If you’ve been to Israel in the last 40 years or heard Israeli popular music, then you probably know Danny Sanderson, who will be performing with his band at the Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University on Dec. 8. Sanderson was a founding member in 1973 of Kaveret (literally Beehive; also called Poogy), a band often referred to as “the Beatles of Israel.” Although Kaveret broke up in 1976, they have reunited successfully on several occasions. Last summer, for their 40th anniversary, they staged what they announced would be their final dates in Israel, and sold more than 150,000 tickets. Sanderson’s successor bands, Gazoz and Doda, have released several successful albums and spawned multiple Israeli radio hits.Sanderson also has written several books, performed stand-up comedy and served as a TV host, and he continues to perform with a seven-piece band of young musicians, including the famed Israeli bassist Yotam Ben-Horin of Useless ID, with whom he is touring the United States. In 2005, Sanderson received a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to Israeli music. He spoke recently from his home in Tel Aviv; this is an edited version of the interview.
Tom Teicholz: Tell me about the band you’ll be playing with in Los Angeles.
Danny Sanderson: The band consists of young and extremely talented musicians that have been playing with me for years, some for 15, some for eight years. Every one of them has their own band, and they are all writers and producers and singer-songwriters. It’s one of the better bands I’ve had — the best since Poogy, since
TT: Does playing with them influence you?
DS: Oh, greatly. One of the ways to feel young is to [work with] people who are connected to what’s happening. Musically, it’s a thrill, and it’s challenging at the same time. They give their own twist to what I do. But, basically, it’s a give-and-take. We learn from each other.
TT: This summer, you had a very successful Kaveret reunion.
DS: We were celebrating 40 years, and it was a wonderful birthday, to the extent that a lot of people showed up for it. It was wonderful to put the band — I don’t want to say “to rest,” but …
TT: But Kaveret has come out of retirement on several occasions.
DS: This was truly “the last waltz.” We stated it was, and certainly we meant it from an Israeli point of view.
TT: Over the course of your career, you’ve played a wide variety of musical styles. What will you be featuring in your L.A. concert?
DS: It will be “the best of ...” and totally retrospective. We give the full spectrum of what I’ve done, whether it’s songs from Kaveret, or Dodo, or the other bands I was in, and certainly from my personal career. We really try to give the crème de la crème.
TT: You’ve also done a fair amount of stand-up comedy.
DS: That’s almost a hobby. It’s my second love, my first love being, obviously, writing songs and music.
TT: Will you incorporate some of your stand-up in your show?
DS: In the States, sure. We were just in South America — people were less fluent in English, or Hebrew for that matter [so it was difficult]. Here, I have a means of communicating at least. I’ll probably do it in Hebrew, but once in a while I’ll explain things in English [so that] people who don’t know Hebrew will know what’s being talked about.
TT: Hebrew may not be the most beautiful spoken language.
DS: There are some difficulties with it being such a guttural language.
TT: But I’ve always been struck with how well Hebrew works for rock ’n’ roll.
DS: To be honest, I’ve given this much thought. Every time I do write a song, I kind of try to find the easier-sounding words, the ones that would lend themselves better to the melody. In itself, it’s a topic that I address quite often in writing a song. The actual sound of the words beyond their meaning.
TT: All the way back to King David, there is something about the Hebrew language that lends itself to song.
DS: Interesting. Israeli music is a melting pot of society. You have a burst of cultures; cultures have come together and burst into a tremendous combination. You have the Slavic, and the Oriental, Greek, Arabic and German — an extraordinary stew. Israeli music can be very interesting.
TT: It’s endlessly varied and creative.
DS: Absolutely. I found myself lured — is that the right word? — to Arabic music when I was much younger. Everyone playing without notes or notation, which is similar to rock ’n’ roll, and, to make a blues analogy, Oum Kalthoum, the great Egyptian singer, would sing a phrase and the orchestra would answer with a riff.
TT: Call and response!
DS: Yes, like Buddy Guy singing, “Since you left me,” and then a guitar riff would follow. Which, although very different music, is still astoundingly similar to the tradition in Arabic music. In fact, we’ll be doing a song in the show that is really as close as we get to that form of Arabic music. That’s an instrumental number that we did in Kaveret.
TT: Kaveret and your other bands have been so integral to Israeli culture. How do you see Israeli music as having evolved over the last 40 years?
DS: It’s come truly a long way. It has its own original form. It’s very local, but at the same time very appealing for foreigners as well. Guys like Idan Raichel have taken Israeli music into world music.
TT: How is Tel Aviv for music?
DS: Tel Aviv is culturally extremely open. Israelis are great fans of any good music. And the acts that perform here can be from Burt Bacharach to Red Hot Chili Peppers. Everything is very well received. Israelis go out — a lot — and the club scene is now at one of its peaks.
TT: Finally, what can the audiences expect from your L.A. show?
DS: Aside from the wonderful band that I’m with, we give the audience a [great time]. I’ve been around for quite a few decades, 45 years of being in the industry, and I enjoy [performing] tremendously. When the audience joins in, and they frequently do, we truly have a great time. So, we’re obviously looking forward to [Los Angeles] because when you come to places that you don’t come to that often, there’s always great excitement — on both sides. Literally, it’s like a date. We’re going to dress up and look our best for this Los Angeles date.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears here regularly, and his blog can be found at jewishjournal.com.