Rocking them blues

Back to the basics with Ronnie Peterson.

They say you have to be tough to play rock and roll properly. (photo credit: Courtesy)
They say you have to be tough to play rock and roll properly.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Ronnie Peterson has garnered all sorts of kudos and epithets for his bluessaturated musical endeavor in this part of the world over the last quarter of a century or so.
This afternoon (at 3:30) he will take the stage at the Zappa Club in Herzliya and show the audience why he has been so highly regarded in local blues circles for so long.
Peterson’s siblings-in-arms for the occasion are internationally renowned bass guitarist Yossi Fine and drummer Keren Teperberg, both of whom have chalked up some high-profile collaborations over the years, including gigs with rock and pop megastars David Bowie and Sting. The front three will also be joined by rockers Yizhar Ashdot and Geva Alon.
Today’s concert goes by the straightand- to-the-point title of “Rock and Guitars,” and it is very much about getting down and dirty, and back to pure blues-based rock. Over the last two to three decades the music market has been flooded by veritable torrents of sounds, rhythms and sensibilities from just about every culture on the planet.
The music of hundreds of countries and societies has been presented to us in various guises and blends in all manner of “world music” offerings.
But Peterson comes from a much more easily defined backdrop.
“I think people want to get back to the basics, and I think it really helps when people hear the music played the way it should be played,” Peterson proffers. “The music should be played with a lot of power and a lot of passion, a lot of expertise and just with a lot of knowledge about the way the music is supposed sound.”
Peterson, whose resumé includes shows with legendary bluesman BB King and late blues guitarist Hiram Bullock, certainly knows how rock music should sound, and he has been demonstrating that to local audiences since moving here from the States in the late ’80s. The guitarist’s transition to the Middle East followed an initial berth with Shalom Hanoch, whom Peterson calls “the father of Israeli rock.” Peterson’s brother Ray played bass on that first Hanoch gig.
Hanoch may be the granddaddy of the Israeli blues-based rock scene, and few would argue with that, but Peterson comes from the country of birth of the blues. Actually, Peterson was born Germany, where his family lived at the time, but grew up in New York City. He started his performing career at a ridiculously young age.
“I made the decision to become a musician when I was just a wee lad – at the age of four or five,” recalls Peterson.
“I did my first show at the American Youth Association Center at an army base at Würzburg, Germany. I found a guitar in my mom’s closet. My halfbrother had left it there and I started picking out a few tunes on it.”
The youngster made giant steps with his musical development, and he got his brother and drummer to join him on that initial gig. The junior band went by an eminently marketable moniker.
“The drummer had a drum set with blue alligator skin, so we called ourselves The Blue Alligators,” says Peterson.
It was a brief debut show. “We played two tunes – 1950s rock standard Louie Louie and the other one was [1965 Troggs hit] Wild Thing. We played for a bunch of kids. We were on a legitimate stage at the center, and we had mikes and everything. I was lead singer and lead guitarist.”
Mind you, Peterson’s first gig was almost his last. “We started playing Wild Thing. I went completely berserk and I jumped off the edge of stage and smashed my forehead open. It was bleeding profusely.”
They say you have to be tough to play rock and roll properly, and Peterson displayed impressive grit right from the word go. “Luckily there were somemedics at the show. They patched me up and I said ‘I’ve got to finish this show,’ and I got back on the stage, finished the show and then they took me to hospital. I guess I was either a true professional from the start, or totally insane. Maybe I’m both – an insane professional,” he laughs. “But I realized at that point [in Germany] that the show must go on.”
That was a formative moment in Peterson’s life, and he says the experience has remained with him ever since. “I still have that wild energy that you must have to play rock and roll,” says the 56-year-old. “It never goes away. It doesn’t even dissipate.”
So, does that mean we can expect to see Peterson still strutting his stuff on stage 20 to 25 years from now? “I guess so,” he declares. “Look at the Rolling Stones. They’re still doing the business.”
In fact, Peterson has something of a connection with the iconic British rock band, and says their forthcoming debut here, on June 4, is cause for a double celebration. “[Rolling Stones bass guitarist] Darryl Jones played on my last record Rock and Roll Warrior, and my birthday is on June 5. I am looking forward to marking my birthday with the Rolling Stones.”
THE STONES are an inspiration for Peterson, as they have been for so many at the rock end of the music industry for over half a century. “The Stones haven’t stopped and they sound phenomenal, and I see no reason to ever stop playing music,” says Peterson, “unless I start sounding like shit.”
Peterson is delighted to have Fine by his side later today. The two have done gigging business before. “Yossi is a great rock musician,” says Peterson.
“He’s toured with people like David Bowie and Lou Reed. He’s got an idea of what’s going on,” he adds, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Peterson and Fine have been sparring partners for quite some time now. “We first played together at a gig in New York,” Peterson recounts. “It was one of those gigs when I got called to play guitar and Yossi was on bass – I think it was in 1988 – and we didn’t have any time to rehearse, so we played a bunch of tunes we all knew. Yossi and I hit it off and we became really close friends really fast.”
That first Peterson-Fine synergy led to bigger and better things. “I had already moved to Israel and Yossi was still living in New York, and I convinced the owners of [legendary, now-defunct Tel Aviv music venue] Logos to fly Yossi and [Grammy Award-winning drummer] Steve Wolf over, and we did five nights in a row at Logos. It was a smash hit. It was packed every night.
There were 200 people in the club and 300 trying to get in.”
After Logos shut down in 1999, Peterson and Fine continued to peddle their rock wares at the Camelot Club, which eventually turned into the first Zappa Club premises.
Peterson says those early shows sowed the seeds of his and Fine’s enduring fan base. “Over the years, Yossi and I have played for thousands and thousands of people in Israel, and people really dug it. Now we meet a lot of our fans, who were then 20-year-old kids and now they’re like in their 40s, and they’ve got families and mortgages.”
The pair’s long-standing admirers may now be saddled with responsibilities but Peterson feels he and Fine have paid their dues, and have earned their ability to pack ’em in through the sweat of their brows.
“Yossi and I are very legitimate players with good track records. People like us and trust us, and they know what they’re going to get from us. Whatever they’re going to get from us is going to feel and sound great.”
That, says Peterson, also brings in quality, like-minded musicians. “That attracts the guest artists. They are more than happy to come and play with me, so they can hear their tunes with a kickass rhythm section.”
The lead guitarist is also happy to have Teperberg behind him this afternoon. “Keren is just phenomenal.
She plays with such power and grace and style. She is one of the few drummers that understand that there are gray areas. A lot of drummers think there are two levels of playing – soft and really loud. Keren listens real good, and she understands there are gray areas between those two levels.”
She and Peterson found a common language in double-quick time. “We have this amazing, almost telepathic thing going on between us. We were able to really build the jam up to a climax. She’s a great drummer.
“This is going to be a lot of fun.”
For tickets and more information about the Rock and Guitars show: *9080 and