Lazer Lloyd puts his faith in blues

The hassidic rocker, best known for psychedelic rave-ups, picks up a vintage acoustic guitar and goes back to the sources – blues sources.

July 4, 2011 21:40
Lazer Lloyd

Lazer Lloyd 311. (photo credit: Elizur Reuveni)

Faith in the Blues is a fitting title for Lazer Lloyd’s brand new album – it combines his two loves, faith and the blues, in a depth that the hassidic guitar blazer from Ramat Beit Shemesh has never fully expressed before.

While he’s become a staple on the Israeli rock scene in recent years playing high energy blues with his power trio of religious rockers formerly known as Yood, the 45-year-old Lloyd’s true love has always been picking the acoustic guitar and singing from the soul.

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“That’s what I do when I’m home, I pick up an acoustic guitar. It’s always nearby and it’s so personal,” Lloyd said last week on his way to a morning show in Jerusalem for a group of students at Beit Shmuel.

“For the last couple years, I would do an acoustic number or two in the middle of our shows, and some people seemed to like it better than the rocking out blues electric thing. Then about a year ago, someone said, ‘Wow! We like this so much, why don’t you make an album?’ Lloyd hooked up with Rafa Records in Tel Aviv and the result is Faith in the Blues, featuring 12 original tunes performed by Lloyd on his restored 1926 acoustic guitar.

Two singles – “Lost on the Highway” and “Jericho Blues” have been released and the album’s official debut will take place on July 12 at The Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem when the Lazer Lloyd solo acoustic tour is being launched. The blues man of Israel is planning to perform around the country in the coming months with a mix of songs from the album, blues covers and traditional hassidic melodies.

“This is the first time in my life that I’m releasing music that I’m totally satisfied with how it came out,” said Lloyd, who has a number of albums with Yood to his credit.

“Even though it’s solo and acoustic, you wouldn’t believe how many hours it took – recording, mixing and mastering. There’s really something pure about it.”

The purity of the blues is something that drew Lloyd to the blues, and kept him entrenched in them even following his adoption of an observant lifestyle two decades ago. Before that Lloyd was Lloyd Blumen, an aspiring rock and roller from Connecticut being courted with recording contract by Atlantic Records.

However, a chance pairing with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach at a New York show was akin to an explosion going off in his head.

“When I heard Shlomo and what he was doing, I felt for the first time that I had discovered my own blues, the Jewish blues,” he said. Within a few months, he had moved to Israel and adopted the Chabad lifestyle.

However, he never gave up his love of secular rock & roll, and has been able to integrate the seemingly polar opposites into his life.

“For sure, there’s a connection between Judaism and the blues. Everything is taken from the sources,” he said.

“Look at ‘Song of Songs,’ it has the most sensual verses you can imagine, addressing Hashem in such a metaphorical way. The blues guys always did that too, they always had a real creative way with the metaphor when they were writing about sex. There’s a yearning to the blues that I find extremely Jewish – the whole depth of it.”

Lloyd even connected the blues and Judaism to another level when he recently performed with Carlebach’s daughter Neshama, when she was in Israel with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir.

“We found a really strong connection, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s very deep, the blues is deep,” he said.

“We can make it cheap or we can make it deep, it depends what you want to do with it.”

Lloyd apparently wants to do a lot with it. In addition to his new focus on acoustic blues, his electric blues trio is still going strong, performing most weekends (but not Friday nights) around the country. He said that he finds his solo time provides a balance to the high wire act of making a glorious, cacophonous noise onstage.

“Over the years, with all the personalities involved in keeping a band together, sometimes you just want to create on the spot,” he said.

“When you’re with other people, you tend to get keyed up a little bit. Playing acoustic is really what I’ve loved all these years.”

Giving him help in that direction has been one of his latest acquisitions, a 1926 Martin guitar, which like many things in his life, he said, came to him via the kindness of others.

“I have some good friends that know I don’t have a lot of resources – Baruch Hashem, I have a big family and I’m living on rock & roll, doing what I can,” he said.

“So they’re always on the lookout for instruments for me, and one of my friends found this guitar on a kibbutz.

It belonged to an older woman and she didn’t know what she had – it was all broken up, and we didn’t even know if it could be restored, but it sounds amazing.

“I pray for these things and they come.”

Besides the Martin, Lloyd said that he brings an “assortment of friends” to his shows, and he’s not referring to people.

“I have a whole selection of guitars I’ll play with. I do a special 12-string tuning, it sounds like nothing anybody’s ever heard – it’s a huge sound.”

Lloyd’s huge guitar sound has made waves throughout the country, beyond an Anglo audience or the novelty of a hassidic Jew playing the blues. He’s one of the featured performers on the current Channel 8 series Guitar Heroes. Hosted by Tal Friedman, the show focuses each episode on one of the seminal rock axe men such as Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, and Lloyd performs a scintillating Hendrix tribute.

In addition, Lloyd plays a prominent role in “Thru Jerusalem,” the latest video musical mash up by producer Kutiman, a pastiche of expertly synched clips of Jerusalem-area musicians in various styles and settings, which has already received over 100,000 views since it was uploaded three weeks ago.

“It was a real honor to be asked to be part of that project,” said Lloyd, who’s releasing his own video for his new album for the single “Lost on the Highway.”

It’s an ironic title, because if anyone seems found, it’s Lloyd and his deep faith.

“I really like the album title – it’s like a play on words,” he said.

“On the one hand, it’s saying there is faith in the blues. But it’s also about me putting faith in the blues.”

When you listen to Lazer Lloyd play the blues, it convinces you that both interpretations are correct.

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