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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

The Hasidic Blues Guitarist: Lazer Lloyd

David Hodari |
December 8, 2014 | 5:39 p.m. PST

Web Producer

Lazer Lloyd closed out his tour at The Mint in Los Angeles (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)
Lazer Lloyd closed out his tour at The Mint in Los Angeles (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)
Lazer Lloyd lowers himself onto the dusty suede couch and exhales loudly.

Lazer (as he introduces himself) looks every inch the middle-aged blues guitarist. Long brown hair and a long brown beard flecked with grey sprout from underneath his crumpled black hat. He wears a purple shirt and white-stitched blue jeans. 

One of the bartenders places a plate of calamari on the coffee table and leaves.

“I’m not sure those are for you,” one of the other guitarists says slowly to Lloyd. The room erupts with laughter.

The guitarist is correct. Calamari is not kosher. For the past two decades, Lloyd has been combining rock'n'roll and blues guitar with Hasidic Judaism.

The dozen or so characters milling around the green room of The Mint on West Pico Blvd. give the evening a timeless feel, as if this same night could have taken place at any point in the past 50 years.

Among them are Lloyd's two band-members. Kenny Coleman, his drummer, sits at the other end of the couch which wraps around most of the room. Crazy Tomes, the bassist, comes in later, wearing a fringed suede jacket and a bandana. Either Tomes is high when he arrives or he is living up to his name.

For those not well-versed in the many streams of Judaism, Hasidism is a mystic branch of Orthodox Judaism which focuses on spirituality.

“Hasidism is the blues,” says Lazer (which is short for Eliezer - his Hebrew name). “The first blues singer was King David, writing his psalms. He was the master of a broken heart.” 

Little of that heartbreak is evident tonight, though.

It is late-November, and the crowd of 60 which had earlier filled The Mint, has dwindled to around 20. It's Monday evening and the second act finished at around 10:20 p.m.

Lloyd seems like a man at peace with his life. About half way through his set, he pauses to talk about his family. 

“Blues and rock’n’roll and life on the road—that’s one of my favorite things,” he tells the audience. “But my real favorite thing is I like putting the kids to sleep, playing them a few songs.”

Sitting a few yards away, Paul Spronz and his student daughter, Rena, have seen Lloyd play before. 

“This is the kind of rock blues I like from 1967,” says Paul. “He plays like Chuck Berry.”

Rena is equally enamored. “He’s amazing, he’s the greatest,” she said. 

Lloyd plays passionately and effortlessly at the same time. 

During his solos, he closes his eyes and nods his head ecstatically, grimacing as he noodles. As he puts it: “I’m just dropping the reins, letting the horses go.”

Lazer Lloyd plays with Crazy Tomes (bass) and Kenny Coleman (drums). (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)
Lazer Lloyd plays with Crazy Tomes (bass) and Kenny Coleman (drums). (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)
David Jenkins, the guitarist for the previous act, The Motion, had never heard of Lloyd before tonight.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” he said. “He’s straight ahead blues/rock like Hendrix. He’s a great guitar player.”

Jenkins is not the only musician to have recognized Lloyd's talent.

Lloyd Paul Blumen grew up in a nominally Jewish household in Connecticut in the 1960s.

“In a two year period, my father took me to see Carlos Santana, George Benson in New York City and then Stevie Ray Vaughan. When I saw him, that’s when I said 'I’m gonna play the blues.'”

Lloyd was playing blues clubs from the age of 15, and straight out of college he was enjoying growing success with his band, The Last Mavericks. 

“I was in Connecticut playing the Shoreline and we made a demo. We got a call from Atlantic records’ Toby Moffet,” remembers Lloyd. “He really liked it and had us come and showcase. He said ‘this is gonna be big.’”

There were talks of Lloyd working with the E Street Band’s Gary Tallent in Nashville, but eventually the record company moved him to Manhattan in the late 1980s.

“I was a real crazy rock and roller,” says Lloyd, who never mentions the specific pastimes that came with the lifestyle. The implications are there though. “I don't want to say too many things that my kids could read!” 

Lloyd was at a crossroads in 1993. “My soul was looking, and when you're looking you have all this energy,” he explains. “I would have probably been famous, but I don’t think I would have handled it properly, and I think I would have been a shooting star.”

