Top 10 Jewish Rock Stars
We’re honoring Bob Dylan, Gene Simmons and eight other Jewish rockers in observance of Hanukkah, which begins today (Dec. 20) at sundown. Whether you define Judaism as a religion, an ethnicity or a nation, there’s no denying the “chosen people” have contributed strongly to the history of rock. Here’s our list of the Top 10 Jewish Rock Stars:
Leslie Weinstein, better known as Leslie West of hard rock pioneers Mountain was born in New York City. Howard Stern’s fans know that West and Stern are tight, but did you know how they met? Years ago when Joe Walsh was on the show it was mentioned that West’s real name is Weinstein but he changed it after his parents were divorced. Upon hearing that, West called up the show and asked to talk to Stern, who quickly admitted to being a huge fan and pissing his mother off by listening to Mountain (loudly) in his bedroom as a youngster. These two Jewish men have been friends ever since.
T-Rex lead singer and guitarist Marc Bolan was born Mark Feld. His father was a truck driver of Polish-Russian Jewish descent and though Marc was raised Jewish, he was technically only half-Jewish. Still, Bolan was proud of his heritage. In 1988 a tribute CD entitled ‘Great Jewish Music’ and featuring many artists covering T-Rex songs was spearheaded by John Zorn as part of the ‘Radical Jewish Culture’ series.
Rush bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee was born Gary Lee Weinrib on July 29, 1953. His parents were Jewish refugees from Poland who survived the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during World War II. In 2004, when Rob Tannenbaum of Blender interviewed Lee he described the two most Jewish things about him as “My nose and my sense of humor. I’m kind of a Jewish atheist: I bathe in the racial beauty of Judaism, but I don’t really see what that has to do with a belief in God. The only time I pray is on the tennis court.”
Jewish by birth, Joel will be the first to admit that he’s Jewish only by heritage and that his family was never observant. His parents were both from Jewish families but he was not brought up in any religious way. Families who survived the Holocaust, often tried to bury their Jewishness and this was the case with the Joels. In Mark Bego’s book about Joel, the pianist notes that “my circumcision was as Jewish as they (his parents) got.”
Simon’s childhood has been described by the Donald Fagen of Steely Dan as “a certain kind of New York Jew” because music and baseball were very important to him. Simon later agreed, admitting that his father was a huge Yankees fan and they would often listen to games together. Simon recently returned to Israel for the first time in nearly 30 years to perform at the Ramat Gan Stadium and at the press conference he was presented with a ceremonial religious horn known as a shofar.
Original rhythm guitarist and vocalist for Kiss, Paul Stanley was born Stanley Harvey Eisen in 1952. He told Tom Snyder in 1979 that when growing up, he was the only Jewish kid in an all Irish neighborhood. Coincidently, Stanley has found himself working creatively with a few other Jewish rockers in Kiss, including Simmons, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer.
As the sole Jewish Ramone (his birth name was Jeffry Ross Hyman), Joey Ramone is likely the only Jewish rocker with a corner of downtown Manhattan dedicated to him. The city of New York named the corner of 2nd St and the Bowery ‘Joey Ramone Place’ after his death to cancer in 2001. Joey Ramone’s parents met at the Borscht Belt, a post-WWII hot spot for young Jewish singles. In 2005, Ramone was honored at the first Jewish Music Awards, receiving the Heeb Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award.
Reed was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1942, his father having changed their family name from Rabinowitz. He grew up with strict conservative Jewish parents. Some say that the hardest thing for a Jewish boy to be is bad but when it comes to Reed, he broke the mold. He can be a pretty unpleasant person yet that’s what we love about Reed. His lyrics and guitar playing reflect a harder, colder, realism than your average good boys.
Original Kiss member and bassist Simmons was born Chaim Weitz, in Haifa, Israel but changed his name to Eugene Klein (later Gene) when he moved to the USA at age nine. Simmons’ mother, a Hungarian immigrant, was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. This year on the ‘Simmons Family Jewels’ Gene visits his now elderly mother in Israel and meets (for the first time) his half brother and two half sisters. Simmons also accepts a ‘successful native son’ award from the city of Haifa.
Dylan has perhaps the most twisting and interesting relationship with Judaism of any rock star on this list. His parents were both presidents of Jewish service organizations and Dylan’s extended family included Yiddish speaking grandparents. Allegedly, he spent four summers at a Jewish sleep-away camp and if one examines his music, it can be affirmed that he has a strong knowledge of Jewish traditions and teachings. He rejected his Jewish heritage once he changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan. He became a believer in Jesus Christ, professing himself a Christian in the late ’70s but since then, has re-found Judaism and now is considered a committed Jewish Christian.
(OK OK we hear you, holy cow did we miss an important one!) Van Halen‘s David Lee Roth is half-Jewish on his father’s side, and was raised in the Jewish religion, apparently learning to sing by studying for his bar mitzvah. Acting the proud Jewish rock star, Roth kept his last name, unlike many of his peers in the music business. Being raised on the chutzpah and showmanship of performers like Al Jolson likely contributed to Roth’s colorful stage presence years later. As Adam Sandler reminds us each December in ‘The Hanukkah Song,’ it’s Roth who “lights the menorah.”