STATE OF THE REUNION ESSAY #7 – What Ever Happened To Rick “Levi” Coghill?

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO RICK “LEVI” COGHILL?

How and Why Did Messianic Music’s Main Artist/Producer Vanish?

“Repair injustice. Plead the case of those without a champion!” – Isaiah 1:17

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

“The Body of Messiah is the only army on earth that still executes its own wounded.” – Bob Mumford, 1970’s “Institute For Youth Conflicts”

“There is no kindness that will create a sense of obligation in those who are, by nature, ungrateful.” – Aesop

“The workman is worthy of his wages.” – Luke 10:7

 

By Rabbi Bruce L Cohen, New York City

Composer, Lyricist, Arranger, Performer, Conductor, Director, Producer


The window of time is closing on the Messianic Movement’s chance to right a terrible wrong.

The central figure – even, hero – of its entire musical world’s founding recording and performing era has been moved off the radar into obscurity and neglect. Far from receiving the honor and affection he is due – he seems not even to be getting his royalty payments that are due to him by contract. This is not just a crime of ingratitude – it is also an outright crime of theft. 

This man, who was living obscurely in Cincinnati at my last contact with him in 2006, should receive a lifetime achievement award from the American and Canadian Messianic Jewish Associations. From the early 1970’s to the mid-1990’s, he was the beating heart, the epicenter of the entire synagogual Messianic Jewish musical world. And when I say, “the epicenter,” I mean – almost literally everything recorded musically in Messianic Judaism was personally “produced” by him.

Lamb. Nagila. Kol Simcha. Cohen & Rose. Mirjam. Nancy Santiago– and on.

Every partaker of Messianic Jewish music from that time and for a period afterwards, including trickle-down into the present day, owes a huge percentage of every moment they enjoy quality-produced recorded Messianic Jewish Music directly to him. He was the musical “Ord Wingate” of the Messianic Jewish musical world: a non-Jew by birth who came in and among Israel with profound gifts, and used them for the sake of Israel’s faith and people.

His name is Rick Coghill.

He has been something between passively forgotten and actively erased.

In the 1990’s, Rick Coghill committed the cardinal sin in a movement whose leaders told people facing hard times, “This Movement is about joy!” Rick Coghill fell upon hard times.

In response, the sphere he had served for the best two decades of his musical life turned its back on him. The people who fed – and still feed – on the products of his labors and expertise just looked the other way. There was no place for people in deep pain or despair in a movement trademarking itself as a location of unbroken joyfulness and victory-to-victory living. 

So – in short order – he was disappeared.

And dark as that reality is, there is a darker side to his disappearance, as well.

In his absence, his former partner is living off of, and trading upon accomplishments of Coghill’s as if they were and are artifacts of his own genius/calling. This 20-year disgrace needs to be set aright.

SEPARATING GENIUS FROM GENERIC

Since Coghill’s disappearance, his former partner in Lamb has been acting before all the world as if he, and not Coghill, was the entity responsible for Lamb’s musical footprint. He has certainly both presented himself and been presented by his Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) context in this way: always referred to “a pioneer” and “the founding father of the Messianic musical genre:” the truth is – and I was there as a professionally trained performer to see it personally –  Coghill’s former partner had a significant part in the genre’s birth – but without Rick Coghill, his music would have remained only one of a large group of fairly normal post-Joni Mitchell balladeers with no breakout hallmarks to draw attention to them beyond the other multitudinous folk rock balladeering of that spiritual era.

Rick Coghill’s producing and performing genius were what made Lamb’s sound stand out – and be unforgettable.

Good examples of this are songs like “Jonah” – or – “Comfort Ye.”

The song, Jonah, without Coghill’s ingenious use of the Guitar TalkBox made famous by Peter Frampton, would be just a mediocre folk ballad. Listen to it. It is a quite ordinary song. Coghill’s brilliant opening in which the guitar became the voice of God calling out to Jonah, and literally shook the ground live audiences stood upon – along with other such production artifacts in the song – are what “made” the song; made it something people were excited to hear, and awaited with anticipation, hoping it would be performed – even calling for it as an encore if they didn’t perform it in a concert. Without Coghill’s musical footprint – Jonah is just a another ballad. 