That, maintains Lloyd, would have been the case had he not met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Known as 'The Singing Rabbi,' Carlebach was a religious teacher and musician who. As a pioneer of the Baal teshuva (“returnees to Judaism”) movement, he used a blend of folk and Jewish music to bring young unreligious Jews back to God. 

“There are people who really became very deeply impacted by his teaching, by his work and by his personality,” explained Musicology and Jewish Studies professor Judah Cohen. 

“He helped to start these larger conversations within Judaism during the time of the Age of Aquarius,” said Cohen, of Indiana University Bloomington’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

Carlebach found himself in Greenwich Village, Manhattan in the late 1950s and began connecting with folk musicians, says Mark Kligman, who is the Professor of Jewish Music at UCLA.

“There are people who say he was at Woodstock,” said Kligman. “He started a community in Haight-Ashbury and when his father died he took over the Carlebach Synagogue in New York.”

It was in New York where, in the year before his death, Carlebach invited Blumen to play a concert with him in Israel.

A fast moving sequence of events began when Lloyd played with Carlebach. He decided to give up on his promising start in New York. 

When he returned from his first trip to Israel, he called Moffet at Atlantic Records. “I told him, “I'm leaving.” It was hard for them, but i just told them I couldn't explain it to them.”

Lloyd moved to Israel and never looked back. He now lives in Bet Shemesh, just outsde Jerusalem with his family.

Lazer's tour closed at the end of November. (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)
Lazer's tour closed at the end of November. (David Hodari/Neon Tommy)

Carlebach has been the focus of several books, a musical and numerous album reissues, it appears that he is more popular than ever in Jewish music circles.

Judah Cohen is a little skeptical of Lloyd's brief relationship with Carlebach, given that the two only met the year before the Rabbi’s death in 1994.

“I’d be a little bit interested to find out why he’s fronting Carlebach the way he is,” said Cohen.

Whether Lloyd is “fronting” or not, the religiosity he discovered under Carlebach is evident today.

Thirty minutes in from the start of the gig on West Pico Blvd. Lloyd stops for a drink.

“I’m used to drinking a bit of whisky,” he tells the crowd. “But I toured Russia two weeks ago and my liver’s still recovering.”

“How about the ‘Blues in Tel Aviv?’” calls a deep voice from the audience. Lloyd and the band oblige. 

But not, that is, before the singer-songwriter blesses a glass of water and drinks it.

During this song, he introduces his drummer and bassist. Kenny Coleman is blind and so does not need to look at his kit. To the untrained eye, it looks like he is showing off. He would be justified in doing so—his hands are moving unbelievably quickly. 

The same goes for Crazy Tomes. With his eyes barely open, he slaps the bass as though it has personally wronged him. He and Lloyd duel for the handful of onlookers.

That is not to say that that ‘bit of whisky’ would be frowned upon by Lloyd late role model, or indeed Hasidic Judaism at large. 

“In Hasidism, taking a drink is part of it, because if you put a little wine in, the secrets come out—you just have to know not to cross the border,” he explains. 

Lazer Lloyd has just finished recording a new album. (David Hodari/Neon Tommy).
Lazer Lloyd has just finished recording a new album. (David Hodari/Neon Tommy).

It is just as well that he is having a dry night. Tonight is the last night of a long tour which started in Connecticut, and Lazer Lloyd has the hacking cough to prove it. 

As we chat, his manager, Yocheved Seidman hands him some tea. She helped raise the funds for the album he just finished recording.

“I’m glad she’s my record company,” he nods in her direction. “I’m not just blues or just rock, I’m a combination of different things.”

Seidman, from Chicago, discovered Lloyd in 2007. She has brought her 10-year-old son, Yosef, on the tour too. 

Yosef has been wandering around the room going from conversation to conversation, cracking dry jokes that not everyone hears. “We brought him on the road so he can see life,” says Lloyd.

There is a relaxed atmosphere despite the cloying humidity that comes with being in a windowless room in Los Angeles.

Lloyd is happy with the direction of his career. “It’s starting to peak right now and it’s spreading very fast. We’re headed to Brazil in March.”

Despite a 20-year detour, Lloyd appears to be on the road to success—his 2012 album “My Own Blues” won awards back in Israel.

When Lloyd made the decision to leave America, Toby Moffet said, “in the end I think it'll work to your advantage.”

"It has," says Lloyd, because had he not met Carlebach. “I’m sure I’d be dead.”

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