Southern Avenue is Israeli bluesman’s street of dreams

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Growing up in Israel, blues guitarist Ori Naftaly dreamed of Memphis. He’d listen to the LPs. He decorated his room with the images. He read the stories.

Now when he performs with his band Southern Avenue and looks over at his bandmates, he realizes he’s living that dream.

In Tierinii Jackson he has found a true “church girl” whose soulful vocals “give me goosebumps.” In her sister Tikyra Jackson he has the drummer of his dream who delivers a soulful groove. In Daniel Mckee, he has bass player rooted in the fertile musical soil of Memphis.

So on the bandstand sometimes he wonders: “How did I get here? This is pretty amazing.”

Southern Avenue will bring its Memphis-based soul and blues sound to the Black Swamp Arts Festival for a Friday, Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m. Main Stage set.

Naftaly’s journey started with his father, an avid music fan. His father had a large record collection. He had a friend at a record store and though him got the latest music magazines.

In Israel, Naftaly explained, only American hits are available. His father dug deeper into the roots, and shared that knowledge with his guitar playing on.

Naftaly had a following in his native land. He was “an ambassador” for the blues, he said. Then he had the opportunity to be an ambassador for his country, representing Israel in the International Blues Competition in Memphis.

He was “weeded out,” Naftaly said. He was up against 50-year-olds who grew up on the music. But the experience was invaluable. The reception he received was good enough that he decided to return the following summer.

It was an expensive proposition getting a visa and settling in Memphis, and he knew he had three years to establish himself or his artist’s visa would not be renewed.

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He toured with his own band, but he said he never liked being out front. He went through six different singers, because “you don’t want to hear me sing.”

Then another musician in Memphis told him about Tierinii Jackson. She was singing around Memphis, but didn’t have the chance to sing her own music. He fell in love with everything about her presentation. And Tierinii told him about her sister the drummer.

“These girls were so dynamic and so much fun,” he said.

They finished out the dates already schedule for the Ori Naftaly Band, then decided they needed a break from that entity.

They retained only a few songs that the Jackson sisters liked from that band’s repertoire and then with Mckee set about woodshedding and writing a new book.

They kept a low profile, playing once at a favorite club. They emerged at the International Blues Competition in January. The band made it to the finals and sold more CDs than any of the other competitors.

While that may seem quite an achievement for a band that had only been gigging for a couple months at that point, Naftaly noted that the background as his band and then the hours and hours of work put in after dissolving that outfit have allowed Southern Avenue to take the fast lane. The musicians have taken their foot off the gas since then.

Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson get together one day a week to write, then the band rehearses for a couple days before spending the weekend playing shows. “We put in hours and hours into practice. That‘s how we achieved so much. We spent hours working and working, writing and writing and getting to know each other.”

Naftaly said he’s confident they can entertain an audience. “They come to have fun,” he said. “We’re very approachable.”

That, he said, is the easy part. They hard part is making listeners want to return to the music of Southern Avenue again and again.