Confirmed Jewish Musicians at Woodstock
Jewish member: ALAN MALAROWITZ (1950-1981)
From Sweetwater Official Web Site:
Alan was our original drummer. Quite young, when we formed (17), he had good feel and instinct for his instrument.. He became a touring and studio drummer in his later career, but died suddenly in a car accident one night between L.A. and Las Vegas.
The band Sweetwater was really hot when they played Woodstock. However, their lead female singer was severely injured four months after the festival and didn’t recover for decades. Her injury effectively ended the band.
BERT SOMMER, solo singer/songwriter. (1949-1990). Bert Sommer grew-up on Long Island and in Hartsdale, New York, where he was a bar mitzvah. He was a friend and protégé of Artie Kornfeld, who signed him to Capitol Records. He was the second lead in the original production of “Hair” on Broadway. Blessed with a lovely voice, he got the only standing ovation at Woodstock. However, since he was with Capitol Records, Warner Brothers cut him out of the Woodstock film and out of the first festival song compilation records. (Warner also had a record label). This severely damaged Sommer’s career momentum. He had one mid-level hit, “We’re All Playing in the Band.” The newest Woodstock compilation sets feature Sommer and you can see him perform one song at Woodstock on Youtube.
Bert’s friend, Victor Kahn, a famous graphic designer, has created a great tribute site to him. It can be found here:
Kahn’s own site is interesting. He designed many of the iconic rock record covers of the ‘60s:
ARLO GUTHRIE, solo singer/songwriter.
Arlo was born and raised in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. His father was legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wasn’t Jewish. His mother, Marjorie, was Jewish and a former Martha Graham dancer who ran a dance academy. Arlo was raised in the heart of what one might call the Jewish leftist/socialist milieu so vibrant in New York at the time of his birth. He had a folk music bar mitzvah.
In 1967, he became famous with his comedic anti-Vietnam war story-song, “Alice’s Restaurant” (which was made into a film.) There wasn’t a long ideological distance from the ‘culture’ Arlo grew-up in from the ethos of the “Woodstock Nation.”
Arlo still performs. As an adult, he briefly practiced Catholicism, but gave that up decades ago. He calls himself spiritual, but unaffiliated. His wife of many years is Jewish.
COUNTRY JOE MCDONALD (as solo act)
Like Arlo, Joe McDonald is the son of two leftist radicals. His father was not Jewish and his mother was Jewish. He was raised secular (with just a short stint at a Jewish Day school). He identifies as Jewish. Joe’s parents moved to Berkeley, California when he was a child and it was in Berkeley, in 1964, that he met Barry Melton (see below). They formed a duo, which later expanded into a full band. Very much identified with the anti-Vietnam war movement, McDonald (and Melton) is most famous for the anti-war song, “The Fish Cheer (What are we fighting for…).” For a long time, he dated Janis Joplin, who also appeared at Woodstock.
McDonald still tours and records. A Navy veteran, himself, he has done a huge amount of work on behalf of veterans.
Canned Heat (Group)
HARVEY “the snake” MANDEL, guitarist
He’s considered one of the best blues guitarists of his generation and still actively tours and records.
LARRY “the mole” TAYLOR, bass guitarist (also known as Skip Taylor)
A very good bass player, Taylor grew-up in Brooklyn, the son of a WASP father from Tennessee and a Jewish mother. His late older brother, Mel Taylor, was the drummer for the famous instrumental rock band, the Ventures. I believe that Larry identifies as Jewish like, I know, Mel Taylor did.
Grateful Dead (Group)
Jewish member: MICKEY HART, drummer.
The Grateful Dead were not very famous when they played Woodstock. Over the next three decades, they emerged as the favorite rock band of aging and “new’ hippies. Hart, one of the group’s two drummers, is certainly Jewish—but rarely talks about being Jewish. Hart tours with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead under the band name, The Dead.
Jefferson Airplane (Group)
JORMA KAUKONEN, lead guitarist/songwriter
Raised in Washington, D.C., Jorma Kaukonen, the son of a Jewish mother and a Finnish-American, non-Jewish father, is considered one of the greatest rock guitarists of all-time. He still actively tours and records and runs a music camp on the grounds of his home in Ohio. His wife, Vanessa, is a convert to Judaism.
Jorma’s odyssey to becoming a religious Jew is detailed in this Standard piece:
His personal website is very good, too:
MARTY BALIN, Vocalist/songwriter.
A very good singer and songwriter, Balin was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame along with the rest of the Airplane. He still sometimes sings with the latest version of the Jefferson Starship, the successor band to the Airplane. Balin has always been very secular, acknowledging his Jewish ancestry, but not identifying as “anything.”
Country Joe & The Fish (Group)
COUNTRY JOE, see above
BARRY “the Fish” MELTON, guitarist, vocals. (Born 1947)—Barry Melton was born in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. His parents, like Arlo Guthrie and Joe McDonald, were both leftist radicals. His parents were good friends with Woody and Marjorie Guthrie. Bary moved to Los Angeles when Barry was 8. When he was 17, Barry moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and there he met Joe McDonald. Barry very much identifies as Jewish.
