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November 20, 1942 |
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.
Greenbaum was born in Malden, Massachusetts. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household and attended Hebrew school at Congregation Beth Israel. His initial interest in music was sparked by southern blues music and the folk music that was popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He performed with various bands in high school and studied music at Boston University for two years. In college he performed at local coffeehouses but eventually dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in 1965.
Greenbaum is best known for his song "Spirit in the Sky". The song, with its combination of 'heavy' guitar, hand-clapping, and spiritual lyrics, was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1969. It sold two million copies in 1969 and 1970, and received a gold disc from the R.I.A.A.. It has subsequently been used in many films, advertisements, and television shows.
Although "Spirit in the Sky" has a clear Christian theme, Greenbaum was and remains an observant Jew. Greenbaum says he was inspired to write the song after watching country singers Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner singing a religious song on television. In an interview Greenbaum stated that western movies were the real inspiration for "Spirit in the Sky":
Norman Greenbaum: If you ask me what I based “Spirit In The Sky” on ... what did we grow up watching? Westerns! These mean and nasty varmints get shot and they wanted to die with their boots on. So to me that was spiritual, they wanted to die with their boots on.
Ray Shasho: So that was the trigger that got you to write the song?Norman Greenbaum: Yes. The song itself was simple, when you’re writing a song you keep it simple of course. It wasn’t like a Christian song of praise it was just a simple song. I had to use Christianity because I had to use something. But more important it wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the spirit in the sky. Funny enough ... I wanted to die with my boots on.
Though Greenbaum is generally regarded as a one-hit wonder; several of his records placed prominently in the charts. In 1966, under the name Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band, he recorded the novelty hit "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago".
Greenbaum has been a long-time resident of Santa Rosa, California. He was critically injured when the car in which he was a passenger made a left turn in the path of a motorcycle on Occidental Road on March 28, 2015, killing the motorcyclist and also injuring the motorcycle passenger.
- Spirit in the Sky (1969)
- Norman Greenbaum with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band (1969)
- Back Home Again (1970)
- Petaluma (1972)
- Scott R. Benarde, Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories (University Press of New England, 2003), ISBN 978-1584653035, pp. 186-187. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 280. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- McNichol, Tom (2006-12-24), "A ‘Spirit’ From the ’60s That Won’t Die", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-12-22
- Benarde, Scott R. (2003). Stars of David: rock'n'roll's Jewish stories. UPNE. p. 186. ISBN 1-58465-303-5.
- Shasho, Ray (22 December 2011). "Exclusive: Norman Greenbaum reveals the true origin of 'Spirit In The Sky'". The Examiner.com. (blacklisted on Wikipedia)
- Whitburn, Joel (2000). Top Pop Singles 1955-1999. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc. p. 183. ISBN 0-89820-139-X.
- "Crash west of Santa Rosa kills motorcyclist; singer Norman Greenbaum hospitalized" Press-Democrat March 28, 2015