Generally speaking, country music isn’t readily associated with Judaism. With popular songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and “The Old Rugged Cross” by Johnny Cash, the country genre often expresses overtly Christian themes and lyrics.
But former Baltimorean Avi Frier, a Talmudical Academy graduate and professional DJ, wants to change all that with the launch of his new musical project and label Yidneck Records. By Chanukah 2018, Frier hopes to have an album’s worth of material of parody country music (“ChanuKountry: The Album”) that injects Judaism into well-known hits.
Frier, who now lives in Hollywood, Florida, honed his love of country music two summers ago while traveling through different camps in the northeast for his DJ business with his sons. To haul around his equipment, Frier purchased a pickup truck. When they had time off in between gigs, Frier was looking for ways to entertain his children and they decided to go to a NASCAR race. To get into the spirit of the event, Frier tuned into the country station on satellite radio.
“We loved it,” Frier said of the music. “It’s almost all I listen to now.”
The Yidneck founder was born in Baltimore but grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and remembers going to a bar mitzvah where the DJ played The Charlie Daniels Band’s country staple “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
“People danced to it,” Frier recalls. “I don’t know if that ever happened at a New York bar mitzvah in the early ’80s, but that’s one of my childhood memories. There was always a little country in me.”
And Frier said there are plenty of Jewish ideas in the songs as well.
“When you take Jesus out of the equation, there are a lot of Jewish values in country songs,” he said. “Take a song about farming, for example. It’s part of life for people who listen to country music. Many of them took special note and recognition of the fact that rain comes from God. That’s something that encompasses half of our year. We ask that while davening every day, that God is the one who sends the rain in Israel.”
Before starting Yidneck Records, Frier honed his Jewish parody songwriting craft by working for Shlock Rock, a band founded by Lenny Solomon that has been around for more than three decades. They claim to be the first Jewish band to tour all 50 states.
“Avi always had tremendous creativity in him,” Solomon told the JT. “He had the knack for writing parodies. I love the idea [of Yidneck]. A little country Chanukah music, you can’t get better than that. You have your pickup truck songs and your songs about menorahs and dreidels and you got yourself an album.”
Frier, who cites Kenny Chesney, Eric Church and Darius Rucker among his favorite artists, is already hard at work on the debut release from Yidneck (“It’s not really a label until it has an album,” he’s quick to note). Frier’s sister, who lives in Baltimore, is collaborating on the project and has already penned parodies of Willie Nelson and Dierks Bentley hits. Baltimore-bred rapper Etan G will also appear on one of the tracks.
Though Solomon says the internet era has made music a tough business with an oversaturation of bands and acts, he added that there are always a few who will stand out from the masses.
“I think that every a capella group does it and I don’t think it’s as exciting as it used to be, but there’s always room for country parodies,” Solomon said. “YouTube and file sharing affected the whole music industry. As long as there are people who are innovative and creative and capture the attention of the public, there will be music. There are always creative people.”
For more information or to contribute to Frier’s Kickstarter for the album, visit bit.ly/Yidneck.