The United States has the most Jews of any country besides Israel with estimates ranging from over 5 million to over 6 million. Canada has a Jewish population of 375,000. Jewish Americans and Canadians have contributed to rock and roll in performance and songwriting, but this post will be focusing on the music side of things, but many of these musicians are songwriters. While doing research for this post, I found out that there were so many Jewish musicians from the US and Canada that this post will have to be broken up into two parts. A usual post for the Diversity of Classic Rock is more or less 2000 words and this post had it been released all together would be more than double that. I strive to showcase as many musicians as possible from the well-known to the deep cuts who deserve more recognition. These musicians are in a variety of types of rock from punk to hard rock to folk to power pop to blues rock to progressive rock. A diverse range of subgenres in rock.
This series of posts was a really important to me as someone who is Jewish. I am an atheist but identify culturally as Jewish. Writing this made me think of all the times that my dad would say that “it seems like everyone is Jewish.”
Al Kooper, Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Blues Project: Al Kooper was the original band leader of Blood, Sweat & Tears and was only with the band for their first album Child Is Father To The Man, playing keyboards and doing vocals. The idea of the band came from his idea to have a rock band with a horn section. He joined them after being in The Blues Project with Steve Katz. Al Kooper left The Blues Project in 1967 and Steve Katz left soon after Kooper left. Al Kooper has worked with musicians such as Shuggie Otis, The Who, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and more. Steve Katz stayed with Blood, Sweat & Tears until 1973. Blood, Sweat & Tears combined influences from classical, jazz, and psychedelic music. Here is a song that Al Kooper wrote for the band:
Alan Cooper and Henry Gross of Sha Na Na: Two of the original members of the band. Alan Cooper sang and Henry Gross played lead guitar. The band started off at Columbia University in New York and they started performing in 1969. That same year, they performed at Woodstock and they got to stardom. They marketed themselves as being from the streets of New York and dressed in old lamé and leather. They were influenced by 50s rock and roll and doo-wop. They were in the movie Grease performing 1950s rock and roll and older doo-wop songs like “Hound Dog” and “Blue Moon”. Here’s a video of them performing “Let’s Go To The Hop” at Woodstock:
Arlo Guthrie: Like his father Woody Guthrie, he is a musician. He famously performed at Woodstock. His biggest influences were Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. He frequented a lot of folk boom era clubs in New York City. In 1967 he became famous with the song “Alice’s Restaurant” that premiered at the Newport Folk Festival. The song is 18 minutes wrong and example of talking blues. It wasn’t played on the radio because it clashed with the formula of 3-4 minute songs. He performed at Woodstock and one of the fan favourite songs played there was “Coming into Los Angeles”.
Bob Dylan: Born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota to Jewish parents of Ukrainian and Lithuanian descent. He wrote many songs that became hits for other musicians, such as “This Wheel’s on Fire” by Brian Auger and the Trinity with Julie Driscoll, “Mr Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann, and “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. Some of his best known songs are “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (#9 in the UK), “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (#9 in the UK), “Like A Rolling Stone” (#2 in the US), “Positively 4th Street”, “Lay Lady Lay” (#7 in the US), and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Some of his biggest influences were Woody Guthrie, Elvis, and Little Richard. He moved to New York City in the early 60s and started playing in clubs in Greenwich Village. Many of his songs contain a political message. He was at the March on Washington with Joan Baez and was very prominent in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. His music sound changed from the early 60s to the mid 60s to a more electric, pop influenced sound instead of an acoustic folk sound.
Carly Simon: Successful 70s singer-songwriter who got many top 40 hits during the decade. She turned to singing to deal with her stuttering. She was the daughter of the co-founder of the book publisher Simon & Schuster. In the 60s, she and her sister Lucy were a duo and released three albums: Meet The Simon Sisters, Cuddlebug, and The Simon Sisters Sing The Lobster Quadrille and Other Songs For Children. Some of her biggest hits include “Anticipation”, “You’re So Vain” (went to #1), and “Nobody Does It Better” (went to #2).
Carole King: Songwriter and half of the successful Goffin-King songwriting team from the 60s. They have written many hits such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” – the first number one by a black girl group (The Shirelles), “The Loco-Motion”, “It Might As Well Rain Until September”, “Take Good Care of My Baby” (recorded by Bobby Vee and played The Beatles at their audition for Decca Records), “I’m Into Something Good”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. As well as being as songwriter she also recorded her own music. Her most famous album is Tapestry with the hits “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel The Earth Move”.
