Shlock Rock Interview
Interview With Lenny Solomon – The King of Shlock (Rock)
By Ariel Levi
Today I had a fun and very high energy interview with Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock. Shlock Rock was founded in 1985 by Lenny Solomon. Shlock Rock is an internationally acclaimed Jewish band. It is one of the few Jewish bands that cater to every Jew and every Jewish denomination. It is the only Jewish band to have performed in all 50 states.
Lenny’s excitement, love of music and love of Judaism are inspirational. It’s going to be a lot of fun when he comes to the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts on December 26, 2016 (the third night of Hanukkah). To purchase tickets go to LBJA.org. The concert will be in Kemp Mill at the Silver Spring Jewish Center. Lenny is looking forward to meeting everyone, including you. Be there.
What inspires you? What inspires me is when I hear great music with great rhythm, with great chords, great melody and great harmony. What inspires me is the concept of being able to teach Jewish values and Judaism through that music and making people feel good about their Judaism. This Inspires me to keep going. It inspires me that I’ve had a thirty-one year career. I’ve produced 37 albums, 495 songs, performed 2000 times over a span of thirty years. Being this informal Jewish music educator inspires me.
Tell us about your musical inspirations and role models: In secular music –my role models, no that’s not right, my musical heroes were Billy Joel and the Beatles, Music of the 70’s and 80’s. In Jewish music they were Diaspora Yeshiva band, the band Ruach. In parody music my heroes were Tom Lerer, Alan Sherman and Weird Al Yankovic. In Jewish Parody, my heroes were Country Yossi and the Shteeble Hoppers and the Rechnitzer Rejects.
Tell us about the genesis of Shlock Rock: From 1981-1988 I played pretty much every weekend for NCSY across the United States; From New York to Canada, to the Central, East and Southern Regions, the Seaboard Regions, the Jersey Regions, Midwest and any I left out. While touring the different regions, I would watch one of the NCSY advisors get up and entertain the kids using song parodies. They called it Shtick. I decided that I could write some of that. I started writing my own parodies and in 1985 I had twelve or thirteen of them. I went to a studio and recorded “Learning is Good”. That was the first album that came out in 1986.
I called the band Shlock Rock because Shlock in Yiddush means secondhand or used. So the music was secondhand and the words were new. Then G-d did the rest. You see I didn’t have an advertising budget and the phone just ran off the hook. By 1987 we started performing and by 1988 it was a full-time living. I did 100 shows a year from 1988-1996. Then I made Aliyah with my wife. At that point we had two kids, now we have four, thank G-d.
Since we made Aliyah in 1996 I go back and forth six times a year for a total of 3-4 months that I’m away from my family. I tour and I do up to 70 shows a year and it’s been a great, great experience.
What is your favorite Shlock Rock Song? There is no favorite Shlock Rock song. There are 495 and they all have a special place with me. When you write your own Shlock Rock song, you don’t say this is my favorite.
There are some songs that I’m excessively proud of, some that I love the lyrical flow. I also love my original music. For every parody album, there is an original album. I’ve written 150-200 parodies (don’t know the exact number). I’ve written about 150-200 original songs. Then there are another 125 children’s songs. I am very proud of those as well. There are six children’s albums
There are six children’s albums, fourteen original albums, fourteen parody albums and three greatest hits compilations. Between those thirty-seven albums, I don’t have a favorite. I like to think that my latest album is always my best album and that I keep getting better and better. If you don’t think that, you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse (laughter). To answer your question, I don’t have a favorite Shlock Rock song, I love them all.
You have a wide variety of fans, some brand new ones and some going back thirty years. Do you have anything to say to them? It has been great playing for you guys. I love it that you’re there. To my new fans, I will tell you that there is a world of Jewish Music that is open to you, not only in Shlock Rock, but other groups as well. In Shlock Rock there is so much stuff. I would encourage you all to get the entire digital series. You can buy the entire digital license on my website and have access to all 37 albums. You can go through them one album a week. It’s so much fun. It will make you feel great.
You have a CD called Lenny and the Shlockers. What is a Shlocker? Shlockers were the guys in the band, they were the Shlockers and I was the King of Shlock. That album came out in 1990 and it had on it “Yo Yo Yalmuka”, “Am Yisrael Chai”, there were a number of hits on that album. We called it Lenny and the Shlockers, I’m not really even sure why. It happens to be an all original album, but a lot of people are not sure because it’s really grouped in with the parodies, but it’s actually all original, mostly English with a few Hebrew songs.
