Thursday, July 17, 2008

Messianic Music

Welcome to my web site and blog!
Who am I and just where does the music come from? Better yet, where am I coming from?
Here is a brief (ok! not so brief) look at how I came to where I am today........a Messianic Jewish musician  a singer of songs of praise and worship to our Lord Yeshua Ha-Maschiach.

OK this is a long story so read a bit and come back for more later....Shalom!!

Music and the Synagogue:
I discovered guitar, more specifically the electric guitar at the synagogue my family went to every week, Temple Emanuel in FarRockaway, NY. I was attending a temple teen dance there when I was 14 years old and I remember this as if it was yesterday, as life changing events and moments in time like that stick in your memory for the rest of your days on earth. I didn't know then how much I would be consumed by the love of this instrument.
Hearing a "live" electric guitar for the first time, was riveting to me. I couldn't wait to get one and make my own noise. Until this point I had sung in the chorus at school, played a little violin in the junior high orchestra, and dabbled on playing the accordion, starting a few lessons in third grade. I also played some drums, learning snare drum in our local Boy Scout (Troop 10) marching band.
I loved the liturgical music at our temple, the young Cantor - Malcolm James was marvelous, soulful and strong, yet humble while leading the congregation with his melodic and warm voice. I secretly hoped to follow in his footsteps one day, but it would be a long time before I stood on the bema and sang. It seemed to me the greatest thing I could do would be to lead a congregtation in praise and liturgical worship.
Forming a band- as a new guitarist and singer:
My First Band " the Continentals" later we were ironically called "the LOST SOULS"
Soon after getting my first real guitar, I found others at school ( FarRockaway High School) who played various instruments and we set about forming a band. I played with only two fingers, but had a knack for finding melodic notes that worked ( no chords yet!) and I could 'almost' sing. This made me a rare commodity amongst the teens that aspired to be in a band. We actually booked jobs soon after getting organized, playing for High School dances, my first was for about 500 teens in the gym. I played songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, old 50's rock and Ventures instrumentals. Later as popularity grew we played in the big back room of our synagogue, where teen dances were often held, attended by 300-500 kids. Our parents served cokes and orange soda, and we often even hired other bands to open or share the stage with us.We even had the Fifth Dimension at a concert. It was a fun time to be a budding musician.
What excitement! Many more dances followed, along with pool parties, "sweet 16's', and as the band improved and honed our skills we were able to audition and book to play concerts at the 1964 NY World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Wow! We played to huge audiences a number of times at the Fair, and then were asked to play at the US Pavilion amongst selected bands from all over the country. We had a blast entertaining folks from all over the world. I still had been only playing guitar for a few months.
We weren't old enough to drive so my dad drove me to many of our "gigs" and we even played a few in Greenwich Village, the hippy and beatnik center of New York in the mid 1960's. Our age restricted us to afternoon shows at the Cafe "Wha". The night time act was Jimmy James & The Blue Flames (Jimmy Hendrix) at that club, while the Blues Project and others great groups were around the corner at nearby spots.
Needless to say, playing the guitar and singing became a high point in my young life. I played through my college and grad school years, enjoying stints in a 3 piece "power trio", a 9 man "horn" band called Kingfish, followed by a hard rockin' quintet called Reality.These gigs enabled me to pay for the tuition at College. All the while though, it was creating the music for the audiences that motivated me. I practiced often, and went to see others play so I could learn from watching them. When I was not playing I was listening. Through all this time, I still attended synagogue as regularly as I could, though many Friday nights were spent in rock 'n roll clubs.
I also was called to teach at our Temple, and did some regular Hebrew School work.I enjoyed reading Hebrew and studying the Jewish History lessons. ( Now my wife Shannon and I teach a Bible study class on Tuesday evenings to 1st and 2nd graders)
I find a new calling - Special Needs children:After one rock group dissolved with no notice, I headed off to a summer job at a camp for special needs children, toting my guitar up to the Pocono mountains to work and live for two months. This school was run by a Hassidic Jewish group, and was housed in a scenic spot on a small lake.
It was here that I found my heart tugged by these children. Some mentally challenged, others autistic. I then switched majors at Richmond College to Child Psychology, and earned my B.A. degree in this area. Then I attended Graduate school for Special Education at SUNY Teachers College at Geneseo, NY. Playing music all the while, I worked with two or three bands in the Finger Lakes area of NY, and also took a full time teaching job in Special Ed for the Rochester City School system.
