Art by LusoSkav
|Breed:||½ Irish Wolfhound / ¼ Old English Mastiff / ¼ Canaan Dog|
|Languages spoken:||English, Yiddish, Hebrew|
|Vocal Range||Basso Profondo|
|Age at joining:||69|
If Drake Whitesmith founded the band, it was Eleazar Cragg who gave it form.
Born January 8, 1943 to Abraham Cragg and Esther Cragg (neé Goldmeir) as one of twins (the other being his sister Martha), Eleazar Cragg is by far the oldest member of Iron Zion.
He is known for dressing as an Orthodox Jew, as most of his uncles are such (although Eleazar himself is not entirely Orthodox), his excellent organ skills, and his deep basso profundo
His parents and their surviving siblings moved to the United States shortly after WWII, settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When he was 5 years old, his father died in a car accident, leaving his mother to raise her twin pups alone. Abraham's brothers arranged for a meeting with a family friend, Joshua Mastiffson, in hopes she would again have a husband to support her. Their plan worked, and Esther soon blessed her new husband with another son, Bryn.
As a young boy, Eleazar fell in love with rock music—in particular, musician Buddy Holly. Eleazar even learned to play guitar by listening to the Buddy Holly records.
When the Winter Dance Tour was to start in his hometown, he begged his stepfather for permission to go. His stepfather at first said they could go next year, but his mother reminded Joshua of the fallout of his own mother's
Lessons In Patience. Joshua relented, reminded Eleazar and Martha of their chores the next day, and permitted them to go. Eleazar would later recall he and his sister had a wonderful time.
Less than two weeks later, Eleazar learned from his father that Buddy Holly was dead. Joseph then told Eleazar his own story: his mother (Eleazar's step-grandmother) always told Joseph to put off going to a local fair another year. The fair stopped during WWII and was never resumed afterwards, which meant Joseph never did get to go. January 23, 1959 had turned out to be Eleazar's only chance of seeing Buddy Holly and the Crickets in concert, a chance he'd almost missed.
Eleazar couldn't bring himself to play the guitar after Buddy Holly's death, so his uncle David Cragg taught him and Martha the organ and piano instead. In 1960, the two formed their own folk-rock duo with Eleazar on the organ and Martha on piano and calling themselves The Craggs.
The duo had some small success, playing in clubs and bars, recording three albums, and even performed at the double ceremony in which Eleazar Cragg married Hannah Allon and Martha married Jan Arkes.
The duo expanded into a trio when Bryn joined them in 1971. As he also played the piano, Martha moved over to the Rhodes Bass, and the three called themselves The Craggs & The Mastiffson. While the trio never even gained the status of
One Hit Wonder, they continued with some small success playing clubs, bars and music festivals, even recording a couple of albums. When Bryn moved to Alberta, they performed less often, but when they did, they often included their offspring.
Eleazar also supported himself and his family by working as a session organist, racking up a resumé that read like a Who's Who of rock bands from the 1960s until the early 2000s, gaining a reputation for his technical mastery.
While his sons Dwayne and Lawry had no interest in the guitar, Dwayne's son Micah did, and when Micah outgrew the kid's guitar he was initially given, Eleazar gave his grandpup his old guitar, encouraging Micah in his own music endeavors.
Eleazar's life drastically changed when Micah came home with a German Shepherd named Bruce Kellion and a Golden retriever (with rather strange ears for that breed) named Drake Whitesmith: it was a fledgeling heavy metal band that didn't have a name—nor did it gel at all, as there was much tension in the band, mostly between Bruce and the other two.
Eleazar quickly grew tired of their racket and, not wanting his grandson to waste his talent, decided an intervention was in order. He was familiar with heavy metal—at least the older kind—and used his knowledge to advise the young band. Drake and Micah welcomed his advice, but Bruce clearly resented the elderly dog. This caused further friction in the band, which came to a head when Drake suggested they name themselves.
Hey, old kike, how about was Bruce's response, smirking at Eleazar.
Yom Kippur Holocaust?
The old dog was furious, but before he could get a word out, Micah had Bruce by the scruff of the neck and was dragging him out of the house, making sure to ram Bruce's head against any door frame they went to. As Drake was apologizing profusely to Eleazar, They could hear Bruce yelp loudly, and the door slammed shut.
Micah joined Drake in mollifying his deeply offended grandfather, and asked Drake if he knew any other bassists.
Eleazar got along well with the new bassist Jan Doornenbal, but not so much with Jan's little brother Bouke, who seemed more interested in antics than music. Despite this, Eleazar agreed that both were excellent musicians.
When Drake asked Eleazar what he thought of Baron von SnickerSlaughter's assessment that the band was playing the wrong kind of music, Eleazar agreed wholeheartedly.