Cass Elliot: Member of 60s pop group The Mamas & The Papas. Before that she was in The Big 3 and The Mugwumps. She performed with Zal Yanovsky in The Mugwumps. Another one of her bandmates was Denny Doherty, who later joined a band that John and Michelle Phillips were in and she also joined and they became The Mamas and The Papas. In the group she was known as the funny, friendly, and happy one. Her voice had a good range and her best work is on the hits “California Dreamin”, “Monday Monday”, “Go Where You Wanna Go”, “Creeque Alley”, and “Words of Love”. On the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, there’s a good cover of the Beatles song “I Call Your Name” – always great to hear covers of Beatles songs that aren’t just their hits.
Chris Stein: Member of Blondie. He started the band with Debbie Harry, who he was dating at the time. He was the guitarist of the band. Their first two albums were produced by former Strangeloves member Richard Gottehrer. They became Blondie in 1974 and have been very successful with hits “Heart of Glass” (co-written by him and Debbie Harry), “Sunday Girl” (Chris Stein wrote this one), “One Way Or Another”, “Dreaming” (co-written by him and Debbie Harry), “Call Me”, “The Tide is High”, and “Rapture” (co-written by him and Debbie Harry). Blondie broke up in 1982 due to Chris Stein’s illness and low ticket sales for concerts. Blondie were really influential and there was a revival of interest in their music in the 90s and they reunited in the 90s and recorded an album called No Exit. One famous group from the 90s that were fans of their music were No Doubt.
Country Joe and the Fish (essentially the entire classic lineup): David Bennett Cohen was the original keyboard player for the band from December 1965-January 1969, before Woodstock. Gary Hirsh was the drummer until 1969. He was the one who suggested changing the FISH cheer to spell fuck instead. However, there were consequences that came from this like Ed Sullivan cancelling their appearance on his show. Country Joe was the lead singer of the band. Barry Melton was the lead guitarist. Bruce Barthol was the bass player until 1968. The biggest influence of the band was the folk music genre, but their sound became psychedelic later on. They were at the Monterey Pop Festival and the First Human Be-In. They were best known for “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag”, which was performed at Woodstock.
David Lee Roth: Lead singer of Van Halen from 1974-1985. Before he joined Eddie and Alex Van Halen he was in a band called the Red Ball Jets and they were in Mammoth. He joined Mammoth, which became Van Halen. Van Halen released their first album in 1978. This album featured the song “Runnin’ With the Devil”. David Lee Roth co-wrote many of the songs with the rest of the band. Some of Van Halen’s biggest hits include their cover of “You Really Got Me”, their cover of “Pretty Woman”, “Dance The Night Away”, “Jump” (a #1 and Van Halen’s only chart topper), and “Hot For Teacher” – the last single released with all four original members of Van Halen until the 90s. ETA: A commenter, Mike, pointed out that this was not the last single released by the original members. Two other singles were released called: “Me Wise Magic” released in October 1996 and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” released in 1997.
Donald Fagen: Lead singer of 70s rock band Steely Dan. He founded the band with a friend, Walter Becker. Donald Fagen also plays keyboard, saxophone, and melodica. He wrote most of the songs for the band along with Walter Becker. Steely Dan combined rock with different of music such as jazz and r&b. They released their debut album in 1972, Can’t Buy A Thrill. This album includes the hit singles “Do It Again” (#6 US) and “Reelin’ In The Years” (#11 US). They had another hit in 1974 with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”. Their best selling album is Aja, released in 1977 and it has a bit more of a prog/jazz sound. Some songs I would recommend from Aja are “Black Cow”, “Aja”, and “Deacon Blues”.
Enrico Rosenbaum: Primary songwriter, guitarist, and singer of 70s prog rock band Gypsy. He was born in Italy and his parents were Holocaust survivors. He moved to the United States as a child and was multilingual. Gypsy’s first album is excellent and a great starting point for getting into their music. The band released their 4th album in 1973 broke up in 1975. Later on, James Walsh would continue it as The James Walsh Gypsy Band in the late 70s and 90s. Enrico Rosenbaum died in 1979.
