Lazer-like focus on music’s power to unify

Lazer Lloyd

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Lazer Lloyd, a blues-rock guitarist who lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel, doesn’t give short answers — even to seemingly simple questions like, “Do you describe yourself as Jewish?”

“Well, I mean, I personally observe Shabbat, and I am trying to observe whatever I think God is telling us to do, and I just come down to the reality that that is extremely hard to figure out,” said Lloyd, who was mentored by the hugely influential Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. “I am living, learning and growing and as I say, what a Jew is. You can ask 10 different people and they are going to tell you 10 different things.”

His reluctance to give a clear “yes” or “no” may have something to do with his disdain for the current “fanatic period,” he said, when each person is so certain that he is correct.

Instead, Lloyd, a New York native who has a significant following both in Israel and the United States said “I am just trying to tell people to be a bridge.”

St. Louis Ballet ad

He will use his explosive brand of blues and rock to connect with a St. Louis audience on Saturday at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. And as it happens, local musicians Rob Lee (drums) and Chris Turnbaugh (bass), have been backing Lloyd for his two-week tour across the country. 

“In his onstage persona and through his heart-bearing style of play, Lloyd, who became religiously observant later in life, finds ways to creatively intertwine his passion for Jewish philosophy with his love of contemporary American blues,” Downbeat wrote in a review of Lloyd’s show at the 2016 Israeli Jazz and World Music Fest in Chicago. The magazine also described Lloyd’s music as reminiscent of blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn with a healthy dose of B.B. King thrown in.

This time, he may perform “Backstreets,” one of his biggest hits that has has been played more than 700,000 times on Spotify, and/or a new single, “Julio Martinez.”

“This is a new song I wrote for some of my friends from Mexico. I have a lot of Mexican friends in Chicago and some of them are really going through hard times,” Lloyd, 52, said during a 2017 concert in Tzfat, Israel, appearing to address the federal government’s treatment of undocumented immigrants. “Some of them have children who are legal, and they are not, and they got notification that they might have problems and get sent back to Mexico.”

Lloyd says that he loves America because “it’s a place of law and order, and anytime you have sanctuary cities and illegal immigration unchecked, we are not going to have liberty here because you are losing justice, and when you lose justice, you lose liberty.”

But he added, “each one of us has to have the utmost respect for every individual… and there is no room for racism of any kind. As opposed to other people who try to take away the stories and realities of so many people by grouping them together as one thing.”

Lloyd has jumped back and forth from the United States and Israel more often in recent years as he has become more popular abroad. He has done so as relations between parts of the two countries have become increasingly strained. And Lloyd himself has faced “resistance” in Israel from “those on both sides of the religious/anti-religious divide,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

He describes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as an “[Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] mentality because the ISIS flag is black and white.”

“What does that mean? For those people, everything is black or white and you end up chopping people’s heads off, when we all know the world is much more gray. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so complicated,” he said.

Meanwhile, a member of Knesset, the Israeli parliament, recently blamed a series of earthquakes in Israel on Jews pushing for reform at the Western Wall. In addition, American Jewish groups have expressed frustration at the Israeli government’s lack of follow through on plans to improve an egalitarian prayer space at the Wall.

On the Knesset member’s comments, Lloyd said, “that just comes from a lack of knowledge, a lack of knowing people. I am always playing for Reform, Renewal, Conservative groups. I always tell people, ‘There are two kinds of people in the world: good people and those who didn’t get enough love yet.’”

Lloyd’s late mentor, Carlebach, who he once told JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) saved his life, has also faced a new round of scrutiny amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement. Some synagogues have stopped playing music from the “singing rabbi” because of allegations that he sexually assaulted women. At other congregations, members have walked out when his music is played. 

“I don’t want to write it off,” said Lloyd. “No one is saying anyone is perfect but at the same time, we have to look at everything the person did and go analyze” the allegations. “This is not a Bill Cosby-thing,” he added. “But I am no expert on the subject.”

At the Duck Room, Lloyd said he plans to play music from all his albums as well as an upcoming one recorded with Grammy-nominated producer Eric Paul (Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris) that will be released early next year. 

“That’s going to be great for me because St. Louis is a great town” and his local back-up musicians Lee and Turnbaugh “really love St. Louis, and some of the best musicians in the world are from there,” said Lloyd, who has played at the Duck Room and at U City Shul, an Orthodox synagogue. “I am going to be playing a combination of different things, the blues, the rock, the country, the psychedelic.”

Lloyd says and then laughs, “We put it all together.”