You are a Gentile seed growing in Jewish soil, Eleazar insisted. At the next practice, he brought music for both Klezmer and Sephardic folk songs.
He protested against Sarai's inclusion, worried her presence would cause problems in the band. But the band was struggling for a different reason—Drake's idea of what kind of music to play seemed at total odds with the band members' musical influences, including his own.
It was a breakthrough—the Klezmer songs Chiribim, Chiribom and Shephardic Morena soon became favorites of the band—unfortunately, they couldn't perform Morena in concert as the only one who spoke Judaeo-Spanish was Drake, and the song is to be sung by a woman.
By now, Eleazar began taking the band to small jam sessions and clubs, to give them time to let their sound mature.
His mentorly friendship with Drake took an unexpected turn when Drake asked the old dog if Drake could call him and his wife
Have you no parents of your own? asked Eleazar, knowing both Drake's parents were alive and well.
I have a mother and father, came the reply,
but I don't have a Mom and Dad, really.
Though Eleazar did not formally give permission, he did take Drake under his wing and introduced him to Judaism.
During this time in the small clubs, Eleazar became more of a bandleader, dictating offstage behavior (alcohol in moderation, drugs and groupies forbidden), and onstage often pointing towards musicians to do musical battle with, keeping the other band members sharp. The others also often dueled each other, something audiences soon began to expect.
As the band became more popular, Eleazar found himself discomfited by the increasingly elaborate stage show, believing the music was paramount to anything else. When he confronted the rest of the band about this, Drake finally stood up to his mentor and pointed out that while theatrics were not needed in 1960s folk rock and had no place in session work, surely Eleazar knew that in metal, special effects were expected.
Eleazar responded by referring to Yom Kippur Holocaust as a circus of idiots, to which Bouke Doornenbal replied,
That's because Bruce is an idiot.
He accepted the elaborate stage effects, but made sure the others didn't rely on them by challenging his bandmates to musical duels.
Eventually, he hired an agent to help the band get better shows and venues, and made the stipulation that the agent should have a Jewish Calender handy, as the band would not perform on the following holidays:
If they were scheduled to perform on any of those dates, they simply would not show up.
The one incident he found more disturbing than any other was, when he and his band were getting ready to play at a festival, a fan called out,
Eleazar Cragg is God!.
Eleazar gave her a profoundly unhappy look, then spoke into a microphone.
Only the Lord of Hosts is God. I will pray that He will forgive you for your blasphemy. Rumours about the incident flew, and fans began calling Eleazar
The Rabbi, which he found acceptable.
Eleazar never participated in the antics of his bandmates, instead letting his organ mastery and deep bass voice wow the crowd all on their own.
When Eleazar started teaching Chris Lancer the finer points of organ playing, rumours flew that he was training his replacement, although Eleazar denied it. But these rumours intensified when he cut a tour short to care for his ailing sister Martha, asking Chris Lancer to fill in for the rest of the tour.
After the tour was done, Iron Zion went on hiatus while Eleazar stayed with his sister. Even though she was in ill health, she, Eleazar, and Bryn got together for one last recording session as The Craggs & The Mastiffson. When Martha died, Eleazar publicly announced his retirement.
I am too old and too tired to go on performing, he stated. As Eleazar was now in his eighties, few doubted him. He'd been with the band for 13 years.
Eleazar returned to private life, spending more time with his great-grandpups. He was delighted when Drake formally converted to Judaism, and even presided over Drake's eldest son's Bar Mitzvah.
Some time after his retirement, Iron Zion was playing at a small club. Micah's youngest brother David was with them, playing rhythm guitar. At the beginning of their final set, Chris Lancer stated,
Ladies and Gentlemen, I just play the keyboard, but tonight, the Rabbi is in the house.
The crowd was silent for a moment, then simply went haywire as Eleazar Cragg walked out onstage. A group from a music magazine quickly made sure both their cameras had absolutely fresh batteries, realizing that this was the Holy Grail of Iron Zion performances—Eleazar Cragg and Chris Masters onstage together.
The two engaged in a fierce keyboard duel, which Eleazar eventually won. Before the final song, Eleazar rose from his organ bench, and gestured that Chris Masters should take his place, and gave the fans his final farewell.
But even from the beginning of that set, fans knew Eleazar was not long for this world. The concert review said
He looked like a dog who'd crawled out of his grave—and played like he'd returned from the afterlife to show us mere mortals how it's done.
It was his last public performance. A few months afterwards, Eleazar Cragg died, aged 86. Iron Zion's next album, Requiem, was dedicated to him, and while the band had always been somewhat spiritual, Requiem was the most blatantly religious album the band would record.
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