Comfort Ye is a good song Coghill made into a great song – with two live production techniques that turned a piano ballad into a memorable event. Coghill used the magnetic E-Bow™ during the instrumental bridge to create an unforgettable oboe-like solo, and at the song’s end, used a metal slide with perfect reverb setting to give a haunting personality to the song closure that made the listener wish the song would never end. Without the trade-marking of the song by Coghill’s E-Bow™ and Reverbed Slide – Comfort Ye is just another piano ballad.

Listen to songs like I Will Talk To My Brothers – and try to block out all the ear candy from the “wah-wah” guitar opening onward – and you will hear a rather plain A-B song you could not sing more than two times through without losing interest.

Listen to Dance & Sing. The song’s melody and structure – without Coghill’s brilliant back-and-forth between guitar ornaments and disguising his guitar as a “walking bass” during the second part of the verse, and the high-speed upstroke arpeggios during the “lai-lai” segment, and the brilliant rock-lead into mandolin strokes “ride” – is again, just another folk song: and one with a nearly non-existent poetic structure, as well. What made the song “an event” was entirely located in Coghill. Zero in on the lyrics, vocal melody, and vocalizing – I defy anyone to find anything remotely clever or remarkable in them: yet, audiences used to cry out for this song at concerts if it was not performed: why? The audiences (I was among them) wanted to see and hear Coghill do his unforgettable, thrilling stuff. Messianic Judaism’s Eric Clapton in action.

And in all these songs, all the other member of Lamb did with a guitar was token strumming or picking at very simplistic levels while he sang: and the singing was competent, but far from remarkable. When the duo of Israel’s Hope appeared some years later than Lamb, and both members played guitar at far above token strumming, as well as harmonizing and singing as well as Seals & Crofts – this was a gut-punch to the image of Lamb’s lead singer from which he really never seems to have recovered. He came up to me in 1988 at the Jerusalem conference in which both groups had played, and asked, “Who won?” I asked what he meant – and he replied, “You know – the ‘battle of the bands?'” I evaded the question because the heartbreak was already all over his face: Wilbur and Chopinsky’s artistry in Israel’s Hope had blasted Lamb’s primacy into oblivion: and did it in Jerusalem, with the leadership of the entire Messianic Jewish world watching. Lamb after Jerusalem 1988 was never the same.

This above sort of situation exists throughout the entire Lamb song catalogue.

When the partners separated, we all learned what was actually coming from whom. 

Not one second of comparably inspired or inspiring music has issued from the other Member of Lamb since Coghill’s departure. Mere coincidence? In the words of Scripture, “Let the reader understand.”

Some might say this analysis is harsh, or unkind to Lamb’s remaining member. I readily admit the behavior of the other guy in Lamb outrages me. Imagine giving the best twenty years of your life to an effort, only to be not only abandoned by your comrades – and not only forgotten – but erased.

Scripture commands us to plead the cause of the one being “oppressed in the gate” (by leadership or policy). I do so, here.

HAS ANYONE “REPLACED” RICK COGHILL?

Rick Coghill has been treated in public parlance by the other member of Lamb and his close-associates as a kind of “junior partner” fortunate to be allowed to hitch his star to The Other, and to bask in the radiance of the Other’s calling. And “Lamb” reemerged with Coghill’s former partner paired with a different musician.

Lamb was not like the television show “Bewitched,” in which the original actor playing Darren was replaced, and nobody noticed. Lamb being presented with Coghill replaced is more like Simon & Garfunkel with someone else “replacing” Art Garfunkel.

No one could “replace” Art Garfunkel.

Art Garfunkel was not some mere junior partner in Simon & Garfunkel. He was a once-in-a-generation talent, the personality of whose gift imprinted indelibly and deeply on an entire generation. Art Garfunkel is no more replaceable than Jimmy Page would be “replaceable” in Led Zeppelin. 

Rick was an indispensable co-creator and co-owner of Lamb’s share of fame; and in reality from my perspective, its preëminent creator and owner. No matter who Paul Simon sings with for the rest of his life, that singer will never replace Art Garfunkel. When Simon & Garfunkel performed a few years ago in a reunion concert at the Grammy Awards, Art Garfunkel showed he was no mere ornament next to Simon. Frankly, Garfunkel blew away every other vocalist who performed that night: he was beyond radiant in voice and presence. His rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” transfixed a few billion viewers and blew the minds of every music professional in the room. He was no junior anything.

