The Bar Papas story:
Chapter 1: In the beginning
IN 1998 Amihai Zippor and Shimshon Meir Frankel met at the Jerusalem based Yeshivat Darche Noam. While there, another student (Amihai says Matt Gleicher, Shimshon Meir says Benji Mazer) noticed they both played guitar and suggested the two join forces to see what they could do. Although Shimshon had some formal fingerpicking training, Amihai only knew the basic chords and never took a lesson. As a result despite each having a few original compositions neither saw any use in getting together. As long as a Shlomo Carlebach niggun or Bob Dylan song could be strummed they were happy on their own. Nevertheless, the unsuspecting matchmaker wouldn’t let up and under friendly pressure, they soon began a collaboration of sorts discovering interest in each other’s music and in studying Talmud together.
Each day, when their brains couldn’t take the books anymore, Amihai and Shimshon would step out of the Beit Midrash (study hall) for a break, head up to the roof of the yeshiva or one of their rooms, and try the same song they had been working on for days, one more time. Musically, development of material went slow because Amihai and Shimshon didn’t really know what they were doing and there wasn’t any big picture to consider. They were just having fun and because they weren’t trying to imitate other musical acts, what came out of their sessions was truly original. It was only later when they started playing with other musicians that hints of blues, folk, and rock began to mesh with the spiritual thread of their unorthodox musical style.
Eventually, their little collaboration began to mature and needing a name they chose ‘The Bar Papas’ after the holy sages mentioned during a siyum, a special ceremony which takes place following completion of a tractate of Talmud. The occasion is a simcha, a happy event, and since happiness was what The Bar Papas wanted others to feel from listening to their music, what better place than a siyum to draw out the good vibes.
BY THE END of June ’99, Amihai and Shimshon had collaborated on at least ten songs and recorded them on cassette (yes, a different era) in the Darche Noam stairwell before heading back to the states for the rest of the summer. They chose the location because the yeshiva was on break and with few disruptions, the acoustics were too good to pass up.
Upon returning in the fall of ’99, The Bar Papas were creating a buzz through the yeshiva which slowly extended itself beyond. Realizing they may have something special, it was decided the stairwell was kind to them but it was time to record a real demo in a true studio.
Fellow yeshiva student, musician, and friend Adam Margolis (left) offered to play bass. Not long after, Zev Macklin (right), a drummer who was recommended by mutual friends, agreed to take on the project for a nominal fee and work with Adam to guide the two guitarists.
After a few rehearsals and intensive planning they spent a day in the studio at Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine putting down sixty two minutes of music. It wasn’t perfect but for two guys who could barely articulate what they wanted musically, it was a gritty display of providence in getting the job done. Finally, there was a product that would propel them forward.
IN THE SPRING OF 2001, The Bar Papas went on to play their first live show at Rebecca’s (formerly Zusia’s) which used to be on Rehov Haneviim in downtown Jerusalem. Having branded their talents on the saying, “All Words By Prophets And Rabbis, All Music By The Bar Papas,” the coffeehouse/bar was packed with nearly sixty people for the release of their self titled demo album.
Shortly after the release show, Adam returned to the US but as one of the band’s founding members, left a legacy which lives on through today. The band struggled to find a replacement but ended up hiring local bass player and keyboardist Mike Tewner. Mike entered the picture just as The Bar Papas began a regular monthly gig at Rebecca’s which lasted throughout 2001/02.
During that time the second intifada along with it’s many suicide bombings raged in and around downtown Jerusalem. The situation tested the band’s nerves but as a unit, The Bar Papas were undeterred and proud to have never canceled a show due to the near daily violence. The management at Rebecca’s was extremely helpful and offered to provide security for fans throughout the year. Unfortunately, the once a month gigs were not enough to help keep Rebecca’s going and later that year the establishment ended up like many others downtown, closing it’s doors because too many people were scared to go out for the night during the wave of terror.
Chapter 2: 2003 -2005
WITHOUT REBECCA’S, The Bar Papas, the hottest neighborhood band, didn’t have a home but continued building a name for itself playing at yeshivot, engagement parties, old age homes, and when possible, for random people on the street. People from all walks of life in Israel (religious and secular) enjoyed their music even if some didn’t relate to the words as much as the beats. As one waitress once told them, “I like the way you play but I don’t connect to what you are singing…”
True musicians were also interested in the music which is why people like Zev, Adam, Danny Roth and others were willing to be part of the group in the first place.
In 2004/05 the band found a new home at The Little House of Baka. With Zev taking a personal leave of absence to work on his own project, David Kramer took over on drums, Zev Stender on bass, Mike moved over to playing keyboard, and Shaul Judelman made an occasional drop in spicing up the sets with his saxophone.