Moving to Florida and the 80's
I discovered that I could adapt and play country music, rock or blues, as needed, and this expanded my ability to earn some money by keeping the weekends booked.
Next I moved th Ft Myers, Florida, where I played in local clubs, while holding down a full time teaching job at a public school there.
Jump ahead to 1979. I had been teaching school for a few years, first in Rochester, and then the move to Fort Myers, Fla where my life was about to make a major turn. Still playing clubs on the weekends although now mostly solo, as disco was in fashion.
I went the acoustic route and wrote origninal songs as well as playing a variety of other softer music. Friends and fans kept telling me to take my songs to Nashville. Who me? I had never been west of Georgia. I listened to much country music radio trying to understand how to write like that. My songs seemed to reach the audience in the clubs, and I felt pulled to plow ahead with them. I booked some studio time, and recorded some basic demos while in Ft Myers.
Heading to Nashville:
With some trepidation, I took a leave from my teaching position and headed to Nashville with a box of tapes, my guitar and amp, and an assortment of clothes traveling in an old windowless Ford Van. I figured it was now or never for me, as I was approaching my late twenties.
Boy was I green.... I would walk down Music Row in Nashville and pitch myself and my songs to every record label, publishing house and related music business that I could gain entry into. Some were helpful, most were not. They would take the tapes and never make a comment either way when they handed them back days later. If they even gave them back. Often I would have to ask to go in and look through a carton of tapes to find mine if I wanted them back.
Not much was happening, but I was motivated and believed I had something to offer. Frequently though I was being asked who the guitarist was that had played on my recordings. It was me. I played all the instruments on these first tapes.
Showcases and writer's nights:
I also played as often as I could (for free) in the nightly Nashville showcases, and after some weeks I was invited to join a traveling band backing a country singer of questionable ability, but one with a nice tour set up by a booking agent.We set off in nice conversion van, towing a trailer full of gear.
I enjoyed the travel a lot, as I had never been west. We headed to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and Wyoming on our first trip. The singer was flashy but vocally challenged, and the band I were his opening act. By the end of the first tour the agent that booked him offered me a contract to head my own group, and we headed out again, this time as a stand alone band, returning to some of the spots we had played as an opener. We drove my old van instead of his nice new one.
We were playing all over the map in Holiday Inns and College town clubs and such. Mostly top 40 music, and some originals. Fun, but no real career move. I enjoyed meeting people, and spent a memorable night with the lone Jewish family in one small Indiana town, enjoying dinner and conversation in their home.
Get off the road!
I had to quit this part of the road life as it was going nowhere fast. I went back to Nashville, and took a job in a restaurant, The Fishery....near Vanderbilt University. I met lots of famous musicians as I waited their tables. Even the great Chet Atkins came in and I got to chat with him while serving his dinner. The owner of the club was a musician himself, and very supportive of his employees who were trying to break in to the business.
A Road Warrior... and a "Vogue"
After some months waiting tables, an audition came along for the "Vogues". The famous singing group needed a back up guitarist. Actually this was a touring version of the original group, working for the company that owned the name. They were very active in dinner clubs, oldies shows and resort hotels.
I joined them, becoming a guitarist and also a singing member of the 4 man group. We traveled in a van towing a trailer all across the U.S. from the mid-west, up to Canada, to the East Coast and down into the southern states. Lots of fun playing and singing the Vogue hits, while also doing "dance sets" of rock and country in the clubs.
We learned a lot, got tighter and were constantly sounding better with close harmony and creative arranging. Recorded an album of current pop songs back in Nashville, kept touring, did some TV shows and stayed on the road for a few years. The money was ok, but the travel getting old, yet I was meeting new friends, and seeing old ones at the same time , and often crossing paths with family members in our travels.
One night playing in Nashville at our home base show club, a large and popular spot "Cajun's Warf" on the Cumberland River, a producer and management team caught our show act. We were doing a variety of music, and some comedy "shtick", while playing and singing in our tightly woven way. The harmony was sweet, music smooth and the personalities were strong.
The team approached us with the idea of changing our name, and recording as a country group. At first we were skeptical, but the ideas grew, and the opportunity seemed to present a once in a lifetime offer.
