Business Professionals With Amateur Music Careers
By Lauren Geldzahler
They’re in their 30s and 40s.
If anyone knows how to rock out, it’s our list of guys in the local Jewish rock band scene.
They wear suits, but they’re not stiffs. They cultivated their skills as kids, took breaks as life took over and, within the last decade, rekindled their love for the stage.
Take Paul Burt, a lawyer with Abramoff, Neuberger and Linder and the lead singer for the classic rock cover band Mister Wilson. “Music came way before the lawyer thing,” he says. He realized he could carry a tune in the eighth grade, joined a couple of bands in high school and then took it easy from law school until after his second son was born.
Nine years ago, at the age of 33, Burt received a call from his cousin Randee Greenwald, who happened to take up the drums in her late thirties. She knew he sang in high school and asked him to join her band Flashback, which became Mister Wilson one year later.
Affectionately named for Dennis the Menace’s pestered neighbor, Mister Wilson has been together eight years now and has played to crowds of as many as 500, averaging four shows a year.
They might not make a lot of money doing it, but these guys do play gigs, at places like The Recher Theater, The 8x10 and Ram’s Head Live.
Mister Wilson’s covers range from The Beatles to The Who and Lynard Skynard. “If we didn’t sound halfway decent then the novelty would have worn off a while ago,” Burt says, defending their status as a well-liked cover band.
Miles Rosen and bandmate Ira Katz spent two years on the Sire Records label, an affiliate of Warner Bros., with their band Greenberry Woods. They recorded two albums and toured with big acts like Debbie Harry and the Proclaimers before disbanding in 1995, due to personal differences.
“I then got into the zone of making money,” Rosen says. “I put down the drumsticks for six years or so.” After years of urging from Katz, who Rosen kept on close terms, and an eventual Greenberry Woods reunion where they played a few shows, he decided to give it another try.
Rosen now drums for the band Blake, formerly known as Freeway 111, which plays all original music. “It’s guitar rock with a power pop twist to it, a classic rock vibe with solid musicianship, lots of guitar work and vocal harmonies,” as he describes it.
Having had a taste of fame, Rosen knows how hard it is to make it big. “Unfortunately there’s not much of an outlet to expose good original music for the middle-aged musician. Even though there’s the Internet and iTunes, it’s virtually impossible to break through. Every city has bands with the same mold who never get heard. So we figure let’s just do it for the fun.”
Back when they were in their 20s, Richard Meltzer and his friends formed the band Jellystone, each writing their own original parts and recording. Years later, after wives and kids, he says “We said, let’s remove the stress, quit trying to promote ourselves as an original band and just play music we love.”
Meltzer, president and CEO of Control Cable Incorporated, helped form the band Shinola three years ago.
“Our entire goal was to pick songs that people would recognize but most likely other cover bands wouldn’t play,” says Meltzer. “We want people to say, ‘Wow, great tune, I haven’t heard that in ages.’ We don’t play anything out unless we nail it.”
“What’s really interesting in the Jewish rock band community,” says Meltzer, “is we all know each other and get along really well, and we play together. They’re fun to talk music with and even sit in with. There’s a lot of calling someone up to play.”
Brian Cooper is 42, a loan officer with iReverse Home Loans and the drummer for Shinola. He and Richard Meltzer have known each other since grade school and they were even in a high school band with Burt.
“Many of the people who come to see us have kids,” says Cooper. “It gets them a night out. It’s a social thing, a good escape.”
“It’s become something that people really enjoy coming out for,” adds Burt. “It’s a way to catch up with people you don’t get to see that often.”
Jeff Sirody, 43, practices bankruptcy law and sings for JD and the Blades. In addition to classic rock, they perform hard rock and hair band covers. “I’m probably a tenor, but I can also hit the high heavy metal notes from [bands like] Poison and Warrant,” he says.
After dabbling as a singer during law school, Sirody took close to a 20-year break from singing anywhere outside of his shower, he says. He decided three years ago to look for a creative outlet and joined a band that ended up practicing way more than he anticipated. He left in July 2008 and helped form JD and the Blades. (He’s the JD, which stands for juris doctorate.)
Now, practices and shows fit Sirody’s schedule. JD and the Blades practice once or twice a week, mostly in the summer. They perform about once a month.
“I enjoy doing something completely different than wearing a suit with a staid image,” says Sirody. “During the weekend I let loose. It’s a different persona. Not quite Jekyll and Hyde, but I get crazier onstage than I do in other venues. I haven’t bit the head off any animals, but it’s always a possibility.”
Sirody says he tries to keep his work life separate from his musical life, but others enjoy mixing the two.
“Between the seven of us, we know a lot of people, through friends, through family, and professionally. They get to see us out of context, in our real lives, and people get a kick out of it,” says Burt.
“Being in a band is a good conversation piece when negotiating a deal for a client,” he adds. “I think it makes me look more like a real person as opposed to just a hired gun.”
Their home lives tend to mix with their music, too.
“My wife is incredibly supportive of my hobby and is a real fan of the band,” says Meltzer. “My kids have only seen us play a couple of times, but I think it’s a real thrill for them to see their dad onstage. Hopefully it’ll help keep my coolness factor as high as possible as they become teenagers.”
It takes some serious work, but basically these men want to let loose and have fun. After a long day at the office, these husbands and dads approach band practice just like any hobbyists — it’s stress relief.
“It’s not work,” says Meltzer. “We didn’t want to become a working band, playing every weekend. If it feels like work then I’m doing something wrong.”
“It’s awesome,” says Rosen of his band Blake. “We’re like a little fraternity. I just really enjoy the camaraderie of hanging out, ragging on each other.”
“If anybody wants to pick up an instrument at 30 or 40, then power to them,” says Meltzer. “But if you played earlier in life and you’re considering picking it up again, I can tell you, it’s a lot of fun.”
All of the bands mentioned have pages on Facebook. Find out even more by visiting their websites:
JD and the Blades: http://www.Jdandtheblades.com
Mister Wilson: http://www.misterwilsonband.com