Jews in the golden age of Rock and Roll

May 8, 2013

If you look back at the origins of rock music, or Rock and Roll, as it was known in the 1950s, you hear that the new sound borrowed elements from gospel, rhythm & blues, and country.

None of those musical styles, or the Southern focus of early Rock ‘n’ Roll, brings to mind Jewish performers. But Bay Area rock historian Richie Unterberger knows that they have been a major part of this unstoppable form of popular music. He’ll be backing up that claim in a free library program that he’s calling “Blue Suede Jews: Jews in the Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” KALW’s Steven Short spoke with him about the presentation.

By "Jewish rock and roll," Unterberger says he doesn't mean music sung in Hebrew, or with Jewish lyrics – he's talking about performers with Jewish roots. "A lot of people don't realize that a lot of these performers and writers and producers were – and are – Jewish."

The most famous "rock Jew" is Bob Dylan (born Zimmerman). Then you have "nice Jewish boys" like Simon & Garfunkel, and not-so-nice Jewish boys like Lou Reed and Mark Bolen of T-Rex.

Click the audio player above to hear more from Ritchie Unterberger.