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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, August 31, 2001

Lights, camera, rock! Lights, camera, rock! (August 31, 2001)

It's show time for Silvertone guitarist Hershel Yatovitz

by Robyn Israel

When Hershel Yatovitz got tapped to be Chris Isaak's lead guitarist, he knew he had hit the rock-star jackpot. Little did he know six years ago that the gig would lead to an acting career, as well.

Indeed, the entire Silvertone band is an integral part of "The Chris Isaak Show," which debuted in March on the Showtime network. Renewed for a second season, the show will feature 17 new one-hour episodes in early 2002.

Blending fact and fiction, the show chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Isaak, giving viewers a behind-the scenes look at his life.

Set in San Francisco, the show features the humorous rocker performing in concert and on tour, but the real focus is his life off-stage. That world is enlivened by the members of his band: bassist Rowland Salley, drummer Kenney Dale Johnson and Yatovitz.

Although each member plays himself on the show, the characters are taken to extremes, allowing more diversity in the writing.

"I'm the nice, naive guy," Yatovitz said. "I'm the sweet guy who doesn't quite get it, surrounded by a bunch of schoolyard, bully-type pranksters."

Filmed in Vancouver, the show is written and produced by Emmy Award-winning Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider -- the same team behind the quirky "Northern Exposure"

"It's like 'Northern Exposure,' Yatovitz said. "The characters develop in subtle ways over the course of many episodes.

One quirky character is "keyboardist" Anson Drubner (Jed Rees), who plays the band's bad boy. (Silvertone's real keyboardist, Brett Tuggle, is not a full-time band member and did not sign on to the project.) Although Rees occasionally plays on the show, Vancouver-based keyboardist and organ player Mike Kelang handles the more bluesy, rock-oriented material off-camera.

"The nice thing about working with Jed is that we can give each other tips, because he's playing and wants to know more about our style of music. I'm totally green as an actor. So I get a lot of really helpful hints and tips from actors I work with."

Although the episodes are scripted, Isaak and company often ad-lib scenes -- a rare creative indulgence in the world of television.

"Our world as musicians is something we're so used to," Yatovitz said. "(But) a Hollywood screenwriter isn't necessarily going to write things that we feel fit with that. Sometimes we have to shift the script so it feels right. And the producers have been very accommodating. I've given them ideas for myself and lines for other people."

Frolov and Schneider oversee the entire production, which involves nearly 300 people, with 60 buzzing about on a daily basis. Last year's 17 episodes were shot over a seven-month period, requiring eight working days per show. The cast would often work 12 to 16-hour long days - a mentally and physically draining experience, according to Yatovitz.

"It wasn't uncommon to wrap up shooting at 1 a.m. early Saturday morning, and then fly off to San Diego at 7 a.m. in the morning," the Palo Alto native said. "You have to pretty much let yourself get swallowed up by it in order to stay with it everyday."

Yatovitz also had to learn about acting. To get up to speed in that area, the band hired Berkeley-based acting teacher Janice Erlinson, who coached the band for an entire season. Yatovitz is still learning about the craft's challenges, like memorizing lines the same day.

"When I see a veteran blowing his lines, I don't feel that bad. We have good days and bad days, and everyone's supportive and professional."

Yatovitz also learned about the technical aspects of filmmaking, like shooting the same scene from different camera angles. Each angle requires a lighting change, which can take more than an hour.

"Every time we play a song, we play it at least 15 times, to get all the camera angles."

A variety of musicians have guest-starred on the show, including Shawn Colvin, Lisa Loeb, Pam Tillis, Stevie Nicks, Vince Neil and Bret Michaels. Getting to hang out and goof off with his peers has been a definite thrill for Yatovitz.

"There we are sitting next to Joe Walsh, and we're all holding guitars and we start jamming. There's no other situation that I know of , for a professional musician, to have the opportunity to jam with Junior Brown for three days."

Yatovitz also got to hang out with Colvin, whose music he first heard through Bay Area vocalist Catherine Seidel. He had always been particularly enamored of one particular song, "Killing the Blues" and got to jam with her on that piece. Interestingly, five years after Yatovitz joined Silvertone, he discovered that bassist Salley had written the song.

"It's a neat kind of circle to come around," Yatovitz said.

Yatovitz spent his summer hiatus working on a new Chris Isaak album in Oakland and L.A. An experienced recording engineer, he recently produced "Fish Tales" for local band Jello Hat. The Menlo Park resident will head back to Vancouver ("It's like a big, clean San Francisco, with mountains and 50-cent sushi," he said.) in the fall to resume shooting the show.

As for his musical future, Yatovitz looks forward to working on his own compositions.

"A big dream of mine is to put out a record of my own stuff, and that's something this TV series will hopefully help me realize -- my own album."
Re-runs of "The Chris Isaak Show" air Fridays at 10:45 p.m.
E-mail Robyn Israel at risrael@paweekly.com


 

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