"ATLANTA" a country music success short storyThe new band went into the studio, and recorded under the name "Atlanta". The producer, Larry McBride had worked closely with developing the great band Alabama, and said the "A's" were good to him, he lived in Atl, so the name stuck. We all either were living there soon, or had plans to. McBride had some problems of his own in the past, but his heart seemed in the right place, and he had a plan for us. Along with super engineer and producer Milan Bogdan we spent hours honing the songs we chose and arranging them into our first album and single releases.
Our first single release "Atlanta Burned Again" hit the top ten on the country charts! I almost drove off the road the first time I heard our songs on the radio.
We hit the road in a rented tour bus, and amazingly the hits kept coming. I moved to Atlanta, where we were rehearsing and recording. It was there that I met my future bride, Shannon, who worked at a local music store. I was totally smitten ( and still am after 23 years) by her sweet personality, green eyes and great smile. We started dating a month or so after meeting, and the date is still going on all these years later. I wrote a song about the moment I first saw her, and how in my head I saw her young and I saw her "old" and I saw us together many years "down the road". It was a lyric that came true in a great way.
Meanwhile Atlanta's third release "Sweet Country Music" smashed its way up into the top five in Billboard's top country hits chart, and hit number one in the Cashbox magazine hit list. We were rolling strong, playing concerts coast to coast and opening for major acts like Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys and many more. We had a number of famous acts open for us also. We did TV shows,"Nashville Now", the Jimmy Dean show, Merv Griffin, and more, including a special in prime time "Making it in Music" on a local station in Atlanta. We received the "Georgie" award, for Best New Act at a the Georgia Grammy ceremony in Atlanta. I sat next to James Brown! We were having a great time, and covering a lot of ground, literally.
We "tore it up" playing strong in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City's Harrah's Resorts, and played both Disneyworld and Disneyland in the same week. This travel and road work went on for almost three straight years.
Three years later and thousands of miles down the road ...
Then the plug was pulled on us by the newly appointed head of our label MCA Records who shall remain unnamed here. This person seemed to have a mighty dislike for our management and by proxy, for us. We heard from radio personalities that the label was no longer promoting us to them, and watched as our air play slowly dwindled down. The concerts were not being attended as much now as we had no new music on the radio. Our career was sliding down, as the money to pay our terrific road crew and ours selves was waning. We had one night in Texas, where the Sheriff showed up to lock up and then take our tour bus, with all of our clothes and personal effects still in it; for unpaid bus lease bills, that we did not know were not being covered. We were seemingly stranded in the late night cold and rain, right after exiting the building where we had played a show. Our road manager was able to negotiate a temporary settlement so we could board the bus and make it home. Going home for the holidays which should have been a joyous time, was sad with no money to pay our loyal crew and ourselves. We had to literally hide our equipment so it would not be grabbed by creditors.
The bills kept coming, and we felt it only made sense to quit MCA and try for another label deal. Someone who would give us a tiny bit of respect and try to market our music again. Little did we know that the close knit Nashville community would not allow us to be re-signed after our dumping of the so-called "well respected" MCA team. We were down and almost out.
Returning home:
Returning to Atlanta we were very lucky to get a steady job playing at a country dance hall; "Miss Kitty's". After a few months of playing there, night after night, with some minor concert dates out of town, I made the very hard choice to give it all up. It was getting very old, although the crowds were positive and the club owner a delight to work for. I was newly married, and after being on the road for more than five years straight, I longed for a real home life, and so I quit the band. What a tough decision. Pouring so much heart and soul into a project for so long, and giving up the road "family', was very hard.
On the night of my last "gig" with Atlanta, I was scared, confused a bit, and yet felt I had done the right thing. I remember driving home at 3 am or later, the roads being quiet and calm, and as I tuned the FM dial for some music I caught a radio preacher saying something about life's choices, and the forks in the road we face at time and how we must decide which way to go. He said trust in G-d and make the choice he puts on your heart. This hit me deep and hard, and as I drove into a bank of fog on our I - 285 loop, the station crackled and went away, and I was unable to hear more. Surely this message was meant especially for me to hear.
There was still a plan for my life, I just did not know what it was yet.
Marriage and family:It was in January 1986 that Shannon and I married. I took a job in the automobile business, having been a car nut all of my life and I had some financial success. It was weird working in the dealership, where the radio was sometimes playing Vogue songs, while other times Atlanta's music would be on. A group of Atlanta fan club members even came to see me at the car dealership, which was very strange indeed.