What was your biggest challenge? I think my biggest challenge in the beginning was just keeping going. Because when you put out something to the public, some people criticize it. You have to have a thick skin. You have to be able to keep moving forward. You have to not worry about people who might not like what you are doing.
The truth is that it was a minimal challenge because Shlock Rock was so much fun. I toured the world. I’ve been to South Africa nine times and Australia eight times, England and Canada dozens of times, Mexico city, of course Israel and all fifty U.S. states. This adventure made the challenge minimal.
As Shlock Rock grew, the challenge became becoming wittier and wittier. You can’t just rely on your old stuff, you have to keep getting better and better. I think that we did. I think that our parodies and original music has gotten better and better.
These have been my two biggest challenges over the last thirty years.
You started Shlock Rock fairly young. As you’ve gotten older, has your vision of music changed? No, it really hasn’t. My vision of music is: rhythmic flow, great melody, great harmonies and a great groove, a great groove. This is what people need to hear and it makes people feel good. It could be that this developed over the years.
I am not a proponent of slow songs. There aren’t a lot of slow songs on my albums. Out of ten songs, two of them are slow and eight of them are medium to fast.
This is my idea of all music, not only Jewish. I like the groove and the rhythm and a good melody, great chordal structure. This really hasn’t changed.
What was your craziest concert? We played the Maccabee ceremonies at the Baltimore Civic Center for 24,000 people. That was our biggest concert. Now our craziest concert we played Wembly for 1,500 people, sold out. Fantastic show. There have been a lot really intense concerts. There have been a lot of times when we played for more than ten thousand people.
What I love is the kids and the adults go crazy, in terms of they get up off their chairs, they get on their feet and they participate. Remember that music is the manipulation of energy. When you’re throwing energy out into the crowd and they give it back to you, that makes a fantastic music experience.
Anything you would like to share about making Aliyah? Israel is the place for every Jew and it should be in everybody’s long term, if not short term goals to end up living there. I’ve lived there for twenty years, it’s fantastic. I have no regrets. I love living in Israel, in Beit Shemesh. I always encourage my fans to think about Aliyah.
You’re coming to the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts in Silver Spring. This is exciting! I have a lot of great memories of Silver Spring in general. The development of Shlock Rock took place a lot in the Atlantic Seaboard Regions. I played lots of NCSY Shabbatons in Silver Spring. In the old days of Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, I did Shabbatons in shuls in the Silver Spring and Kemp Mill Area including Rabbi Kranz’s shul, the Silver Spring Jewish Center. I have a lot of friends in Silver Spring. I have a lot of good long relationships there. I love playing there. It’s great to be coming to the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts. It’s my first time and we’re very excited about it. We’re very excited to be bringing our music to new listeners and old listeners alike.
Tell us about your current tour. Our current tour is fourteen shows in twenty-six days, starting off in Florida today. We’ll be in Dallas, we’ll be in Detroit, Columbus, Dayton and Stanford, Connecticut, a telethon in Long Island, Richmond — Va, Silver Spring, Queens, Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, Highland Park — New Jersey. It’s a whirlwind. Hanukkah is always a whirlwind. And it’s great!
Shlock Rock has a major parody element. Tell us more about parody and Shlock rock. The idea of Shlock Rock is that Shlock Rock is or uses parody to teach Jewish values. Obviously half of the music is original as well. Shlock Rock arose because of the parody. The thirteen songs I started out with “Born in the USA”, “Making Aliyah”, “Barbanel”… these were all parody songs.
It’s all based on instant gratification. People know the original song. When people know the original song and now they have new lyrics to sing and they sing the new lyrics.
Shlock Rock is a band that is inclusive of all Jews. I have friends of all denominations who are big fans. I pride myself on the fact that we have played every denomination. We’ve played Reform, we’ve played Conservative, we’ve played Orthodox, we do JCC’s, we do religious schools, we do Yeshiva Day Schools, we do any type of function that’s necessary. The key really is that the Jewish people need to all come together as one. That’s what it’s all about: Jewish Unity, to unite all Jews. This is what Shlock Rock does. It crosses all barriers.
I just got a call the other day from a lady. We came to their reform temple in Port Washington. She gets on the phone and starts singing one of my songs. She says she’s been listening since 1994 when we came there. I pride myself on the fact that all Jews are important.
This has been a great interview. Any closing remarks. I look forward to meeting everybody at the show and talking to everybody. Everybody should have a great Hannukah!