Shlock Rock Lenny keeps 'em bopping after two decades

SHLOCK Rock bandleader Lenny Solomon has been delighting Jewish audiences across the religious spectrum with his Jewish rap music, musical parodies, original compositions and children's songs for nearly a quarter of a century.

New York-born Lenny, who now lives with his English-born wife Gillian and four daughters in Israel's Beth Shemesh, says: "Mine is one of the few Jewish bands which has crossed over to all denominations.

"I have played at Orthodox, Conservative and Reform venues, as well as to secular audiences. "My music is aimed at anyone who listens to secular rock.

"It is Jewish education through fun parodies."

For instance, in Shlock Rock Almost on Broadway - just one of the 30 albums Lenny has released since 1986 - Mary Poppins' Supercallafragelisticexpialidocious becomes Soup and Challah, Candlesticks, Kiddush it is Delicious and West Side Story's Maria is reinvented as Tekia about shofar blowing.

Master of the House from Les Miserables is interpreted as Gabbai of the Shul who makes sure all cell phones are turned off before davening and South Pacific's There Ain't Nothing Like a Dame becomes Do You Know Your Hebrew Name?

With his late father Alexander Solomon a chazan who led services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, music was in Lenny's genes. He says: "There were chazanim on both my father's and mother's sides of the family. From the age of eight I was playing the accordion and later the piano.

"From 17 till 22 I was lehening weekly in a local shul. But once I went on the road with a band I could not keep that up."

Nevertheless, when not touring round the world with his band Lenny sometimes graces his small local Beth Shemesh shul with his rendition of the Shabbat services. He recently conducted his neighbourhood orchestra on Yom Ha'atzmaut from a slow sad melody to mark the end of Yom Hazikaron into an upbeat festive song to greet the festival.

A fan of both contemporary Jewish pop and secular groups like the Beatles, Lenny studied music and accounting at New York's Queens College. As soon as he graduated from college, he played keyboard and accordion for the group Kesher, working four days a week in accounting and performing at weekends.

But before forming Shlock Rock in 1986, he decided to make music his full-time career. He said: "I did not want to do accountancy full-time but wanted to continue with my music. God opened up doors for me and I have never looked back. I live solely off my music."

And despite the difficult economic times, Lenny is still managing not only to make ends meet but also to constantly come up with new material.

Between Pesach and June 25 when this year's first Shlock Rock summer tour begins he is at home, arranging coming bookings and writing new material.

He says: "I love this time of the year. It is the time of recharging one's batteries and taking stock of the music business. It is also a time for writing.

"Last year at this time I wrote more than 50 songs and I did not even try that hard. Hashem just kind of gave me the songs."

He adds: "I know that might sound strange but if you believe as I do that God talks to you every single day, then whenever you write a song you are getting a vibe of creation from God."

Last winter between Succot and Pesach, Shlock Rock performed all of 49 times all over the USA, as well as in London and Bournemouth. In previous years, besides touring Canada and South Africa, Lenny has also played in Leicester, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

For Lenny has family connections with the UK. His wife Gillian, hails from Leicester. Her brother Richard Louis lives in Manchester and her parents in London.

Gillian made aliyah after studying at Bar Ilan University and met Lenny when he was holidaying in Israel. They were married in 1992 and settled in Beth Shemesh near Gillian's friends. They now have four daughters - Ayelet, 16, Tamar, 14, Avigayil, six, and Shani, three.

Part of the reason for Lenny's worldwide success, even during the recession, is that costs are cut not only because he is his own agent but also because he is a one-man travelling band, picking up local musicians wherever he gives concerts.

He says: "I belong to the Chuck Berry school of music, using great musicians in each city in which I perform. For instance when I last played in Manchester at the Bnei Akiva Bayit, Daniel Smith, of Prestwich, who had grown up with Shlock Rock, was my drummer."

But he adds that no previous knowledge of Shlock Rock, nor even being Jewish, is necessary to play with his band at almost a moment's notice

Lenny says: "Many of tunes are well-known secular ones. Others are just basic rock. Even non-Jewish musicians have a lot of fun at my concerts.

"They are very excited by its spiritual connections."

© 2009 Jewish Telegraph