The year: 1990. The location: Israel. Mark Skier was touring with the legendary Jewish rock band, Shlock Rock, which he helped found.
“We had a great concert suddenly get canceled,” said Skier, an orthodox Jew who lives in Milwaukee and works as a physician for Aurora Advanced Healthcare. “So, we drove to an army training base for women soldiers in Israel, and they hadn’t seen guys in a while, so it turned out to be a much better gig!”
Such is the tough life of a Jewish rocker on the road in Israel.
The bass groove
Skier started playing piano at age 8, and picked up the guitar at 14. When he was 17 he started playing bass.
Bass is his favorite instrument; it’s what he plays in the Moshe Skier Band, which he founded in 1998. The band specializes in original and classic Jewish music, but played in hard-hitting classic rock and blues style.
“I was the worst guitar player in my first band,” said Skier. “In those days it meant you became the bass player.”
That suited Skier just fine.
“I love playing bass,” he said. “It can lock in with the drums and move the song. If you really connect with your drummer, you become one instrument. Bass is the muscle of the song.”
An observant Jammin’ Jew
Skier was brought up with a strong Jewish identity, albeit in a non-religious family. It wasn’t particularly surprising, then, that he became increasingly religious during high school, ultimately identifying as Baal Tshuva, or observant.
But just because Skier became observant didn’t mean he had to trade his bass guitar for Torah Talmud, so to speak.
However, his newfound religiosity did influence his music, but not his core musical tastes. And that’s what makes Skier’s music different from run-of-the-mill Jewish music.
“I grew up with The Beatles and the Stones,” he said. “I joined bands during the early ‘80s New Wave/Punk movement, so my favorite bands are Squeeze, The Police and The Pretenders.”
Skier doesn’t knock Jewish wedding music or music performed in shul; but his goal is to create Jewish music “that we ourselves would enjoy listening to for fun.”
In other words, the rock and groove remain; but Skier’s topical and lyrical inspiration come from Judaism.
And inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. For example, just after Hurricane Katrina, Skier was in shul and the Haftorah portion was from Isaiah. It began:
Oh afflicted, storm tossed, uncomforted one … We will rebuild you.
“I was like, ‘Wooah!’ and I took the melody from the Haftorah and went with it,” Skier said.
The musical style of the subsequent tune, however, had a Foreigner sensibility.
The Moshe Skier Band has played Summerfest 10 times, as well as Shank Hall, various venues in Chicago and more.
“Most of the people who come to see us play are not Jewish,” said Skier, adding that his band gets a huge boost from guitarist Mendel Apple, who with his long flowing beard, looks like he could be a member of ZZ Top.
“Mendel plays guitar like a virtuoso,” said Skier. “It makes a real kiddush hashem to see an Orthodox guy like Mendel excelling at his music.”
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How to go
What: The Moshe Skier Band
When: To be announced
Where: Summerfest, June 29-July 2 and July 4-July 9
More info: Summerfest.com or MosheSkier.com