17 Dec Q&A With Country Yossi
Name: Yossi Toiv A/K/A Country Yossi, A/K/A El Chapo.
Grew up in: A hurry in East New York, Brooklyn
Currently lives in: A refrigerator box under the elevated subway overpass in Flatbush.
Family: Gambino! Wonderful wife Hadassah, 4 wonderful married daughters and B”H many wonderful little kinderlach K”Y.
Davens at: The Toiv Shul when they’re desperate for a Minyan.
Yeshivas Growing up: They’d rather I don’t embarrass them!
Year Country Yossi started: Started what?
Year Country Yossi Magazine started: 1988
Year Country Yossi Magazine ended: 2016
Year Country Yossi radio show started: 1986
Year Country Yossi radio show ended: 2016
Names of Albums: 16 CD’s- not enough space
Most popular album: Kivi and Tuki Greatest Hits, Country Yossi Greatest Hits
Most popular songs: Cholent, 7 Little Kids, The Wedding’s Over, Big Bad Moish, Little Kinderlach etc.
How did Country Yossi start?
As most world altering, major historical events, it was the predestined result of a chance meeting between me and Heshy Walfish up in the …country! I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and we were comparing notes and he asked me if I’m still writing songs and I said I had some funny stuff laying around collecting dust. So we decided to collaborate on what turned out to be Country Yossi and the Shteeble Hoppers.
How did you get the name Country Yossi? Due to my many Country Music parodies and all my summers in Monticello.
Who gave you your first cowboy hat?
At my Bar Mitzvah, my Zaidy, Johnny Cash a”h gave it to me (instead of cash).
Your father was a very famous chazzan. What are some of the most important lessons your father taught you about music? 1. Take voice lessons. 2. Don’t get up on stage if you can’t sing. – Unfortunately, I didn’t listen!
Where did you get your sense of humor from? My great grandmother’s adopted sister! They tell me she was “Ah little Funny” if you get my drift!
Growing up, what type of music & which artists did you listen to? Shlomo Carlebach, Yom Tov Ehrlich, The Rabbi’s Sons and classic Country Music.
Were you part of any choirs growing up?
Yes, I set up the microphones before every performance.
I once sang a solo and throughout my performance they kept booing the rest of the choir! Some people even threw tomatoes at them while I was singing!
I realized then that I couldn’t afford to sing with a bum choir-so I quit! Funny thing is once I left they got much better. Just goes to show what lots of practice can do.
How did the Or Chodosh band start & what happened to it?
It started in Shor Yoshuv in 1970 when I roomed with Shmelkie Brazil. He had written some great Hebrew songs like Bilvavi, Shmelkie’s niggun, Aileh V’rechev etc and I had written some English and Yiddish ones like Aleh Yiddin and “Oh, the World” and we decided to put out an album together. It was a smash hit and concert requests started pouring in. Eventually though, we all got married and drifted into real life.
Did you always write all your own songs?
Many are original but some of my biggest hits were stolen by famous popular singers like Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash and Dion!
How did you meet your partner in crime, Heshy Walfish?
Heshy is a musical genius who I had the good fortune to meet early on.
Between my creativity and his hands-on musical and technological proficiency, not to mention his other outstanding talents, we were able to re-launch our career as Country Yossi!
How did Kivi & Tuki come about?
Their illegal alien parents just dropped them off one day and asked me to babysit. I thought it would be for a few hours but it turned into a few years!
Just wait till they get my bill!
What about the Shteeblehoppers?
What about ‘em?
Who was the real Big Bad Moish? Who were you thinking of when you wrote that song?
Moshe Cholentfresser III, He was the strong, silent type – a true hero. We could use him today!
Growing up my family’s favorite song was “Seven little kids sitting in the back seat.” Why do you think that song was so popular?
I guess people can identify with the trials and tribulations of taking long trips with a car full of little kids.
What would you say is your favorite Country Yossi song?
