The king of Israeli blues, Lazer Lloyd, silenced the chatter in a Toronto bar recently with a hilarious story about the time he took a powerful drug whose effects lasts six days.
Lloyd, 48, told this riveting tale during a searing blues number called Friday Night Wine, which he played at a June 19 performance at the Cadillac Lounge on Queen Street West.
Lloyd prefaced his story with a remark about the pleasant effects of the drugs he had once enjoyed. Lloyd knows how to tell a story and he kept the audience on tenterhooks throughout his rambling account.
Lloyd, who credits electric blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan as one of his main influences, is an American who made aliyah 20 years. At the age of 14, he started playing guitar and since then the instrument has rarely left his side.
In Israel, a friend offered to introduce him to this potent drug, he said. He asked if he could bring his guitar. “No, you can’t bring your guitar,” his friend said. Lloyd wondered if his friend was going to give him “Bedouin mushroom” or some especially powerful arrack, he said. Instead, to Lloyd’s disappointment, his friend served him red wine and challah. Next morning, Lloyd woke to the smell of cooking food. In the kitchen, he took the lid off a pot on the stove and saw some potatoes and sausages floating in a stew.
He asked his friend, “Is the sausage the drug?” His friend replied, “No, that’s kishka.” At the end of the day, Lloyd’s friend took him out to watch the sun set on the Dead Sea. “That blew my mind. Shabbat is the drug that lasts six days,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd was raised in a secular Jewish home in Madison, Conn., where he grew up listening to jazz, blues and folk music. When he was a teenager, his friends formed bands that were influenced by rock groups like Def Leppard and Van Halen. “The music didn’t have any soul,” Lloyd said. The musician who impressed young Lloyd most was Vaughan, who he called his “gateway to the blues.”
Lloyd moved to New York in 1989, lured by Atlantic Records, which had promised to sign him. Around 1993, at a crossroads in his life, Lloyd meet a homeless person in Central Park who took him to a synagogue. Two weeks later, he found himself playing blues with the “hippie rabbi,” Shlomo Carlebach.
“He was singing, crying, he was so deep, so it inspired me to play blues to his music,” Lloyd said. The rabbi invited Lloyd to come to Israel with him, which was the beginning of Lloyd’s rediscovery of Judaism.
“I didn’t know Judaism could be so deep,” he said. Although he considers himself a skeptic, he said he feels that God led him to the beggar.
Lloyd met his wife, Elana, two months after he made aliyah in 1994. His first job in Israel, before he re-launched his music career, was working at his father-in-law’s watermelon stand. Lloyd didn’t know how to speak Hebrew then and he recalls “this guy yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand.”
The couple live with their five children, ranging in age from eight to 17, in Beit Shemesh, 30 kilometres west of Jerusalem.
Lloyd recently released a single called Moroccan Woman, as a tribute to Elana. He said that Israelis love the blues, adding that it has a cult following there. He’s often the opening act for famous blues musicians who perform in Israel. “It’s like Mississippi,” one fan said to Lloyd when he played him some blues riffs. Lloyd said he found the Israeli interest in blues ironic, since he was in Israel to get in touch with his Jewish roots.
Reflecting on Mideast politics, he said the situation is “complicated and it’s almost impossible to get people to share views,” he said. For Lloyd, “music is the real way of expressing what comes out of Israel,” he said.
Lloyd has recently found himself in the international spotlight. His electric album, My Own Blues, was selected as the 2012 album of the year by the Israeli Blues Society. Then Blues Leaf Records in New Jersey approached Lloyd to release an acoustic album with them. That album, Lost on the Highway, is on the international blues charts.
Lloyd returns to Ontario at the end of August for two shows. On Aug. 30, he’ll perform at Violet’s Venue, a live blues concert venue in Barrie. For more information, visit www.violetsvenue.com.
On Aug. 31, he plays at the Aish HaTorah Centre, 949 Clark Ave. W., Thornhill, with bassist Gary Kendall and drummer Mike Fitzpatrick, members of the Juno Award-winning Downchild Blues Band. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m., followed by a dessert reception. $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
For more information about Lloyd, visit www.lazerlloyd.com.