Easily one of the largest religions amongst classic rock musicians after Christianity and non-religious is Judaism. There are many Jewish musicians who have shaped classic rock and made it what it is today from songwriting to performing the music. Jewish classic rock musicians come from both sides of the Atlantic. Let’s start with Jewish musicians from Europe and Africa.
This is a topic that really hits home with me since I was raised Jewish as a child, however I was never particularly religious. You end up finding that it seems that everyone is Jewish. My dad told me that my great grandfather told me that. According to my dad, my great grandfather was the kind of person to point out who is Jewish and not let you forget it. Now it’s my turn to do that with classic rock! Let’s get started! I hope you enjoy it.
Alexis Korner: Father of British Blues. Was born Alexis Andrew Nicholas Koerner in Paris to an Austrian Jewish father and a Turkish-Greek mother. Best known for forming Blues Incorporated with harmonica player Cyril Davies. There have been many famous classic rock stars who were members of Blues Incorporated. These include Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, and Graham Bond. The band were together until 1966. After that he interviewed musicians on television like The Jimi Hendrix Experience. In the 70s he started CCS, Collective Consciousness Society and Snape.
Barry Hay: Frontman of Dutch band Golden Earring. He also plays flute. His mother was Dutch Jewish and his father was Scottish. Golden Earring’s best known songs are “Radar Love” and “Twilight Zone”.
Bob Geldof: The most famous Irish person of Jewish descent. He was the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats and is famous for his activism. You might think the Geldof surname is Jewish, but actually it comes from his paternal grandfather, who was Belgian. His paternal grandmother was a Jewish woman from England named Amelia Falk. He is an atheist. What he has to say about his religion is “I was a quarter Catholic, a quarter Protestant, a quarter Jewish, and a quarter nothing. The nothing won”.
Cherry Wainer: South Africa’s first rock star was known as “The Female Liberace” and “The First Lady of British Rock and Roll”. She started playing piano as a kid and as a teenager she became fascinated with the Hammond Organ, aspiring to be like Jimmy Smith. She moved to the UK in the late 50s and was in Lord Rockingham’s XI, the house band for the show Oh Boy! This show was very popular with teenagers and a variety of music genres were played on the show from jazz to skiffle to rock and roll. She was known for her energetic stage presence.
Helen Shapiro: English musician who made it big in the early 60s as a teenager. She sang with Marc Bolan in a band before she got famous. She took voice lessons when she was 13 and through her teacher she got connections to a record label and got a record deal. At 14 her debut single “Don’t Treat Me Like A Child” hit #3. After that, she had two number ones with “You Don’t Know” and “Walkin’ Back To Happiness”. She toured with The Beatles when they did their first UK tour. Her fame declined by the mid 60s due to the change in the sound of mainstream music and they felt that her musical style was too antiquated.
Johnny Clegg: Born in England and moved to South Africa with his mum as a child. He grew up in the suburbs of Johannesburg and got into music that Zulu migrant workers played and fell in love with it. His music is a fusion of western rock and pop and Zulu music. As well as being a musician he is an anthropologist. He studied and taught anthropology at University of The Witwatersrand, one of the best universities in South Africa. He formed Juluka with Sipho Mchunu in the 70s. During this time they were censored by the South African government due to the mixing of cultures and languages. In the 80s he formed Savuka and combined Zulu music with Celtic music. Here’s a video where he talks about how he got into traditional street music by migrants. I found it pretty interesting that Zulu street music took western instruments like the guitar and concertina and and re-imagined them in a uniquely African way.
Here’s a song from 1981, called “Impi”.
Keith Reid: Songwriter for Procol Harum. He co-wrote many songs with Gary Brooker. He co-wrote along with Brooker and Matthew Fisher, their most famous song “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. This song was very iconic and was a theme for the 1967 Summer of Love. The video perfectly complements the song with the walking around in a field and later showing them in Piccadilly Circus in London. I love the clothing the band wore in the video and the organ playing by Matthew Fisher. Other hits he wrote for the band include “Homburg” and “Conquistador”.
Malcolm McLaren: Helped popularise the punk subculture in the UK in the 70s. He was dating Vivienne Westwood, a famous fashion designer, and they ran a shop together. He got to know the members of the Sex Pistols because they were customers of his shop. He came up with their band name and found their singer, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon). He became their manager. He helped get publicity for the band in a very controversial way by playing a concert on a boat named The Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames. He ended up getting arrested. “God Save The Queen” peaked at #2 on the UK Singles chart in 1977. He had a solo career in the 80s and did many styles of music.
Manfred Mann: Born Manfred Lubowitz in Johannesburg to a Jewish family. His stage name was a tribute to jazz drummer Shelly Manne. After studying at the University of the Witwatersrand, he left for England with some friends since there were better opportunities and he was disgusted at the racist government of South Africa. Before he was famous he was a teacher and a music journalist and it was a bumpy start in the beginning. His eponymous band started coming into place when he met Mike Hugg while playing in a jazz band at a holiday camp. They met vocalist Paul Jones whose inspirations were more R&B, changing the sound. The band got famous in 1964 and continued until 1968, having multiple top 10 hits and 3 number ones in the UK. In 1969, the band broke up and went their separate ways. Manfred and Mike Hugg did a short lived jazz project and that broke up a year later. In 1971, Manfred’s current band, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band started. Over the years he has played many different genres of music from jazz to pop to rock to fusions of world music with rock.
