Shlock Rock isn’t just a Jewish rock band. It’s a Jewish rock band with a mission: to encourage Jewish pride, identity and awareness. They have performed in over 2000 concerts all over the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, South Africa and England. Apparently, they are quite successful in their goal of using music to promote Jewish continuity. A quick trip to shlockrock.com reveals not only letters from people who have been brought closer to Yiddishkeit by Shlock Rock, but an Educators Corner with fourteen different lesson plans for teachers who want to use Jewish rock music to reach their students.
According to Wikipedia, Shlock Rock began in December 1985 when Lenny Solomon and his band rented a recording studio for two weeks. The only time slot they could afford was the midnight to eight AM shift. Their first album, entitled “Learning is Good”, which featured the hit song Abarbanel (set to the tune of the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann”) was released in January 1986. Twenty three and a half years later, Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock are set to release their thirty first album, entitled “Shlock Rock 31: No Limits”.
Lenny Solomon was kind enough to spend some time with me and let me know how it all began and to give me some insider info on his new album, scheduled to be released online in just a few short weeks.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Did you take music lessons did you as a kid? For how long?
LS: I started on the accordion when I was eight years old. I took ten years of lessons until I went to Queens College for Music. When I was fifteen, I started taking piano simultaneously. The best musical experience that I had was going to music day camp when I was going into my senior year of High School (MTA). It was called Usdan and it was out on Long Island. I would have 3 or 4 hours of piano a day. Needless to say, my piano playing improved exponentially because of that experience.
What advice would you give kids taking lessons now who are ready to give it up?
LS: My advice for kids ready to give up is as follows: 1000 kids take lessons and 999 give them up. If you keep going ,especially during the tough times, you will be the one who continues and makes something of it.
How did you get started in the music business?
LS: I got started playing accordion and then keyboard for a band called the Shemesh Orchestra, in Queens. I believe it was 1980. The bandleader was Zalman Umlas. The drummer was Avi Feinberg, who was also featured on Judea. Avi called me up one day and asked if I would come to an NCSY New York Region Shabbaton in Pelham Parkway in September 1981. I did not know what it was. I grew up in Kew Gardens and we had our own Youth Center so I never went to NCSY as a kid. At that point I was 20 years old.
How did you move into the direction of adapting secular music for Jewish youth?
LS: I watched various NCSY regional directors and NCSY leaders get up on chairs during Shabbos and entertain kids who did not have a religious background by singing parodies. Secular songs with the words changed to give Jewish messages. I decided I could do this as well. So little by little I started writing my own parodies. Abarbanel and Hit Me With Your Best Pshat were the first two. There was no plan at this point to do music for a living and there was no plan to do Shlock Rock as a living either. I had not even named it yet. That came later.
Have there ever been any issues from original artists on the songs that you’ve parodied?
LS: No. We did receive two or three letters from artists in the early 90’s, around 1992, but as soon as they found out our sales numbers they never wrote back. The Jewish music business is microscopic and the norm is that we are under the radar from a lot of different perspectives.
Any stories you’d like to share about people whose lives you’ve touched?
LS: There are lots and they grow all the time. I have lots of letters from people who tell me that I was a big inspiration for them growing into their Judaism. I would hesitate to say the words “made them frum” . I don’t believe anyone makes anyone frum. But I have been a catalyst in helping people become more observant. The only letter I will share with you right now came back in 1986. I had just released Shlock Rock Learning is Good in January and this letter came in May. The lady wrote “Dear Lenny, My brother who hates everything about Judaism is listening to your tape around the clock. Keep up the good work.” It was at that point I realized the purpose of Shlock Rock and started working on album number 2!
We don’t often get to hear how we’ve made a difference in people’s lives. Can I persuade you to share a few more stories/letters with us? Based on the number of Facebook friends you have (2,303 as I write this, but the number grows almost daily) you have clearly touched a lot of people’s lives.
