The Arty Semite

Growing Up Jewish in Rock's Golden Age

By Michael Kaminer

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At age 19, Graham Gouldman scored his first U.K. top-10 hit with “For Your Love,” the ageless tune first recorded by the Yardbirds. He went on to write smash songs for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Jeff Beck, and the Hollies before forming the band 10cc — a hit factory in itself — in 1972.

This month, Gouldman added another distinction to a stellar resume. He’s one of four tunesmiths who’ll get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony this June in New York. The Kinks’ Ray Davies, “Midnight Train to Georgia” writer Jim Weatherly, and Elvis Presley collaborator Mark James will also be honored.

Born in Manchester, England, Gouldman started playing guitar at age 11 after a cousin returned from Spain with a cheap acoustic guitar. “As soon as I held it, I was gone,” his bio says. Gouldman left school “as soon as was legally possible,” joining a band called the Whirlwinds. After a stint with another band, the Mockingbirds, music manager Harvey Lisberg hired him to write songs for one of the biggest acts to break out of Manchester — Herman’s Hermits.

These days, Gouldman continues to tour tirelessly with 10cc; in 2012, he released “Love and Work” (Rosala Records), a solo album. The Forward caught up with Gouldman by email.

Michael Kaminer: What does the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame honor mean to you?

Graham Gouldman: It’s the recognition of a lifetime’s work, but I haven’t finished working yet. Also it is very special to be honoured by your peers.

What was it like for a Jewish kid growing up in Manchester in the 1950s and ‘60s?

The late ‘50s and early ‘60s were such a wonderful time for a teenager to be growing up. The music from that era still has a major influence on me. The local Jewish club let our band rehearse in one of its rooms and in exchange we’d play at their dances for free.

Why do you think Manchester’s been such a fertile place for popular music?

Manchester has always been a great place for all the arts. It’s a university city so there have always been lots of venues for bands to play in.

“Rock musician” isn’t what some Jewish parents hope their kids will pursue as a career. What did your family think once you made it clear music would become your life and work?

I was always supported and encouraged by my parents, also I was so obsessed by music from an early age that my school work suffered so there wasn’t any chance of me getting a “real job.”

There’s such a brilliant lineage of Jewish songwriters and performers in popular music. Do you feel a part of a tradition? What’s the thread?

I do feel it and it may be to do with being an outsider and wanting to make your mark. I, like many other Jewish songwriters, were very influenced by the melodies heard in synagogue as a kid.

Your bio calls the ‘60s “the most exciting time in the history of Western music.” But today seems like a pretty exciting time, too. Why do you think that was the decade to end all?

Everything was fresh in the sixties and there was a post-war cultural revolution that we were all a part of.

Which songwriters influenced you? And which songwriters do you admire who are working today?

I was influenced by The Beatles, Paul Simon, Jim Webb, Motown and so many others. Of more recent writers I love Ron Sexsmith.

Is it ever tempting, if you hear one of your songs playing in a store or restaurant, to turn to someone next to you and say, “By the way, I wrote that”? Or “God, I always hated that version”?

I did it once and got a look of disbelief, I never did it again.

You released “Love and Work,” a solo album, in 2012. How is it different from your music before it?

At its heart I don’t think my music has changed that much. I want the listener to feel what I feel.

What’s coming up in 2014? Will you continue touring? Can we expect another solo release?

I will continue touring with 10cc and “Heart Full of Songs” which is an acoustic show I do with three other musicians featuring many songs I have written over the years.


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