Manfred Mann did not write much of his own music, but he did write this one. This song was sampled in The Prodigy’s “Stand Up”
Marc Bolan: Born Marc Feld in London. He was in a band called John’s Children before starting Tyrannosaurus Rex, which became glam rock band T. Rex. He was also a mod and modelled clothing. The sound of Tyrannosaurus Rex was a combination of psychedelic and folk. A couple of my favourite songs from this early Bolan era are “One Inch Rock”, “By The Light of a Magical Moon”, and “Beltane Walk”. The change in T. Rex’s sound is noted in the 1970 single “Ride a White Swan”. In 1971, the album Electric Warrior was released. I think this is a great album to start with if you’re new to Bolan. Some of my favourite songs from this album are “Planet Queen”, “Mambo Sun”, “Jeepster”, and “Get It On”. In 1972, The Slider was released. My favourite songs from that album are “Telegram Sam”, “Metal Guru”, and “Ballrooms of Mars”. In 1973, the hit single “20th Century Boy” was released. My favourite later singles of his to listen to are “I Love To Boogie” and “Dandy In The Underworld”. Marc Bolan died in a car crash in 1977 two weeks before his 30th birthday and exactly a month after Elvis died. He was survived by his partner, Gloria Jones, who is famous for the song “Tainted Love”. He had one son, Rolan Bolan.
Mark Knopfler: Guitarist, singer, and songwriter for Dire Straits. His father was Hungarian. Dire Straits released their first album in 1978 and their best known song, “Sultans of Swing”, was on that album. That song was a top 10 hit in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. Dire Straits continued recording music in the 80s and had multiple top 10 hits: “Romeo and Juliet”, “Private Investigations”, and “Money For Nothing” (this song was banned in Canada for decades).
Mick Jones: Member of The Clash, played guitar and sang. He often co-wrote with Joe Strummer. Songs he had a songwriting credit on include: “White Riot”, “London Calling”, “Tommy Gun”, “Clampdown”, “Train in Vain”, “Rudie Can’t Fail”, and “Rock The Casbah”. Their lyrics were political, left wing. Before The Clash, he played in a glam rock band. One of his influences was The New York Dolls. He was introduced to Joe strummer by Bernie Rhodes (who is also part Jewish). He left the Clash in 1983 and formed Big Audio Dynamite.
Nina Hagen: Punk rock musician from East Berlin. She’s not just any punk rock singer, she is known as The Godmother of Punk because of her influence in the punk genre. Her father was Jewish and his father died in a concentration camp. She has been singing opera since she was a kid and this had an influence on her performances. Not only is she known for her voice, she is also known for her stage presence. She moved to West Germany in 1976, aged 21 because her stepfather had his East German citizenship stripped and going to West Germany would help her career a lot. She is more than a singer. Before her music career she was an actress. Here’s one of her most popular songs from the late 70s:
Pete Brown: English songwriter/poet who collaborated with Jack Bruce and Graham Bond. He is best known for co-writing the following Cream songs with Jack Bruce: “I Feel Free”, “White Room”, “SWLABR”, and “Sunshine of Your Love” with Eric Clapton as well as a songwriter. He also write songs with Jack Bruce during Bruce’s solo career. Pete Brown also had a band called Pete Brown and His Battered Ornaments. He was kicked out of that band and that band became The Battered Ornaments and they opened up for The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park on 5 July 1969. In 1972 he did an album with Graham Bond called Two Heads Are Better Than One, credited to Bond & Brown. In the 60s and 70s he published books of his poetry such as Few Poems; Let ‘Em Roll, Kafka; The Old Pals’ Act; and The Not Forgotten Association.
Peter Green: Founder of Fleetwood Mac and an important guitarist in the British Blues scene. He was born Peter Greenbaum in London. One of his inspirations to play guitar was Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Before he started Fleetwood Mac, he was in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. When he founded Fleetwood Mac, they were a blues rock band. Famous fans of Peter Green include Eric Clapton, Steve Hackett, and Jimmy Page. The early Fleetwood Mac were the only era of Fleetwood Mac to have a UK #1 with“Albatross”. It’s a beautiful instrumental and it’s very calming. He wrote “Albatross” and a lot of other famous early Fleetwood Mac songs. Some of these include “Black Magic Woman” (best known as a Santana cover), “I Loved Another Woman”, “Oh Well”, “Man of the World”, and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”. He left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, ending that era of Fleetwood Mac. He released a solo album in 1970, but was out of the spotlight through most of the 70s. He made a recovery by 1979 and started recording music again.
Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman: Three brothers who were in Simon Dupree and The Big Sound and later on the progressive rock band Gentle Giant. All three were multi-instrumentalists. Phil played woodwinds such as the flute, clarinet, and saxophone. Derek was on lead vocals. Ray mostly played bass. They are musicians that are a great example of diversity in classic rock. Simon Dupree and The Big Sound were a psychedelic garage band that took influences from soul and r&b music. Gentle Giant took influences from jazz and classical music. Some songs I recommend from Simon Dupree and The Big Sound are “Kites – their biggest hit, peaking at #9 in the UK, “I See The Light” – their first single , and “Thinking About My Life”. A good place to start with Gentle Giant is their 1970 self titled debut album. I recommend it if you are a fan of Yes and Genesis. Some parts of it remind me of things that Yes and Genesis did a year or two later.
Ronnie Robot: Played bass for Rabbitt. He was born Ronald Friedman on October 5, 1954 in South Africa. Not much is known about him, but in recent years he worked on a classical music CD series for children called Majors for Minors.
Serge Gainsbourg: French singer-songwriter born in Paris as Lucien Ginsburg. He survived the His songs were well-known for having sexual innuendos and double-entendres. He made music in multiple genres from pop to jazz to reggae. He sang duets with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. Jane Birkin was his partner for over a decade. He released his first album in 1958, one song he did then was called “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas”. He wrote a few songs for French yé-yé singer France Gall. One of these songs won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 “Poupée de cire, poupée de son”. “Les Sucettes” was one song that caused a controversy in France for it being a sexual innuendo. Another great song he wrote for France Gall is “Laisse tomber les filles”. With Brigitte Bardot he recorded songs like “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Comic Strip”, and “Initials B.B.”. Serge Gainsbourg released his first album with English actress Jane Birkin in 1969. She was his partner at the time. The song that was the biggest success was a controversial one “Je t’aime… moi non plus”. This made it to #1 in the UK.
Sharon Tandy: Born Sharon Finkelstein in Johannesburg. She recorded music in South Africa, the UK, and the US. She got her start in South Africa’s first rock and roll movie, Africa Shakes. Her voice and sound has been compared to legends like Dusty Springfield, Julie Driscoll, and Christine McVie. In 1966, she went to the US and recorded some songs in the Stax studio with Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Stax Records’ house band. She toured Europe on the famous 1967 Stax/Volt tour. Other musicians on that tour included Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, The Mar Keys, and Booker T. and the M.G.’s. After that, she collaborated with The Fleur de Lys. She is one of the most under appreciated blue eyed soul singers of the 60s, never achieving chart success. By 1970, she returned to South Africa and recorded a few singles that charted there. She died in 2015 at the age of 71.
Trevor Rabin: Born in Johannesburg to a well off Jewish family. His father was a lawyer and he had a cousin that was a lawyer for Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko. He played piano and guitar from a young age and really enjoyed British Invasion, psychedelic, and progressive rock. He started the band, Rabbitt in the early 70s and the band were famous in South Africa. He was the primary songwriter for the band and mostly was the lead vocalist. The band tried to do a tour overseas, but ultimately were unable to due to boycotts of South Africa during Apartheid. He followed in the footsteps of many famous South African musicians and left for the UK in 1978 and started a solo career. It started slowly, but picked up by the start of the 80s. Before joining Yes he worked with Ray Davies, Manfred Mann, Jack Bruce, Brian Robertson, and Jimmy Bain. He moved to the US in 1981, later becoming a citizen. Nowadays he is doing music scores for films. You might know some of these films: Con Air, Armageddon, Remember The Titans, and National Treasure. Here’s an interesting interview he did in the 80s when he was in Yes. He talks about his life in South Africa and his move to England.
Here’s a song from Rabbitt from 1975. This song is very Paul McCartney and Wings-esque.
Tony Macaulay: English songwriter who wrote hit songs for The Foundations, Marmalade, The 5th Dimension, Edison Lighthouse, Donna Summer, Long John Baldry, and more. He has won 9 Ivor Novello Awards. You’ll probably know the songs “Build Me Up Buttercup”, “Baby Now That I’ve Found You”, and “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”.
10cc members Lol Creme, Kevin Godley, and Graham Gouldman: These three members were friends from Manchester. Graham Gouldman was an accomplished songwriter who wrote hits in the 60s such as: “Heart Full of Soul”, “For Your Love”, “Bus Stop”, and “No Milk Today”. Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, before they were Godley & Creme in the late 70s through the 80s making music and directing music videos, worked together performing songs that they wrote in the 60s. What became 10cc came together in the late 60s, with Eric Stewart (he was the only gentile in the original lineup of 10cc), formerly of Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders. They worked at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, near Manchester. They worked with the Kasenetz-Katz Super K Productions, writing bubblegum pop songs. They recorded their first single, “Neanderthal Man”, together under the band name Hotlegs. They released one album called Thinks: School Stinks. Another song I recommend from that album is “Um Wah, Um Woh”. In 1972 the band changed their name to 10cc and released a self titled debut in 1973. My favourite songs from that album are “Sand In My Face”, “Donna”, and “The Dean and I”. Another song I liked was “Waterfall”, which did not appear on any album. “The Wall Street Shuffle” was a top 10 hit for the band in 1974. “I’m Not In Love” was a hit for the band in 1975 and one of their best known songs and was in the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Here’s “The Dean and I” from 1973