He says his parents wanted him to be a leftist folksinger and he fulfilled their wish until 1977, when his son was born. He chose then to become an attorney, so he could get off the road and spend most of his time with his newborn child and wife. He continued and continues to play music amid his legal career. He is now in the process of retiring as head of the Public Defender’s office of the California county where he resides. He says that he felt he has kept to his ideals, formed by Jewish humanitarian values—whether as a musician or a lawyer.
Please visit Barry Melton’s interesting website:
MARK KAPNER, keyboards, organ. (Born approx. 1945) Kapner played with Neil Diamond, the Jewish rock star from Brooklyn, after leaving County Joe and the Fish.
DOUG MELTZER, bass. (Born approx. 1945) Meltzer is now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned a doctorate in information systems and teaches this subject.
Leslie West and Mountain (Group)
Jewish member: guitarist LESLIE WEST
Leslie West grew-up in Queens, New York. Although his father studied to be a cantor, Leslie was never much interested in religion and had a quickie bar mitzvah. His first important band, the Vagrants, formed in 1965, was produced by Artie Kornfeld. Just before Woodstock, he formed the blues/rock band “Mountain,” best known for its hit, “Mississippi Queen.”
Shortly after Woodstock, Canadian Jewish drummer Corky Laing, and bassist Felix A. Pappalardi joined “Mountain”—and all the hit Mountain albums featured these three guys.
Pappalardi wasn’t Jewish, but his Jewish friends considered him an “honorary Jew.” He spent many summers at a Jewish kids camp, where his father was the camp physician. He used to startle his Jewish friends with his Yiddish fluency. Pappalardi was shot to death by his wife in 1983. He was 43.
Laing and West still sometimes play together—but Laing will never play on the High Holidays.
The Band (Group)
Jewish member: ROBBIE ROBERTSON, guitarist, songwriter.
The group, “The Band,” formed in 1968. All but one of the members had been Bob Dylan’s ‘unnamed’ back-up band during 1965-66. Robertson was the leader of “The Band” until the original line-up disbanded in 1976. A talented guitarist and good songwriter, Robertson is the son of a Canadian Jewish father and a Canadian Aboriginal (Indian) mother. Robertson wasn’t raised in any faith. He has dabbled in Aboriginal spirituality as an adult.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Group)
This group was originally formed and headed-up by Jewish musician Al Kooper. However, Kooper had departed by the time the band played Woodstock and the band’s lead singer then was David Clayton-Thomas, who isn’t Jewish. Most of the band’s big radio hits came in the “Clayton-Thomas era.’
Jewish members who played Woodstock:
BOBBY COLOMBY, drums. (Later a top record executive)
JERRY HYMAN, trombone.
STEVE KATZ, guitar, harmonica, vocals.
FRED LIPSIUS, alto sax, piano.
LEW SOLOFF, trumpet, flugelhorn.
Sha-Na-Na was formed by Columbia University students in 1968 as a spoof of the 1950s do-wop groups. Its Woodstock appearance set the band on the path of great later success—including appearing in the movie, “Grease,” and a syndicated TV show.
ALAN COOPER, bass vocalist
Cooper was the original bass vocalist for the group. He was replaced by Jon “Bowzer” Bauman in 1971 (who is also Jewish). Cooper went on to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he remains as a professor of Hebrew literature. He once said that he felt he had to leave the group because the “rock and roll lifestyle” was not compatible with Jewish religious and moral values.
HENRY GROSS, vocals, guitar. Gross went on to some success as a solo artist, having a huge hit song in 1975 (“Shannon”). He attended an Orthodox Jewish day school, where he was a bit of a rebel. However, the other kids forgave him his rebellious ways because he was a really big kid and he protected the other Orthodox Jewish kids from non-Jewish bullies on the street. Gross, still a practicing Jew, is a Nashville music producer today.
ELLIOT CAHN, vocals, guitar
More on: Woodstock
Forty years after music filled the air at Woodstock, a new generation of musicians is stepping up to pay tribute. In honor of the landmark 40th anniversary of the most famous event in rock history, kids from The Paul Green School of Rock Music are taking the stage at 40 Woodstock tributes in festivals from New York City to Miami and Chicago to San Diego — all during the anniversary weekend.
The music world has changed a lot since Woodstock, said guitarist Leslie West, frontman for the blues/rock group Mountain and veteran of the landmark event.
“I can’t say exactly how,” he said, “but something happened to music. It’s like, you know it when you see it.”
For example, said the Englewood resident, whose band was new when it was booked to play at Woodstock — in fact, he said, it was only their fourth performance — where once rock was only on AM radio, “now there was FM, playing 20-minute tracks. It wasn’t just blasting voices.”
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the historic Woodstock Music Festival, which attracted perhaps as many as a half-million, mostly young, concertgoers. The peaceful behavior of festival-goers gave, and still gives, Woodstock the aura of being the tangible affirmation of the “peace and love” ethos of the ’60s hippie “counterculture.” The “good vibes” were preserved for posterity by the best concert film of the ’60s.
As I recall from Hebrew school, the Torah likes the number 40 — 40 years in the desert and so on. So, I guess it is appropriate, on this anniversary, to explore Woodstock’s many Jewish connections.
Let’s put on a show
Stay tuned for the return of comments