Local King of Blues Ronnie Peterson dies aged 62

The blues were always dearest to Peterson’s heart and he was one of the leading lights on the scene here.

Blues musicians Ronnie Peterson (right) and Lazer Lloyd (photo credit: CHAIM RAVYA)
Blues musicians Ronnie Peterson (right) and Lazer Lloyd
(photo credit: CHAIM RAVYA)
Ronnie Peterson’s sudden death at the age of 62 has left the Israeli rock and blues community stunned.
The guitarist, vocalist and producer strutted stages across the country for over 30 years, playing with a varied cross-section of Israeli artists in the pop, Mizrahi, rock and blues sectors.
Peterson was born in Germany, where his father was stationed by the US army at the time. Raised in the States, Peterson started out on his musical path at the age of 5. In an interview he gave to Maariv last year, he recalled how he’d sit “for hours by the turntable listening to my mother’s record collection nonstop.” Even at such a tender age, he was keen to do his own thing with his new discovery.
“I played from morning till evening,” he said. “That’s really how I took my first steps into the world of music.”
He worked his way through the ranks in New York, and at one point managed a jazz and blues club there. Many years ago, he told me how he’d had an altercation with legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker over the latter’s substance abuse.
By the mid-1980s, Peterson was well established on the blues and rock scene in the Big Apple. In 1987, he came to the notice of Israeli rock megastar Shalom Hanoch, who asked him to move to Israel, along with Peterson’s bass-playing brother Ray. The siblings joined Hanoch’s Rak Ben Adam tour.
That was a life changer for Peterson, who soon made Tel Aviv his home. He then went on to perform and record with Hanoch.
Local artists quickly got wind that someone from “over there” was in town, and a whole slew of Israeli pop-rock stars, including Rita, Izhar Ashdot and Dafna Armoni were quick to cash in on Peterson’s rock-blues pedigree. For more than three decades, Peterson kept busy creating his own projects – he put out five albums under his own name – and working with a glittering roll call of Israeli rock and pop pantheon members, such as Meir Ariel, Yuval Banai and Rami Kleinstein.
But the blues were always dearest to Peterson’s heart. He was one of the leading lights on the scene here. While the likes of Hanoch and Dani Litani certainly have the blues in their musical system, Peterson did the business where it really mattered: in the States.
Peterson brought more than a whiff of the real American blues deal when he came here – he officially made aliyah in 1991 – he also brought over some of his musical brothers in arms so local audiences could see and hear them work their thoroughbred magic firsthand. Harmonica player-vocalist Tad Robinson did the rounds of the country alongside Peterson, as did Chicagoan guitarist-vocalist Dave Specter.
Peterson’s crowning moment was when he shared the ICC stage in Jerusalem with iconic bluesman BB King. When I interviewed Peterson at his Tel Aviv apartment – quite a few years ago now – there was a large monochrome print of the two of them on his living room wall.
“Man, that was such a thrill,” he told me at the time.
Typically, Peterson worked right until his last moment on Earth. On Sunday, he was busy with rehearsals for a show to mark the 50th anniversary of Woodstock when he felt ill. He soldiered on for a while, despite the advice of singer Mei Finegold, who was due to perform with him in the show.
Eventually, he went home and died in his sleep.
Peterson once said that everyone is happy to have his CDs but that in a virtual, online musical-listening world, no one wants to pay for them. Anyone who caught the man doing his thing live knew he was real deal.