By Susan Nieman
Hillel of Memphis got a taste of Israeli-flavored blues recently with CG & The Hammer Blues Band. The five-piece band from Tel Aviv performed for students, professors and visitors while in town for the International Blues Challenge.
"Some people have the impression that Jews cannot be good blues musicians, but these Israelis have proved them wrong. I've seen a lot of local shows. CG & the Hammer Blues Band have a very unique and true to blues sound to them," said Ben Bloom, an intern at Hillel of Memphis.
With passion and energy, the group thrilled the audience with original music influenced by great performers such as B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn as well as an old favorite, "Pride and Joy."
The band was part of the annual International Blues Challenge on Beale Street, Memphis' entertainment district, which drew more than 100 solo acts, duos and bands from all over the world. The bands compete for $25,000 in cash and prizes and the title of "Best Unsigned Blues Band." Eighty-four bands from 32 states and eight countries performed in 10 Beale Street clubs.
Although CG & the Hammer did not win the competition, they said they had the time of their lives.
"We had a great time in Memphis," Hammer said. "It was a great opportunity for us to experience the places where the music we love came from. We thought we played really well, and some of the other bands there said they thought we should have won. It's hard to say why we didn't make the finals.
"I think music is a hard thing to judge," he said. "It's not like sports, where you have clear-cut rules and statistics. It's a matter of tastes and emotions. That's why we are not too disappointed – all you can do is come and play your best and hope to make a good impression. And by all impressions, I think we did!"
The band also realized just how small the Jewish world can be sometimes. While at the club Alfred's, they met a guitar player they knew from Jerusalem who was playing there with a band from Indianola, Miss.
Susan Nieman is a member of the Hillel of Memphis advisory board.