Eric Bloom: Vocalist and guitarist for Blue Oyster Cult. He replaced Les Braunstein in 1969. The band were best known for the 1976 hit and classic rock radio staple “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, however the lead vocals on this particular song were done by Buck Dharma. The legacy of this song continued through the decades with an SNL skit from 2000 which was famous for the line, “more cowbell”. “Blue Oyster Cult released their first album in 1972, but they were formed in 1967 as Soft White Underbelly. Some songs I recommend besides “Don’t Fear The Reaper” are “I’m On The Lamb, But I Ain’t No Sheep”, “Then Came The Last Days of May”,
Eric Carmen: Born in Cleveland. Had an interest in music from a young age and was enroled in music classes from the age of 3. He started writing songs and playing piano when he was 11. As a teenager he taught himself guitar. He was a founding member of 70s band The Raspberries. They were important in creating the genre of power pop that would gain popularity later on with bands like The Bay City Rollers, The Knack, and The Romantics. The Raspberries were best known for the hit song “Go All The Way” featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. The song was a hit in 1972 and was #5 in the Billboard charts. However, in the UK the song was banned by the BBC for being “sexually suggestive”. Eric Carmen was the singer, songwriter, guitarist, and bassist for the band. Other songs I like by The Raspberries are “Come Around And See Me”, “Rock & Roll Mama”, and “I Wanna Be With You”.
Genya Ravan: Born in Poland in 1940 and came to the US aged 7. She was in one of the first famous all girl rock groups, Goldie and the Gingerbreads. They had more success in Europe than back home in America. They came out before Fanny and The Runaways from the 70s. She was given the nickname Goldie by her mum to sound more American. Goldie and the Gingerbreads toured with Chubby Checker in Europe and toured with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and The Kinks in England. After Goldie and the Gingerbreads broke up in the late 60s, she joined Ten Wheel Drive and later became a record producer. Some songs I like are “The Skip” – a very 60s instrumental, “Please Please”, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” – a Herman’s Hermits cover and Goldie and the Gingerbreads only hit in England, “Think About The Good Times”, “Stay With Me”, and “Whipping Post” – an Allman Brothers Band cover. Her voice has a lot of soul influences and it is very strong.
Geddy Lee: Bassist, singer, and keyboard player for Canadian hard rock/prog rock band Rush. He was born in Toronto to Holocaust survivor parents Morris and Mary (Manya) Weinrib, who were born in Poland. He grew up in the Willowdale neghbourhood in North York. Geddy Lee, like many Jewish boys, got a bar mitzvah at the age of 13. Nowadays he is a cultural Jew and not so much religious. Geddy Lee got his name from the fact his mum, with her Polish accent, pronounced his birth name of Gary, like Geddy. Lee is his middle name. He and Alex Lifeson were good friends and were founding members of Rush who still play with them. Their original drummer was John Rutsey, who was replaced by Neil Peart in 1974. Geddy Lee’s influences include John Entwistle of The Who and Jack Bruce of Cream. Geddy Lee is an important part of Rush, in fact, all of the members of Rush are important and make them the amazing power trio they are. You can really hear his bass playing in the songs, and they are a lot like The Who in that way where the bass is prominent. My favourite Rush albums of the 70s are Fly By Night and 2112 (whenever my clock reads 21:12, I can’t help but think of Rush. I would love to see the year 2112 and talk about Rush all day). Five songs I recommend checking out are: “Finding My Way” – which is very Led Zeppelin inspired and different from their more prog sounding releases with Neil Peart, “By-Tor and The Snow Dog” – an epic and one of the first of many epic songs to come – epic songs that are 8+ minutes long are an important part of prog rock, “2112” – the first track off the album of the same name that tells a story that took inspirations from Ayn Rand’s Anthem, “Xanadu” – great vocals, and “Cygnus X-1: Books I and II” – an epic which Book I was the last song on A Farewell to Kings and Book II was the first song on Hemispheres.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS: Half of the lineup of 70s hard rock band Kiss. Bassist Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Israel and moved to the states at the age of 8. He changed his name to Eugene Klein later on. His parents were Hungarian and were Holocaust survivors. One of his biggest influences were The Beatles. Frontman Paul Stanley was born Stanley Eisen in New York City. His mum’s family escaped Nazi Germany via Amsterdam and later on to New York City and his paternal grandparents were Polish. Paul Stanley’s influences were The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard. Kiss were founded in 1973 and released their debut album in 1974. They were famous for their flashy stage presence with face paint, costumes, and pyrotechnics. Their biggest hits are “Rock and Roll All Nite”, “Beth”, and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.
