True ‘blues’ friends

Ronnie Peterson and Lazer Lloyd put their religious diversity on the backburner and music in the forefront as they perform a special series of shows together.

Blues musicians Ronnie Peterson (right) and Lazer Lloyd (photo credit: CHAIM RAVYA)
Blues musicians Ronnie Peterson (right) and Lazer Lloyd
(photo credit: CHAIM RAVYA)
What do two American-born Israelis – a secular Tel Aviv bohemian and a Beit Shemesh haredi – have in common? The blues.
If it weren’t for the individual efforts of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Shalom Hanoch, Ronnie Peterson and Lazer Lloyd might never have found each other.
Back in 1987, after discovering mounting interest for collaboration, Hanoch plucked guitar-wielding rocker Peterson from New York City. Since arriving in Israel, he regularly plays with Hanoch, runs a power trio with Yossi Fine and Karen Teperberg and collaborated with Darryl Jones from The Rolling Stones on his 2012 album Rock and Roll Warrior.
In 1994, the singing rabbi Carlebach flew to the states to play a gig with a “longhaired Connecticut rock and roller” named Lazer Lloyd. Armed with nothing but a collection of vintage blues guitars (which he soon sold after thinking Israelis don’t like the blues) and a call from Carlebach to visit Israel, Lloyd set off not knowing what the country looked like, “but I came here anyway, really liked it and then met my wife.”
Both musicians have enjoyed fruitful careers making the music they love. But when they recently found each other to form an acoustic duo, it’s taken their love of the blues to a new level.
Their commonalities are astounding, and they start to resemble a musical cult procession unto itself. Whether it’s the essence behind classic blues icons like Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, or their love for Israeli culture and music – their collaboration feels necessary and reflective because they give a voice to the feelings surrounding music scenes of the past. Despite the religious differences, the appeal of performing live for an audience is not about fame, culture or perception; it is about the creative and Judaic spirit behind the process of playing music in the physical form.
Today, music revels in digital grit and gloss.
Through bent tones and laptops, synthesizers are smeared, stretched and warbled into digital notes.
“We’re troubadours going from town to town, playing music,” Peterson says. “Modern technology has brought us back to the Middle Ages, and we’re now going back and playing as an Acoustic Blues Duo.”
Ahead of their live performance at The Zappa on November 7, the creative dyad sat down with The Jerusalem Post to talk about the powers of performing live, working together despite religious differences, and being refused radio-play because of their American accents.
Jerusalem Post’: How did the two of you meet?
Ronnie Peterson: Lazer opened for a Cream tribute I was doing at the old Zappa.
Lazer Lloyd: That was about eight years ago! Wow, I sat back watching and thought, this guy is wild man! When I moved here, people told me that I should get together with Ronnie and make music, but it’s not my personality to call people up.
Peterson: I don’t like people who push themselves on me anyway.
See? The two of you are perfect for each other! [All Laugh.]
Lloyd: It just worked so easily between us and we started playing. Ronnie has all these cool guitars with all this special tuning, so we just sat and jammed it out.
Peterson: It’s been organic from the get-go and it isn’t contrived. There’s nothing planned out and we don’t have a set list. This is a f****** blues show, you go up and you play what you feel at the moment or what the crowd want.
It’s an energy exchange. Sometimes the audience just lay there like a pretty girl, but what are you going to do? I don’t consider us as guitarist and a singer, I consider us entertainers.
Do you feel that this creative freedom is a product of age and experience?
I’ve been performing for 50 years, and my problems start when I get off the stage. It’s the guy on stage that works great. People always ask me how I stay sober, but for me these few meters on the stage, in that universe, is where I know how to relate.
There I know how to communicate. It’s the day-to-day life that I’m miserable at. Music has powerful healing properties that work best live. I’ve suffered depression my whole life, and I remember being completely healed of it at a Miles Davis show.
Lloyd: Sometimes when you play with a musician onstage who doesn’t feel comfortable or ready to tackle their performance, it feeds off and onto the audience, but playing with Ronnie, it just works.
Have you written any original material together?
We’re definitely going to write and record together, it’s going to happen organically when our schedules work out.
Lazer, I understand you released a song last year as part of the Jewish Unity Music Project to uncover potential conflicts within different Judaic groups. Have you both thought about bringing that authenticity to this crowd? Peterson: Lazer has suggested it, but I once did a standard Mizrahi duet – a song called “Badad” that is the “Aint No Sunshine” of music here by Zohar Argov. The record company told me they couldn’t put me on the record because I had an accent when I sang in Hebrew. I said to them, that’s the whole f****** point! When Julio Iglesias sang with Willie Nelson, he had a thick Latin accent.
Lloyd: My accent is so bad, I don’t know. I had a hit in the Jewish world; that folk song called “Ha’am Sheli” (My People) got over 500k hits on YouTube. But the radio would not play it, because of my accent. People loved it, but they refused to play it.
Peterson: No one complains about Israelis singing the blues with an Israeli accent, so it’s upsetting.
What are your views on playing cover songs?
Oh man, I can only do a cover if I connect to it.
Peterson: People like covers because of the familiarity. They wanna hear the song that they lost their virginity to in their dad’s Chevrolet in 1973, which happens to be “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd! One of the funniest things that ever happened to me in Israel was when I was singing the chorus “I’m a man” by Muddy Waters over and over again, when some Israeli guy in the background goes “Okay! You are a man!” He wasn’t heckling, he was just saying okay, we got the point! Lloyd: [Laughs] I had five kids and I still didn’t lose my virginity. What song am I going to sing? As much as the lyrics are great in some of these old blues songs, when someone translates it they realize it’s the same themes all over again: I’m tired and the world sucks and someone stole my wife.
What can your fans look forward to the most?
Lloyd: Ronnie and I have a lot of things in common off stage, too, that people don’t know about. We’re people who are in tune with our emotions and not afraid to reveal them.
Peterson: If you want to know the truth? Love is driving the whole thing. I always tell the audience how much we love them and I’m not kidding, it’s a lovefest, and not in a hippie way but in a universal way. The best description I ever heard of music was that it was one heart speaking to another heart.
Music is what you feel after the song is done.
Interacting with the audience makes my serotonin levels blast up, and I give it to them and it gets passed around, so by the end of the night everybody is beaming – waitresses, bartenders, the guy who sweeps the floor, the entire f****** audience! It’s a mutually beneficial healing experience, which you can’t get on your iPhone.
Lloyd: I really like that our show goes from the most intimate soft soulful blues, and then all of a sudden it explodes! The dynamics of our collaboration is incredible.
Peterson: Nothing better when two guitars sounding like a goddamn symphony.