No matter who performs as “Lamb” with Lamb’s other member, that person will never “replace” Rick Coghill. There is no artist who can replace the combined depth of both his talent and his historic gravitas. Rick Coghill made even blah songs sound good – songs with weak rhyme schemes, corny or unpoetic lyrics, forced lyrical timing, and other traits. Rick told me directly, he lost track of the re-writes and restructuring of songs he did, for which it is my understanding the other Lamb partner, who considered himself the “senior” partner, forbade credit be openly given to Rick, because the “songwriting” side of the duo’s portfolio had to be seen as entirely the other’s: no part of songwriting could be seen as Rick’s – otherwise, the duo would not appear a 50/50 situation of equals, with songwriting “all” the other’s, and production being all Rick’s. 

The above-cited inaccuracy has been at Rick Coghill’s expense.

It needs correcting.

MY 2006 PHONE CALL WITH RICK

In 2006, I released my own “greatest hits” collection album, all the tracks were ones in which Coghill had served as senior producer. Rick was due what we used to call his “mechanical” royalty: the producer’s share due at sate of manufacture. I had no idea where he or his family were.

It took some effort to reach him, because he was hermited in his hometown of Cincinnati, not a presence on the internet or by published phone number: but the man was owed his royalties by contract, so I could not honorably make the physical compact discs until I had paid him. And it was not really that hard to find him: it just took commitment.

I finally reached him.

When I did, what he said to me by phone was heartbreaking.

Firstly – he was flabbergasted I had expended time and effort to track him down specifically so I could pay him his royalties. He said, “That’s a first.” He said (I report here what was said) literally none of the other artists who had been manufacturing and selling the albums he had produced had been paying him his royalties for a very long time. It was not like he didn’t need the income. What people do with this assertion I report is their own affair. If it is inaccurate in regard to you, so be it; but for any of my fellow-artists for whom it might be true, I hope they will take action to right this wrong, and pay the workman the salary that is his due.

Secondly, he told me that since he had been jettisoned by the Messianic Movement, he was so emotionally ruined that he left all his guitars in storage in Philadelphia, and had not touched a guitar in a decade. This is a Grammy-level instrumentalist and producer, so traumatized he could not find spirit to spend any energy or time with the great love of his life – the guitar. As a musician, this makes me weep inside. What product could have been ours that is lost forever in those years?

Rick’s post-Lamb treatment by the Messianic sphere took his creative soul out of him.

He was living in a kind of limbo – his great talent in suspended animation from grief.

Cast aside like a used-up fuel canister – the man who had produced nearly everyone’s albums was now producing nothing – from grief at how he had been treated and de-valued. “Abundance of oppression can deprive a wise man of reason,” wrote King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:7. Not everyone can endlessly just bounce back from repeated and massive deprivations. They kill some people’s souls – and at times, their very lives follow.

In the years since 2006, I lost touch. With the advent of the online digital music marketplace, I sought him out again to make sure he gets a cut of whatever digital sales of my music have happened or continue, since they were not specified in our original contract when the online marketplace did not exist. I am looking for ways to bless him, still. He deserves it. It is his due. As I began looking for him a second time, my remembrance of all he did came flooding back with a keen sense of the injustice of it all, still hanging in the air. Time to clear the air.

Rick has been gone from the Messianic Jewish musical sphere for nearly twenty years now, and I never hear anyone mention his name. 

And when I say, “Rick was at the center” as above, I meant it.

In addition to being the musical heart of the pioneer duo, Lamb (lead guitarist, main arranger, studio album producer, sound engineer [ who made all those neat-sounding effects ] ) – he was the liaison between the music industry’s top professional tier and the nascent Messianic Jewish Movement’s artists. 