LS: A lot of people have said to me over the years that I (Shlock Rock Music) was one of the main factors that brought them to Judaism. One person went so far as to say that Aryeh Kaplan’s books, Pesach Krohn’s stories and the music of Shlock Rock were the three factors in his growth in Judaism. Another one told me they owe their Judaism to me. That they used to drive in the car listening to my stuff and learnt from me. Another one invited me to his wedding in Lakewood and told me that when he went on his first Shidduch date with his eventual bride he played my music. These are just a couple of stories. Without arrogance, I have always believed that Shlock Rock is the greatest musical tool in Jewish Outreach and I am proud that Hashem gave me this job! I would not trade it in for a second!
How many albums have you done?
LS: Up until now I have released thirty three albums if you include Kesher. Kesher was my first band from 1983-1988. I wrote seventeen songs out of the twenty eight that came out on the three Kesher albums. I have released thirty albums with Shlock Rock. Twelve of those albums are parodies, twelve are original music albums in either Hebrew or English and six are for young children.
What countries have you performed in?
LS: I have performed in thirty seven out of the fifty states in the USA, Canada, England, South Africa, Australia and Israel. Almost every English speaking country except for New Zealand.
Are there any singers out there in the music world you’d love to work with?
LS: I love working with everyone. I have enjoyed working with Avromy Weisberger, Jonathan Rimberg, Mark Infield, Gershon Veroba and Meir Abittan over the years amongst others. Sam Glaser is outstanding and it was great doing a song with him. I would love to do a song with Avrohom Rosenbloom. He has a soulful voice and is one of my Jewish rock heroes. Eli Gerstner would also be fun to work with as well as Yeedle.
Any new talent out there that you’ve been really impressed with?
Well the AKA Pella group is great as is Lev Tahor and some of the other groups that sing with music and a capella. I also like Shalsheles, Blue Fringe, etc…I think everyone who brings something to the table, who is not afraid to say what they feel, impresses me.
Let’s hear about the new album.
LS: The album will be called Shlock Rock 31- No Limits. The title track is based on a dvar Tvorah from Rav Tzadok Hakohen from Lublin. It is an all original English album and the songs are all about Jewish ideas as usual. Recording this album was one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever had. It was outstanding.
What made this one such an intense experience?
LS: The album has twelve songs, which I wrote in only four days. Over the next three days, I tweaked the songs and arranged them. I recorded the album in five days in Haworth, New Jersey at Steve Bill’s Studio. Steve has produced thirteen CDs with Shlock Rock and this will be number fourteen. He is also Avraham Fried’s musical director and has played guitar on thousands of Jewish albums. Anyway, the writing process is the best part of my job. You sit at the piano for three hours and connect to Hashem and see what comes out. In this case I wrote five songs on day one, four songs on day two, one song on day three and two songs on day four. I think it is the best material I have ever written. Then I recorded it in an intense thirty five hour five day marathon, working with the highest caliber of musicianship. It was awesome!
LS: It is the best stuff I have ever written and recorded. And all in a twenty day period.
What style are the songs on the new album going to be both musically and lyrically?
LS: The styles of the songs are as if you are listening to a Pop rock album from the 1970’s – 1980’s. The topics are all Jewish. Some are current events based, some are dvar torah based, turned into songs. I truly believe it is the best material I have ever written, both lyrically and musically.
When can we expect the album to be released?
LS: The album will be released online from October 1st through December 1st and then the hard copy will be released on Decmber 1st. This is the first time I am doing this as well. But it is a sign of the times and I embrace the technology.
Why wait till December to release the hard copy?
LS: Because I am planning something special for the online audience. I really think that the hard copy will be a great success as well but I would like to release it before Chanukah as a hard copy.
Why such a big time lag from the online release to the hard copy? In theory, the only difference should be the duplicating process which shouldn’t take more than a week, 2 tops. Yet you’re talking about a 2 month difference between releases. What’s the deal?
LS: I cant answer that question yet. I am planning something extremely different that has not been tried in the Jewish music world. I will let you know when I can! How is that for mysterious?
And there you have it, the latest and greatest, straight from Lenny Solomon in Beit Shemesh. Stay tuned for more Shlock Rock news as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile, Lenny will continue doing what he does best: using his talents to bring people closer to Yiddishkeit, one song at a time.