Thursday, September 23, 2010

Recording V'Shamru

I had just moved to Israel. Roi Levi from a band called "Shotay N'vua" called me up and asked me if I would be interested in playing with a new Israeli artist who had a tune on the radio. That was Assi Zigdon and his hit was a song called "Cham Li Ba'Lev." Being a great songwriter, Assi would soon have more hits in Israel.

I played with him and his band regularly. They were all "sabra" Israelis so it was a great experience for me, getting thrown into the culture of my new country, playing guitar. I also got to know Assi's family, the Zigdons. Guy was his youngest brother and was also a musician but of the production persuasion. He was not a player but sang and produced music on his computer. Guy was 19-years-old and had won a prestigious Israeli competition for electronic music and was awarded lots of studio gear which he set up in the Zigdon house. I told Guy I would help him with guitar parts on his material and played a few, which he recorded. He was really pleased and turned to me and commented, "Now I see what everyone is talking about!" That's always nice to hear I was glad to be of service.

Afterwards, we talked about my upcoming project, an album of Reb Shlomo Carlebach material and he offered to return the favor by recording something for it. I didn't yet know what songs I would record, in fact, I hadn't even started to research and learn Reb Shlomo's songs yet so here I was in a studio with a good producer willing to help, and I had nothing to record!

Recently I had played a wedding on guitar for Nachman Solomon who knew tons of Carlebach songs. I didn't play any of the melodies. Nachman sang them all but they were so catchy, I hoped I would remember one well enough to figure it out on the spot and play it well. I thought of "V'Shamru," a medium tempo, minor key, soulful composition of Reb Shlomo's. I picked a key, came up with the chords, and Guy programmed them in. I was amazed at how quickly Guy, a non-player, wrote in the chords. He had a great ear and filled in things intuitively. Another talented Zigdon!

I set the tempo and worked with him on a half-time groove which he put together in minutes. Now, I had to play the melody to a song I didn't yet really know too well!

I took a deep breathe and started noodling around while he was plugging me in. "Did it go like this? Like that?" My mind was scrambling. "Heaven help me," I thought. Well, Heaven did help me. In a few passes, I had played the melody and it was close enough to what I remembered from that wedding gig. I didn't have time to over-intellectualize and it came out kind of bluesy which was very true to my musical roots. I had learned how to play guitar listening to rock and blues players, so it felt right.

The song had a verse and a bridge but it needed another section to keep it interesting so I asked Guy to set aside 8 bars for a solo and I came up with some chords to play over. He hit record and I burned a solo over the progression. Now I just needed an ending.

I arranged a vamp which slowly faded out on the tonic chord and I played very sparingly over it, ending up with a little octave lick. Very simple. Listening back, we did a few edits like a breakdown after the solo and Guy put in sound effects which were perfect for the "chill" music vibe. Later on at home, I did my own intro and a synth bass part which I sent him over the internet.

Many of the songs of Reb Shlomo Carlebach are are traditional prayers put to his own melodies. "V'Shamru" is about observing the Sabbath and how it commemorates G-d's covenant with "Bnai Yisrael," the people of Israel. It reflects that G-d worked in creating the world in 6 days and then stopped and rested on the 7th, which is the Sabbath day. It is a bond between G-d and us, between the metaphysical and the physical, the connection between the world beyond and the world here.

"V'Shamru" the opening track of the "From Another World" album and is still one I enjoy most playing, live.


  1. It is so awesome that you are sharing your inspiration for your inspiring music, Bruce.

    Todah Rabah, for using your talents in such an honorable fashion. Looking forward to future blog postings!

    the shupester

  2. Thanks, Gordon! There will be some more good stories soon. Wishing you a Shabbat shalom from Israel.