Counting Crows coming to the Holy Land

“What it comes down to is that Israel is a place I loved when I was younger and we finally got an offer to go there and play. And I’m excited about it,” said founding bandmember Duritz.

 ADAM DURITZ of Counting Crows, and Duritz with the band, back when he still sported his dreadlocks.  (photo credit: Mark Seliger/Red Light Management)
ADAM DURITZ of Counting Crows, and Duritz with the band, back when he still sported his dreadlocks.
(photo credit: Mark Seliger/Red Light Management)

Unlike a modern-day Samson, Adam Duritz’s musical talents thankfully don’t derive from his now-shorn dreadlocks. Once his trademark as frontman for American roots rockers Counting Crows, the wild hair is now closely cropped and the 57-year-old Jewish singer is able to walk around his adopted hometown of New York relatively in obscurity.

“Living in New York, nobody bugs you,” said Duritz, who co-formed the acclaimed band in California back in 1991.

“The most anyone would do in New York is stop you and say, ‘Hey, loved you on Howard Stern the other day.’ There’s too many people for us to be bugging each other all the time. But it was still weird at first. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great to be anonymous.’ Then I started missing being famous a little. Now it’s a mix. I’m surprised when I get recognized now, but it does happen.”

It’s ironic that the man who wrote and sang the tongue-in-cheek lyrics “I wanna be Bob Dylan” and “we all wanna be big stars” in “Mr. Jones,” the band’s 1993 breakout song that made them stars, now eschews the limelight, at least most of the time.

COVID influence

 ADAM DURITZ of Counting Crows, and Duritz with the band, back when he still sported his dreadlocks.  (credit: Mark Seliger/Red Light Management) ADAM DURITZ of Counting Crows, and Duritz with the band, back when he still sported his dreadlocks. (credit: Mark Seliger/Red Light Management)

During the COVID pandemic, that turndown was easy, Duritz explained in a recent Zoom call ahead of Counting Crows’ debut in Israel on September 14 at the Ra’anana Amphitheater.

“I was kind of lucky, because I have a work situation where I can afford to take time off. But I didn’t go stir crazy for two years, I hunkered down with my girlfriend at home and hung out together. I had a pretty good pandemic in a lot of ways,” he said, adding that it did create some issues for the band, which includes cofounders guitarist David Bryson and keyboardist Charles Gillingham, along with longtime members Dan Vickrey, David Immergluck, Jim Bogios and Millard Powers.

“We were in the middle of recording a record, and the plan was to spend two weeks in the studio with half the band and then bring in the guitar players,” said Duritz. “We were in the last few days and watching the president on CNN talking about not letting passengers off a cruise ship, and we’re thinking ‘this isn’t great.’ We were about 80% done and we weren’t able to finish as everyone went into lockdown. It was strange to be so close to done and then stop for a few months.”

The album Butter Miracle, Suite One eventually was released last year and described by Rolling Stone as “a melodic, wistful ode to life on tour, with a sound that somehow manages to bridge the gap between The Band and Mott the Hoople.”

That’s an apt description of the band’s music, which has always sounded both modern and retro, drawing on classic rock tropes and post-punk sentiments, fueled by Duritz’s poetic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and shaman-like delivery. Thoughtful and vibrant at the same time, Duritz’s singing and delivery have been described as brushstrokes on a musical canvas.

Counting Crows' success 

Combined with an E-Street toughness and an appreciation of the bands and artists who came before, Counting Crows has gone on to sell more than 20 million records amid critical acclaim and – uncharacteristic for the unsteady pop world – longevity and stability.

The band’s 1993 debut, August and Everything After, which besides “Mr. Jones” features standouts like “Round Here,” is considered a rock & roll all-time classic.

Duritz said he has no regrets if “Mr. Jones” remains the song he is forever identified with.

“You want to be remembered for 50 songs if you can be, but it doesn’t always work out that way. ‘Mr. Jones’ is a great song, but honestly, we have a lot of great songs,” he said, citing “A Long December” as his career pinnacle (“my one perfect song”).

Bob Dylan 

But “Mr. Jones,” with its infectious melody and rhythm alongside Duritz’s machine-gun delivery and sing-along chorus (not to mention the Dylan reference), will be in any worthy time capsule on the history of rock music.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprising considering the subject, Duritz has never discussed the song with Dylan.

“We’ve played some shows together, but I don’t really talk to him. I mean, ‘he’s Bob Dylan!’ I’m not going to ask him about our song. I idolize Bob Dylan, I’m not going to talk to Bob Dylan, that doesn’t seem worth doing,” he said.

“In general, I have trouble talking to artists I idolize. I’ve known Bruce Springsteen for 30 years and he’s the nicest guy in the world. Yet I have trouble forming sentences around him.”

Although Counting Crows may never have reached the musical heights of its debut again, its collective output remained at a high level and impressive as any band that emerged in the 1990s.

When the band finally got together to resume touring last summer after the long pandemic-induced layoff, Duritz said it was relatively painless to shake off the cobwebs and remember what it was like to be in a band.

“We spent a couple days rehearsing and went right back to touring, like nothing had ever happened,” he said. “Of course, we had to be really careful. We got tested every day and couldn’t see guests or friends. It was very isolating, but we got to play.”

That routine is not so different from what Duritz will experience when the band arrives in Israel to launch a grueling two-month overseas tour in September.

“I’m a monk. I had a lot of vocal problems when I was younger, so I just don’t go out, not even to visit friends or go to dinner with the band. It’s like I take a vow of silence between shows and that gets me through and keeps my voice strong.”

Israel visit

However, before he goes radio silent, Duritz plans on arriving in Israel a few days early to reacquaint himself with the country he last visited as a teenager, where his high school group worked on Kibbutz Nir Oz near Beersheba.

“Sinai was part of Israel then and I spent lots of time there, and I also fell in love with Jerusalem. I’d wander through the Old City every day,” he said. “A couple years later, I went back on my own, when a couple friends had an apartment. I ended up studying in a yeshiva for a while. I really loved it in Israel, but haven’t been back since.”

Duritz grew up in a Reform household that was “like a lot of American Jews. I had a bar mitzvah, we ate some bagels and I went to High Holiday services.”

He didn’t recall the specifics of his haftarah, but good-naturedly bragged that he probably sang it well.

“I’m sure I sang the hell out of it, not that there’s a great tune there. There’s nothing to really dig into,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’m sure I made it my own.”

That’s been something that Duritz has mastered during his long career – making songs his own, whether it was the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” or the band’s contribution to the Shrek 2 soundtrack, “Accidentally in Love,” that introduced them to a new generation. Likely they survived the pre-teen crowd and avoided being pigeonholed as lightweights. But Duritz explained no matter what twists and turns the fickle music world has thrown his way, he never thought of being anything besides a musician.

“Things didn’t happen overnight. I was in clubs for 10 years. I was 27 the first time anyone from a record company came to hear us play, 28 when we got signed and 29 when our first record came out. It was a long time to struggle, but I was kind of dedicated to it, it felt like I was meant to do this, so I kept on doing it,” he said.

Now, for the first time, Duritz will be doing it in Israel some 40 years since he last visited. Rather than diving head first into the BDS toxic soup, he claimed that he’s never been approached by either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinians groups to join their bandwagon.

“There’s a long tradition of blaming Jews for everything, so that’s not new. Nobody seems to be blameless in the Middle East, and I’m sure Israel bears some responsibility. But so do a lot of other people,” he said.

“What it comes down to is that Israel is a place I loved when I was younger and we finally got an offer to go there and play. And I’m excited about it.”

Mr. Jones couldn’t have said it better.