Israeli singer/songwriter Shalom Hanoch is perceived by many as one of the most influential artists in the country. Starting as a successful songwriter while still a teenager, Hanoch had a pivotal role in introducing rock music to the Israeli public. Decades later, Hanoch continued to rock, releasing acclaimed albums and giving late-night performances in clubs to an ever-growing fan base.
Hanoch was born in Kibbutz Mishmarot and honed his songwriting skills within a local group, Mishmaron, performing in local festivities. At 14 he wrote his first song, the gentle "Laila" (Night), a staple in his performances to this day. At 19 he already had a song recorded by folk duo Hedva and David. Hanoch's lyricist collaborator in many of his early songs was Meir Ariel, a fellow Mishmarot member who would later become a revered singer/songwriter on his own merit.
In 1966, Hanoch was enlisted in the Israeli army. Like his older sister Naama, he joined the famous Infantry Brigade troupe, the Nahal Band. At the time, the band was considered one of the main stepping stones on the path to musical superstardom: yet Hanoch was never given a solo song, and only one of his compositions was included in the band's performances.
His chance to shine came during some off-time: at a party in a Tel Aviv nightclub, he was urged to go on-stage and play his songs. Hanoch played four of his compositions and caught the attention of a member of the audience, Arik Einstein, at the time the biggest pop star in Israel. Einstein was impressed with the young artist's craft, and asked him to write his material. Within weeks, they would start a partnership which would later produce some of Israeli rock's biggest milestones: 1970s albums Shablul (Snail) and Plastelina (Plasticine). The former was billed as an Arik Einstein album, with all compositions by Hanoch; the latter was credited to both. The two albums would prove to be the turning point of Israeli popular music, from sweet melodies with elevated lyrics to a dirty rock sound with psychedelic echoings and slightly lewd lyrics.
During his work with Einstein, Hanoch formed his own pop trio, the Shlosharim (the Three Singers, aka the Three'ngers), with Benny Amdurski and fellow Mishmarot pal Hanan Yovel. The Shlosharim's mainstream success enabled Hanoch to finance his dallying to the wild side of music with Einstein.
By 1971, the successful 24-year-old felt a change was needed. Relocating to England without connections or a firm grasp of the English language, it took Hanoch six months until he was offered a recording contract by the label of noted publisher Dick James.
Hanoch set to create his solo debut by taking songs he wrote for Einstein and fitting them with English lyrics he cobbled together from the words he knew ("like a game of Scrabble," he joked in an interview in 1972). He also added some new compositions in English: "So Long," "Peaceful Love," "Lihi's Song," and "Under Tropical Moonlight." Dick James Music assigned him a seasoned session band, headed by Caleb Quaye (who worked with Elton John and Paul McCartney). The resulting album, Shalom, was released in England in 1971, yet the labored lyrics and heavy Israeli accent were not well received, and the album tanked. DJM, seeking damage control, insisted he work with a local lyricist and manufacture a pop hit. Hanoch refused, and the contract was terminated.
Hanoch returned to Israel in mid-1973. The next year, he met keyboardist Ariel Zilber. Zilber himself had recently returned from Europe, where he wrote songs for Esther and Abi Ofarim and Françoise Hardy. Hanoch offered Zilber a partnership, which later evolved into a five-piece band called Tamouz.
Tamouz, considered to be Israel's first bona fide rock band, released its only album, the pivotal Sof Onat Hatapuzim (End of the Orange Season) in 1975. The songs were written and performed by Hanoch and Zilber, with the title track composed by Hanoch and his old friend Meir Ariel. Yet the subsequent tour caused strains between Zilber and the rest of the band, and they called it quits by July 1976.
1977 saw the release of Hanoch's debut Hebrew solo album, Adam Betoch Atzmo (A Man Within Himself). With songs lasting eight or ten minutes, and an introspective mood, the album differed from the energetic offerings of Tamouz.
In 1979 Hanoch rejoined Einstein for a tour and subsequent live double album, Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch in Concert. This time around, Hanoch was the bigger star, playing most of his solo material, as well as songs from Shablul and Plastelina.
His next release, Hatuna Levana (White Wedding) was a concept album dealing with the demise of his marriage. Produced by veteran sax player Jaroslav Jakubovic (who worked with Bette Midler and was the apparent inspiration for Jim Henson's muppet Zoot), Hatuna Levana received a bombast sound which did not fare well with the critics of the time, and neither did the accompanying tour. This was the first album to feature Hanoch's new, raspy, cigarette-singed singing voice, which would become his signature feature from now on.
In 1984 he released his most successful album to date, Mehakim LeMashiach (Waiting for Messiah), a compelling album with scathing political insight: "Lo Otzer Be'Adom" (Doesn't Stop at Red Lights) is a critique of Ariel Sharon's conduct during the Lebanon war. The title track is an allegory in which the Messiah is a stock investor leaping to his death during the stock market crash of 1983. These songs, and others on the album, helped set Hanoch's status as one of the most important and influential artists in Israel, musically as well as socially.
In 1987, Hanoch embarked on a tour, named "Rak Ben Adam" (Only Human), comprised of mainly new, unrecorded material. He enlisted American guitarist Ronnie Peterson, a one-time pal of Johnny Thunders, and his bassist brother Ray to join his backing band. The tour's material later found its way to the double album Rak Ben Adam.
In 1991, Hanoch released his most successful album of the '90s, Bagilgul Hazeh (In This Lifetime). This was followed by two other albums, A-Li-Mut (Vi-O-Lence) and Erev Erev (Every Evening).
In 1999, the anticipated Muskat album reunited Hanoch with Arik Einstein. In spite of the co-billing, this was actually an Einstein album of Hanoch's compositions, with Hanoch lending vocals to two tracks.
In 2003, Hanoch returned to form with the critically acclaimed Or Israeli (Israeli Light). Co-produced by Hanoch and longtime collaborator Moshe Levi, the album combined yet again pessimism with romanticism and political critique with tender ballads, such as the hit from the album, "Ahavat Ne'uray" (Love of My Youth).
In 2005, Hanoch announced a joint summer tour with fellow rock star Shlomo Artzi. Although Artzi is Hanoch's contemporary, the separate career paths caused many to raise an eyebrow at the unlikely pairing. But the tour was a success, with 100,000 viewers.
That same year, 60-year-old Hanoch proved his durability in yet another way: he began a series of monthly nightclub concerts called "Night Animals," starting at 2:00 a.m. and continuing until dawn. The series, featuring a rock-out version of his greatest hits, was aimed at his younger audience, mainly soldiers coming home for the weekend.