My next one! Although, honestly, I prefer the serious songs to the funny ones. I love the MUSSAR songs like “Tick Tock,” “The Wedding’s Over,” “Make Believe,” ”Deaf Man,” “These I Remember” etc.
Can you give everyone a quick
Country Yossi Catskills story?
Sure, It was a dark and rainy night and I was walking along route 17 trying to hitch a ride back to Brooklyn when suddenly I saw… but why go on? You can listen to the whole amazing story on “The Phantom of the Shteeble” on our CY Greatest Hits CD!
Did you take a lot of flak over the years for taking a lot of secular songs & putting Jewish content to them?
Yes, in the beginning, but then other parody groups came out and my stuff seemed tame and harmless by comparison. In 1971 when Shmelkie’s Niggun first came out it was lambasted as being an “Afrikanisher Niggun” and banned in some Yeshivisheh summer camps. Compared to some of today’s music it seems like a lullaby!
We know that you co-wrote the lyrics to the famous “Daddy Come Home” song for the Yeshiva Boys Choir. How did that come about?
The incredibly talented Eli Gerstner wrote an amazing tune and approached me to write the lyrics. He knew more or less what type of song he wanted and gave me direction. Together we created a truly memorable song that at last count had over 8 million listens on YouTube! WOW! Whoda thunk?
Who were some of your favorite interviews on your radio show?
My mother a”h, Shlomo Carlebach, MBD, Eli Gerstner, Avrohom Fried, Dedi, Benny Friedman, Senator Simcha Felder, Yerachmiel Begun et al.
What was your favorite part about Country Yossi, the magazine?
Answering the letters.
What was the magazines greatest challenge? Collecting Money!
How has the Jewish music industry changed over your lifetime?
It’s become more rhythm and beat based rather than melody! Hartzig, classic songs like Bilvavi, Kol Ha’olam Kulo and Carlebach niggunim are hardly being recorded anymore. Instead we’re being offered the pounding electro-beats of contemporary Goyish music set to Hebrew words. When our old group the Or Chodosh performed at the last HASC concert, the more mature audience was oohing and aahing at the old classics. I was told we got the only standing ovation. I believe it wasn’t us as much as the nostalgic, melodic songs that touched their Neshomos. On the other hand someone told me it wasn’t a standing ovation-people were just getting up to leave!
When & why have you stopped performing?
Have you heard me sing lately?
What would you say is the greatest compliment someone can say to you about your body of work?
I grew up with you. You made us laugh and lifted our spirits. I hear it quite often. I met Mordechai Rubashkin recently and when I introduced myself to him, he smiled and said my CD’s helped lighten his days. That makes it all worthwhile.
Besides writing for the Jewish Vues, what is Country Yossi doing these days?
Still writing songs, managing my hedge fund, balancing my portfolio, and playing with my little kinderlach!
Do you think that you are going to make any more albums? – B”EH. We are working on some new songs right now. It’s called “Birchas Hachama” and is scheduled for a timely 5825 (2037) release! Seriously, we’re planning a new Kivi and Tuki album in the near future.
What do you miss most: the music, the radio show, the magazine, being yelled at or something else?
For sure NOT “being yelled at”- Don’t forget-I’m still married!
But I do miss the radio show’s live excitement, comeraderie, interplay with callers and Heshy’s hearty laughter! By the way, everyone can still listen to our radio show archive on countryyossi.com.
If you had to do it all over again, what would BIG (more knowledgeable) Country Yossi say to young Country Yossi about the Jewish music industry?-
You’re making 2 big assumptions here, Ari. Firstly, that I’m more knowledgeable and secondly that young me would listen! But aside from that I would tell him to learn more, shteig and get a real job!
Is there anything else that we did not discuss that you would like to mention to Jewish Vues readers?-
Yes, ponder this arcane truism- “’Tis far better to be rich, smart and healthy than poor, dumb and sick!”