I stayed focused, sold a lot of cars and was moved into management. Spent two weeks in Chicago in January (!) going to school for auto finance. Soon I was the head of a bustling finance department with four of us handling hundreds of thousand of dollars in sales each month. Two years later, in February 1988, our first child came. Jordan was a joy to us, a happy baby who seemed to love the guitar music I played for him as he sat cheerfully in his baby seat. Music was on the back burner, although I was able to form a small group, hook up with an agent and get hired to play parties and weddings and such.
Years went by, I played the country club parties, more weddings, and other dates mostly with a trio, sometimes with a few other members added. I was trying to keep the music alive in my life, while working a full time job, and raising a family. We moved to a home in Roswell, Georgia had a second baby boy, named Jason, in 1992.
As the boys grew, they began to question us about religion. Why did Dad celebrate Chanukah and Mom celebrate Christmas? We hadn't been attending any regular religious services, and really felt the need to do so. There was what our Rabbi calls a "hole in our hearts" that needed G-d to fill. I had heard about Congregation Beth Hallel from a co-worker, and since we lived right near by it was easy to attend and check it out.
What is this all about anyway?
I had no idea what Messianic Judaism was. I had been raised to think Jesus was a prophet, a "good guy" and not anything more than that. Jews either appreciate Him or think he sold them out.
We thought that Jewish people who followed Him were confused, and knew that Jews were simply not to believe in Him. They thought He was, maybe a prophet, maybe not. That would have made Him a liar then , as He could not have been truly what He said He was. Very hard to follow for someone raised Jewish.
Attending CBH
The services we attended at CBH were charged up with spirituality. Congregants were singing and clapping their hands, often lifting them up towards the sky. A full band playing great music, with real guitars and drums and the whole thing Spiritually annointed.
Rabbi Solomon giving a message filled with quotes from the scriptures, all the scriptures. People seemed genuinely full of the Spirit of God. We went back for more, attending the Shabbat services and then a class on Tuesday nights wherein we learned about the original Messianic believers, the Apostles. The many references in the Old Covenant Scriptures that pointed to Messiah's coming, and how Yeshua ( Jesus) fulfilled these prophecies. We read the "Church and the Jews" by Dan Gruber, "The Fig Tree Blossoms" and other writings that filled in the gaps for us.
I wondered how I could have missed the obvious references in Isaiah 53 and other writings. It all seemed to make sense and come together in a big way for me.
After months of learning and attending praise and worship services, at Beth Hallel, I felt my right hand go up at a Friday night service when Rabbi asked if anyone wanted to accept Yeshua as Messiah in their heart. I had heard this asked many times, but all of a sudden this particular night I felt a powerful pull on my heart. It seemed dreamlike to go up and shake the Rabbi's hand, while the congregation applauded. Meanwhile my wife was crying with happiness, and surprised at the same time. It was a new day for us.
Soon we were attending the new members classes, learning and reading more, and enjoying the fellowship of other believers. Many were Jewish, and others Gentiles who had "pitched their tent" in the camp of the Jews, having a heart "of Ruth" for Israel and our Jewish people. It was and still is inspiring and fulfilling.
My desires granted:
I hoped and prayed for the opportunity to play music in the Temple, and this happened a year or so later when my twelve years in the automobile business came to an end, and I was able through the guidance and grace of God to return to my original career as a Teacher. This gave me the freedom of time to join the music ministry at Beth Hallel. I also had more good family time, and was able to concentrate on music and writing.
Life was better than ever. We looked forward to Shabbat services each Friday and Saturday, where I often got to sing and play guitar, leading the congregation in worship and praise songs.
I have been out to play concerts and do many outreaches with Yachad Ministries, going with Rabbi Solomon, and other great teachers to bring the roots of the faith to various congregations. I opened concerts for Joel Chernoff and Paul Wilbur both great messianic artists, and in recent years we formed regular praise bands so our relationships musically have become stronger. I used my fellow ministry members on the cd, enjoying their harmony singing and the instrumental styles they brought.
After these eight years of putting together a list of fifteen or so original songs, people have been asking me to record them to make them available for their listening. I have benn approached by some who wanted us to record our live services for them, and I made the decision to move towards getting this project off the ground. I want the music to get out to as many people as I can reach.
Check out a video of one of my songs here-

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