For superb Israeli blues guitarist, songwriter and producer Andy Watts, being a bluesman from Israel has its challenges and also its triumphs. Israel is not a place where the blues naturally flourishes, but thanks to Watts and a host of blues collaborators and other artists, he has made a name for himself there as the unofficial Blues Ambassador in his beloved home country. Watts joins Living On Music host Steve Houk from his home outside Tel Aviv for a very special episode of Living On Music this Monday at 7pm on Z-TV.
Watts has found a loyal following in Israel based on his highly skilled guitar work, engaging demeanor and strong songwriting. But it has been an uphill battle so far, as he continues to try and elevate the blues’ presence in Israel. “Is there a blues festival in Israel? No. Is there an international jazz festival here? Yes,” said the engaging and affable Watts, who is 57 and has been playing guitar for 45 years. “So for the past ten years I have said hey listen guys, look what a festival did for blues in New Orleans. They have the Jazz & Heritage Festival every year there, and blues is a big part of it. So why can’t you integrate blues with the jazz festival you have in Israel? You will widen the concept, expose blues guys to jazz and jazz guys to the blues. So far I have not been successful in doing that.”
But Watts continues to make his own mark in Israel, building a solid fan base and recording several strong blues-soaked albums, the most recent of which was released in the fall of 2020, Supergroove, co-produced by fellow bluesman Kenny Neal, and featuring established American blues artists like Joe Louis Walker, Eliza Neals, Jamaican-born Roy Young and fellow Israeli Danny Shoshan. Watts also spent a memorable two days in Tel Aviv not long ago bonding with and opening for blues legend Johnny Winter. Watts is well-aware of the particular musical tastes in his homeland, and his high-end musical skill set is what is keeping him close to the mainstream.
“You have something called mainstream music in Israel, and of course that would not be the blues,” Watts said. “But I have gotten quite a lot of radio play in Israel as well, so I’m on my way there. I still could not say I am totally mainstream in Israel, but I have a big following, because a lot of people love quality music. The Israeli music audience is choosy, so no matter what kind of music you do, you gotta do it good.”