Shem-Tov Levy, to form the Tzlil Mechuvan (Guided Sound) trio, in 1979. That brought Klepter firmly to the front of the stage, and be began to sing his own songs, such as the number after which the band was named, and which became a hit.
By now Klepter had starting taking vocals more seriously. He took singing lessons and in 1981 he released first solo album, Yitzhak, which featured hit singles Nifgashnu (We Met) and Ha’ahava Shellee Hee Loh Ha’ahava Sheloh (My Love Isn’t His Love).
In 1982 he rejoined Einstein, writing all the music for Einstein’s big-selling Yoshev Al Hagader (Sitting on the Fence) album. Klepter also wrote the lyrics for some of the tracks, including Teruf Bama (Stage Madness) and Beshivhei Hasamba (In Praise of Samba).
Klepter’s sophomore solo album Levad, which came out in 1984, was a commercial flop. He took the setback hard and even considered quitting his solo career, but the Kaveret union later that year boosted both his confidence and his bank balance. He subsequently wrote hits for the likes of Gali Atari and Arik Sinai, but didn’t do too well as a frontman. He also kept the wolves at bay writing soundtracks.
Following several successful confluences with singers Haya Samir and old sparring partner Yael Levy, Klepter once again stepped into the limelight with his Kaveret pals, in 1998. The concert was recorded, as the big selling Kaveret in the Park album.
Following successful brain tumor surgery, in 2000, Klepter eventually got back on his feet, onto the stage and into recording studio, working with ex-wife singer Vered Klepter and revisiting some of the material he wrote for Geffen and for the Hakevess Hashisha Assar (The Sixteenth Lamb) project, first penned in the 1970s.
In 2008, Klepter received an official pat on the back when he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the AKUM musician’s union. More recently, in 2012 he participated in the last Kaveret reunion tour and also worked with hip hop-funk outfit Hadag Nahash. Klepter’s discography to date includes 9 solo albums, 6 with Kaveret and 3 with Einstein and many more as a composer and session player.
Let’s hope there is more to come from one of the founding fathers of Israel’s rock scene.