I had Grammy-winning artists crafting and performing on my own albums with Kol Simcha and Cohen & Rose, as did other artists: I mean, my sax player was from Whitney Houston’s band! My Board man mixed for MC Hammer and Blondie! All because Rick Coghill made the connections, using his leverage as a Grammy-winner himself, having had a secular “Top Ten” hit titled “Green Tambourine” from his days with “The Lemon-Pipers.” I remember as I was walking into the studio for one of my sessions at Philadelphia’s famed, “Studio 4,” hip-hop top-tier star Queen Latifa was walking out of the same studio I was entering to use. Rick even got us in on the ground floor with the forefront of digital music, the Synclavier™ – a massively complex, quarter-of-a-million dollar synthesizer at the time, that used digital samples of real instruments in a way no other technology was able. There was only one Synclavier™ in Philadelphia – and Rick got us all into Grammy™-winner Larry Gold’s “Victory Studio” to use it.

Coghill made that level of quality happen for all of us. 

Scripture tells us it is wrong to “repay good with evil.”

Coghill (left) and me (right) duetting on my 1979 song, “Abba, Father” which I wrote specifically to give Rick an electric guitar lead in the break.

It is hard to remember one man in all of modern Messianic Judaism who did more – or more impactful – good than Rick Coghill. Every Messianic musician from 1973 onward is – whether they know it or not – his child, grandchild, or step-child. Everyone who listens to Messianic Jewish recorded music is being touched by him.

It is high time to recognize this seminal artist, before he passes from our midst.

We are commanded, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” (Proverbs 3:27) I hope for action from within the Messianic music world more than mere words affirming, “Amen.”

You may have noticed – I have not once mentioned the other Lamb member’s name in this entire article. If that unnamed person is reading ––– he will remained unnamed to the end ––– that, my former colleague, is a small taste of how it feels to be erased. In all of Lamb’s history – your name was not mentioned here once. I hope you will consider how that makes you feel, to be rendered invisible and irrelevant and unrecognized – and perhaps for the first time, empathize with what it must be like to be Rick Coghill.

THE GOALS OF THIS ARTICLE

I have a few practical goals for this essay.

Firstly, if you are a musician reading this who continues to sell product Rick “Levi” Coghill produced – you owe it to God, to Rick, and to yourself to track him down, and pay him what you owe him – every cent. If you email me, I will ask Rick for permission to give you contact information for him.

Beyond this – it is my hope the Messianic Movement’s associations will at some point do an honorific tribute to this man while he still lives. There is little point saying “thank you” to a man after he is gone. Bring him to a conference: stand him on a stage. Give him a plaque to hang on his wall – and for Heaven’s sake, say “Thank heaven for you” to his face in front of as many people as you can cram into an auditorium at the biggest night of the Conference. Nothing less is due. Nothing less would be appropriate.

This seems to me, a moral debt out of balance.

It is a debt the Messianic Movement needs to pay.

MY OWN OPEN, PUBLIC “THANK YOU”

Finally, to Rick directly from me, personally – from this musician, you have my sincere public acknowledgement and my thanks for the profound and lasting impact your sacrificial career had on me; and my promise I will always seek to make sure you receive what income and credit from your work you are due. “The workman is” – in this case, truly – “worthy of his hire.” That is true in terms of both income – and the openly affirmed value of your credits in the products you created. Whenever I do the “Messianic chucka-chucka” two-beat percussive guitar sound, I still do the Coghill-signature two-finger pick hold that allows me to use the other 3 fingers for ballast, to make the high speed strums easier, right on up to mandolin-style hummingbird-strumming. I learned that technique by watching you in action, and asking you why and how you did it; and you, rather than shoo’ing me away, you took the time to mentor me in your craft. 🙂  Thank you.

You changed all our lives. We are all the better for having known you.

What you did will reverberate in faith-based music forever.

In the end, may you hear “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from the One voice that most matters.

May it all be for shalom.

 

Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

www.brucecohenwordsmusic.com

Kol Simcha: Composer, Arranger, Producer, Pianist, Ass’t Conductor

Cohen & Rose: Composer, Arranger, Producer, Pianist, Guitarist, Background Vocalist

Helen Shapiro, Barry & Batya Segal, Yehudi: Songwriter

MJAA Int’l & Regional Conferences: Main stage Worship Group (Kol Simcha and Cohen & Rose) Musician’s Chairman/Stage Director, Performer, Main stage Worship Leader (with wife Debi as vocalist)

Beth El of Manhattan, Musical Director, Primary Pianist and Guitarist

Beth Yeshua of Philadelphia, Primary Worship Pianist