Hebrew School

Jewish Blues
August 7, 2007, 5:47 pm
Filed under: jewish, records | Tags: , , ,

Another fascinating entry in the annals of Jewish rock history (or, at least, my own version of that history).

The notion of an axe-wielding Jewish dude emerging from the bush to bear his soul in rock prayer is a little bit too worrisome for me to go into here. Nevertheless, Steve Simenowitz– the curly-haired fellow above who hopefully did not get any of those pointy-sticky things on his polyester-wool pants after trudging through the wilderness– appears to me to be one part visionary, one part sappy late-70s songster, and one part Long Island schlock-rocker extraordinaire. The liner notes kinda say it all: “Many long and lonely hours went into this album. Now that is has finally blossomed it is dedicated with love to the woman without whom this dream would have never become reality — my wife, Sue.”

The album vacillates between prayer in the guise of 70s love ballads (or is that the other way around?), banjo hootenanny (jewtenanny?) pastiche, and riff-driven balls-out rock songs. And speaking of Islanders, there’s even a reggae number on here, some 30 years before the name Matisyahu would call to mind anyone but the hero of the Jews on Chanukah. Either way, this is absolute genius, forward- and backward-looking in all the right ways.

Simenowitz recently surfaced over on Blog in Dm, responding to an inquiry by someone trying to track down a copy of Out of the Woods, and a rumor of a copy going for $80 on ebay. His reemergence served to announce that he has gone back into the woods since his more storied days in the music biz. Now known as Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz, he lives on a Vermont farm making maple syrup, singing and playing guitar for kids and adults alike as he goes.

Reflecting on some other Jewish music coming out at the time, he wrote [correction– see Rabbi Shmuel’s comment below] in another post on Dm, “It was one of those albums […] that made us realize that Jewish Rock was viable. I think before those albums, many of us with guitar chops were not in any way considering playing Jewish Music.” Pretty inspiring stuff!

Notable tracks: “Hinei Mah Tov,” a slow rock-blues number with some proto-Stevie Ray Vaughn bravado; and “Hino Adon Olam” with a ground-shaking Clapton-esque guitar hook. (Both of these in original form are common songs of Jewish worship.)

Also of note: An appearance by Roy Buchanan, an original member of the band that would become The Band, and teacher of the immortal Robbie Robertson.


9 Comments so far
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I loved this record! Steve was way ahead of his time. If you have any info on obtaining this digitally, even just the two songs that you highlighted, please let me know.

Comment by yonah

Thanks for the shout out! Actually we discovered this blog by accident – I was showing my kids some you tube videos and they asked me to google JB and this came up – thanks for getting it – many people didn’t get it – we were the subject of much discussion – the frum thought we were too frei and the frei thought we were too frum! But we had fun!
A couple of factual corrections (nothing too intense since you “get it” 1) those were real jeans – worn out as hell (if only they could talk)
2) the guy looking for the copy on Blog in Dm ended up paying 260 – 100 for the album and 50 for each single – there were actually three – on one Roy B was so drunk we got thrown out of the studio and had to rerecord it (I dubbed his parts with great trepidation and humility – do you have any idea where he is ranked in the pantheon of guitar greats?) then we rerecorded and there was a typo on the label “Hinei Yamin” instead of “Hinei Yamim” – the Abie Rotenberg version which has held up nicely

that other quote, while flattering, was not from me — I think it was from one of the guys in Kabala if I’m not mistaken

Roy Buchanan was indeed a Hawk (later to become the Band) they asked him to leave for being too weird – The Band played at the Clinton Inauguration and I was there with a framede photo of me Roy and Rick Danko (Its floating around the internet – its a cool photo) and Rick had asked me for a copy. Ronnie (Hawkins was screening a video about all of the dead Hawks and he freaked when he saw the photo of Roy b/c he had been unable to find any footage of him.
you’re also on the money – those were the 2 best tracks on the album – hinei mah tov got more airplay on non-Jewish radio b/c of the duet between Roy & me and Hino Adon Olam – the lick is actually the Beatles “Polythene Pam” Lick but I’ve also held that he was paying on that album and just not givencredit. I actually asked him and he just smiled. Oh well.
there are actually 4 copies left of the album still in the shrink wrap – I guess its my kids retirement fund – anyone interested, email me at swfarms@together.net

gut shabbos

Comment by VT Rabbi Shmuel

you won’t believe this but after I signed off, I went shopping for shabbos – when I came home there was a package kinda CD looking – so I opened it and saw a CD copy of OOTW and a letter from the original producer that he has digitally remastered it and wans to start selling it again – mah rabu ma-asecha Hashem!

Comment by VT Rabbi Shmuel

awesome post dude… diggin’ it…

Comment by dobianchi

WOW……Steve, what can I say, it has been many many years, 26 to be exact! I have this album and saw Steve and the band perform many times back in the day…Steve was my USY youth director in smithtown ny, a long time ago.

take care and be well.

Comment by jonathan steckler

Hey, Rav Shmuel, when I knew you at MTA and Stony Brook it was still Steve, so regards from upstate NY Shana tova!

Comment by Jerry Schapiro

This is amazing – I was a student at SUNY Stony Brook and photographer of the Jewish student newspaper on campus. I was in the audience during this concert and for those that were there – they mic’ed the audience. I suppose our applause are on the record – but I don’t really remember hearing them, so maybe they didn’t use the recording. Anyway, I’m in the midst of digitizing my life and slowly digitizing all my old records including OOTW. Will sell my copy on Ebay afterwards.

It was truly an honor to see Stave et al. perform and be part of this legendary bit of Jewish music history. You are right about “Hinei Mah Tov” and “Hino Adon Olam” being the best 2 songs on the album.

A digitally remastered CD is welcome. Even though I recorded using 24-bit samples and 96k samples/sec, put the aduio through a 10-band equalizer and digital audio expander to compensate somewhat for the low dynamic range of the vinyl and finally converted to MP3 at 256 kbps.


Comment by howie zaretsky

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve when he became an instructor at the hebrew school I attended in the early 1980s at Temple B’nai Israel in Freeport. I had a lot of trouble connecting with my heritage… but Steve seemed to transcend those gaps- a truly cool soul. It was a difficult class and, assuming from my own experiences, an even more difficult administration. While Steve’s time at that school was short, I never forgot him.

Now that my own daughter (9) is attending hebrew school and easily connecting with her culture and spirituality in ways I struggled with, I reflect on Steve and his music. I stumbled upon this and I am smiling. I need to find some of his music- to share it with her.

Comment by Bill Taub

i’m roy’s son david. i remember my mom and dad playing the record after dad played on it and mom was wearing her jewish blues t-shirt. i’m still trying to find the cd with my dad playing on it and itunes doesn’t even have the damn thing. i believe i’ve met steve a few times as a child. anyway my father wrote a song called Nephesh and i just wrote a poem called Nephesh Pure as sorta a tribute to someone special. i’m not jewish but respect everyones beliefs as did my father and i just wanted to stop by and show some respect. be well. david

Comment by david j buchanan

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