Howard Kaylan: Founding member and lead singer of The Turtles. He was born to a Jewish family in New York, but his family later on moved to Westchester, a suburb of LA. After the Turtles broke up in 1970, he and bandmate Mark Volman joined The Mothers of Invention. They also did session work under the pseudonym Flo & Eddie. The record label The Turtles were signed to, White Whale Records, claimed rights to Kaylan and Volman’s names and The Turtles name and prevented them from using it. After a decade and a half of litigation, they won the rights to use The Turtles back.
Janis Ian: Became famous as a singer-songwriter early on as a teenager. Her biggest influences were Joan Baez and Odetta. Also like them, she was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Janis Ian was born to a Jewish family in New York City and her parents were liberal. When she was 13 she wrote “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)”. In the 60s in the United States, interracial relationships were frowned upon. Radio stations would not play the song because of the subject matter. She didn’t get another major hit until the 70s with “At Seventeen”. In the late 70s Janis Ian would make a disco song produced by Giorgio Moroder called “Fly Too High”. As well as being a singer-songwriter, Janis Ian is also an author and started a charity called The Pearl Foundation which funds scholarships that help adults continue their education
Joey Ramone and Tommy Ramone: Half of the classic 1974-1978 Ramones lineup. The band formed in New York City. Joey Ramone was born in Queens and Tommy Ramone was born in Hungary, but came to the US when he was 8. Joey was the frontman and Tommy was the drummer. Joey’s voice is very distinctive and a very important part of the Ramones sound. Another thing that stood out about Joey was his height, he was 6′ 6″. They both played on the albums Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket To Russia. Joey, however, did vocals until 1996. Tommy Ramone was the last surviving original member of the Ramones until he passed away last year, on 11 July 2014. I highly recommend Ramones and Rocket To Russia. Some highlights from these albums are the well known “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Tommy Ramone is listed as a co-writer), “Beat On The Brat” (written by Joey Ramone), “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (written by Tommy Ramone), “Rockaway Beach”, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”, and their really good cover of “Surfin’ Bird”.
Jonathan Richman of The Modern Lovers: Jonathan Richman was born and raised in the Boston area. As a teenager he wrote songs. One of his biggest inspirations is The Velvet Underground and you can really hear the influence in his music with his band The Modern Lovers. He was the primary songwriter and guitarist. In fact, he started the band in 1970 at the young age of 19 and a couple of years later, the band worked with former Velvet Underground member John Cale on some songs. The album that those songs would appear on wouldn’t be released until 2 years after the band broke up. I highly recommend this album and some of my favourite tracks are “Roadrunner”, “Old World”, “Dignified and Old”, “Someone I Care About”, and “Modern World”.
Jorma Kaukonen, Marty Balin, and Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane: All three members were with San Francisco rock band Jefferson Airplane since their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was released in 1966. They were practically half the lineup. Marty Balin and Jorma Kaukonen played guitar and Marty sang. Spencer Dryden played drums. Jorma Kaukonen also has a little brother named Peter who played with Jefferson Starship. As well as his work with Jefferson Airplane, he was in Hot Tuna. He moved to California in 1962 to go to university and later on joined Jefferson Airplane. Marty Balin was born Martyn Buchwald in Ohio and was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and played a big part in writing songs for the band. He was also in Jefferson Starship and was a member of the band from 1975-1978. Spencer Dryden was born in New York City and his father was a half brother of Charlie Chaplin, but he didn’t like mentioning this because he wanted to be judged based on his own merits. He replaced Canadian drummer Skip Spence as drummer. Some Jefferson Airplane albums worth checking out are Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, Surrealistic Pillow (my favourite Jefferson Airplane album), and After Bathing at Baxter’s. Some songs to listen to (that are not the obvious hits like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”) are “It’s No Secret”, “Let’s Get Together”, “Today”, “DCBA -25”, and “Plastic Fantastic Lover”.