I remember, as a teenager, getting an album called Man to Man by a little-known singer named Gershon Veroba. It was on an equally unknown record label – Nova Records in NY. But something about that album, and particularly a three-minute-twenty-one-second song called Mimkomcha, made a major impact on me. Apparently, it made a major impact on the entire Jewish music world too.
Veroba was just getting his start in the music business. He needed a livelihood and decided that music was his chosen path. He resisted joining the impenetrable Jewish music scene because he didn’t want to limit himself to, well, Jewish music. He just didn’t want to get involved in such a small and limited niche market. He viewed himself on a bigger stage, both figuratively and metaphorically. He was a college student and was listening to secular music like The Beatles, The Eagles, Steely Dan, and music of the sixties and seventies like Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Bread. Those bands motivated him to want to be a musician in the first place, so he wanted big. Jewish music, to Veroba, was simple and confining.
Fate would have it that Veroba was personal friends with members of the Megama Duo and Diaspora Yeshiva Band. They stayed in his apartment and he realized that they are actually playing rock and pop adapted to religious lyrics. He now wanted in, and figured he could be a big, talented fish in the little pond of Jewish music.
His greatness was tucked away in a corner not yet being realized. No one wanted to invest in him, so it dawned on him that if wants to get noticed, he would have to invest in himself. Thus, Man to Man, with its nine songs, was born. Gershon Veroba was quite adept on the keyboards. But, to show (off?) what he could do, he played all the instruments on the album. Being young, naïve and aggressive, he figured he had to do it all himself. Yes, he admittedly had the “ear,” but not the experience. Nor did he have the required maturity for this complicated project. He borrowed money from his parents and booked studio time, bought used, 10-year-old, 2-inch tape reels for $150, produced everything on 16 tracks (now most studios are 64 tracks and higher) and played all the instruments. The quality of the songs, eight out of nine written by Veroba himself, was high. But the production quality left much to be desired.
Does Veroba have any regrets? As he explains. “I didn’t have much choice.”
Musicians and Jewish music fans took note when they saw the effort and heard the musical influences. Veroba, by design, didn’t appeal to the Jewish music crowd like those in the Avraham Fried category did. He wasn’t a rabbinical looking or sounding figure, and didn’t speak or sing in Yiddish or “Chassidish.”
Luckily, Gershon Veroba had some background. Otherwise, he would never have been able to pull off what he did in 1982. The year before Man to Man, he collaborated with Yerchamiel Begun (of Miami Boys Choir fame) on a project called Judea. His sister led him to Begun after seeing a want ad “looking for a vocalist.” That project gave him the confidence and a bit of know-how to try his solo project.
Jewish radio show hosts liked his album and played it. But that didn’t parlay into doing concerts, which is the typical progression for a singer. After the release of Man to Man, Veroba worked on a variety of projects including the Variations series – compilations of secular songs masterfully adapted to Jewish themes. He recorded a few solo albums featuring his unique style of fusing his secular musical influences with Jewish music, and appeared on several recordings of other artists.
Fast forward to 2022 and Gershon Veroba had an itch that he needed to scratch. With two kids who are all grown up, he sold his house, and realized that it’s time to do something for himself. Listening to an old recording of Man to Man, Veroba was embarrassed with what he put out there 40 years earlier. “It was haphazard, and uneven,” he laments. Now, with more advanced tech, he was able to take the old 2-inch tape and digitize it. In the conversion, some tracks didn’t transfer successfully. He said to himself, “If I had the guts, I’d do it again.” Realizing that the 40th anniversary is around the corner, he decided to treat himself and “do something nice.” “The music is unique,” he thought, “you owe it to yourself.”
So, he got to work editing the album. Again, he decided to do it himself. He shaved off the length of some songs. Only he was able to decide what to edit out and what to keep. He enhanced his vocals a little with the help of auto tune, and used equalizers to fix his voice. He describes it as “putting it through a shredder and taping it back together again. I didn’t remove any vocals and left the harmonies intact.” He adds, “I wound up discovering, after 40 years, that it’s noble to be ahead of your time.”
Avraham Fried says, “Gershon has the gift of knowing what to do with a song. That’s called being an artist. He brings out the full spectrum of a song’s colors, shades…and potential. From powerful rock, to gentle ballads to warm nigunim…you name it, Gershon delivers.”
And the new-old album delivers. Why buy the new version? Because 40 years later, it finally sounds the way it was meant to sound. Perfected. The way Veroba wishes it could have been. Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock admits that “This [Man to Man] is the album and artist who inspired me to make music.’
A bit of nostalgia for those of you who gave away your record or cassette copy of Man to Man. And for those of you who never had the privilege of listening to this album, this will serve as a pleasant introduction to one of the most versatile, hard-working and talented artists in the last four decades of Jewish music.