As for the venue, The Little House of Baka felt like a cross between a bar and a New York subway station but The Bar Papas made the most of it coming away with some of their biggest shows yet. It was there that the band introduced the crowds to their new mix of folk rock and electronics, turning the acoustic jams into what then Jerusalem Post writer Ben Jacobson dubbed ‘the twenty minute psychedelic interludes.’ The Bar Papas didn’t know it at the time but were one of the early jam bands that came out of the holy city.
Even more amazingly was that despite everything, they were still selling their nuts and bolts roots-rock demo album, made nearly five years earlier!
BUT NOTHING lasts forever. On June 14, 2005 the Bar Papas played The Little House of Baka for the last time. Band members were going separate ways for the summer and when they returned, The Little House of Baka management had other plans for the space.
The band picked up a few gigs elsewhere over 2005/06, most notably at the Hebrew University Mt Scopus campus and their extremely successful show at Shir Hadash which drew over 200 in attendance. Bootleg recordings were made from that evening and found their way into the alleys and corners of Jerusalem. Its success prompted Amihai and Shimshon to head back to the studio and professionally re-record most of the music that was on the original demo disc, adding a few new tracks they had been performing along the way.
Hoping to do it right, they scratched together a few shekels here and there to get started and prayed the rest would fall into place. Amihai and Shimshon even won a small grant from the City of Jerusalem which singled them out for ‘outstanding musicianship’ in their genre.
Chapter 3: 2007 and on…
From the start, recording the album was no easy task. The project had many ups and downs, sometimes very painful downs, but Amihai and Shimshon will readily admit it was all worth it.
Still, the obstacles that came in their path were demoralizing and made them question their efforts over and over.
For instance, after practicing for months, arranging and rearranging songs, the band spent two days (22 hours) in the studio recording the rhythm sections for a number of tracks. On the third day the studio discovered a technical glitch erased all the information and nothing had been backed up.
The studio didn’t hesitate to reimburse the band the same amount of hours but conflicting schedules and a turnover in studio musicians meant it would take nearly a year until they would get back to the studio again.
It was hard to swallow but the time off allowed Amihai and Shimshon to reinterpret some of the compositions, which led to improvements.
They eventually made it back to the main studio a few times in 2007/08 recording the rhythm sections for all twelve songs and in 2009 began adding instruments during smaller sessions in Pisgat Ze’ev where Gil Stein a.k.a. ‘Ears’ took over the production.
Gil, a well known engineer and music teacher around Jerusalem, was the original engineer for The Bar Papas demo disc and was present during some of the rhythm section recordings on the new project. However, as his teaching position at a local music school grew, he soon became too busy for private work and in 2010 passed the project on to his highly recommended friend, Raphael Biberfeld who was working out of Givat Shaul.
Throughout all the transitions, money continued to play a central role in the slow progress of the album as there wasn’t any cash flow and Amihai and Shimshon needed to pay for studio time and occasional studio musicians. Then another transition occurred as Raphael moved his work from Givat Shaul to the Jerusalem Municipality’s Beit Hamusica in the Valley of Hinnom, just outside the Old City.
For whatever reason (maybe the Valley of Hinnom’s difficult history?) it was at the Beit Hamusica that the project endured many strange circumstances such as the the six week debacle in 2012 where Amihai tried over and over to have special guest pianist/keyboard player Yehuda Leichter lay down some tracks to no avail.
One week the technician got sick, then the studio made a scheduling mistake, then a municipality labor strike shut down the building a third time, and to top it all off the next attempt to get together was foiled by workers who were fixing the doors on the studio and refused to put them back on after a dispute with the management!
Because it was so close to being finished it was the most incredibly trying period the album went through and set it back another year before another scheduling conflict occurred.
Finally, in the summer of 2013 the last bits of music and vocals were laid down and the album’s final mixes were complete. Mastering commenced and upon receiving the hard copy it was discovered something strange happened upon burning off the final mix as a key guitar track somehow vanished from the beginning of the track Ani L’Dodi. That being the case, a short session was scheduled in the studio to fix the bug but once again, the hand of God had other plans.
It was two weeks before Rosh Hashanah in 2013 and the studio canceled the session because it suddenly decided to schedule building renovations again. It took six more weeks to get back to the studio and another few months to listen to it all before breathing a big sigh of relief in early 2014.
As life took over a bit for The Bar Papas, the yet-to-be named album collected dust for a few years until it was given the title Nesiya Tova which means ‘good journey’ or ‘good trip,’ because truthfully, despite everything, it was an amazing ride.
So much time, so much heartache, yet in hindsight Amihai and Shimshon truly believe it was a beautiful lesson in never giving up and following your dreams!