Coal Ridge High School rock ’n’ roll class amplifies music and history

Coal Ridge High School senior Jordan Halevy works on an assignment in a rock 'n' roll history class April 6.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Bob Dylan sings about the Civil Rights movement. John Fogerty asperses the ruling class with “Fortunate Son.” The Hells Angels expedite the death of hippie counterculture by beating a man to death at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.

These are just some of the many iconic bullet points punctuating Coal Ridge High School teacher Joe Luebbe’s rock ‘n’ roll history class.

“They’re actively using their platform to create change,” Luebbe said of musicians. “One of the most important parts of studying the history of rock ‘n’ roll is how music has come hand in hand with a lot of these social movements.”

For the past three years, Coal Ridge High School has offered its seniors a tour through this genesis of modern-day music and how it’s helped encapsulate our politics, society and culture.

The embryonic stages of this semester-long class highlight genres like blues and jazz, gospel and country and how they all inspired the traditional spirit of modern-day rock.

“The year that historians like to put on it is 1955,” Luebbe said. “That’s when it really starts to all come together.”

Luebbe is also an instructor of U.S. history and advanced placement human geography, but his ultimate love is music and pretty much everything that goes with it.

The 36-year-old is originally from Memphis — a musical mecca famously lauded as Home of the Blues, Elvis Presley and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll. His father and brother are musicians. And he’s a former roadie.

“My parents had that classic rock playlist of Journey, Boston, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd always playing in our house,” he said. “I grew up with it.”

His students were receiving a lesson derived from his musical knowledge around 1 p.m. April 6. Some tasks at hand were to memorize the origins of the Monterey International Pop Festival and, later, how Roger Waters and David Gilmour formed Pink Floyd.

Jordan Halevy is a senior at Coal Ridge and one of Luebbe’s pupils. The 18-year-old plays baritone in the school band but doesn’t want to go off to college and spend money on a music degree.

Coal Ridge High School teacher Joe Luebbe gives a lesson on the Woodstock music festival in his rock ‘n' roll history class April 6.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Instead, his ambition is to graduate high school and tour with a famous band, he said. Meantime, he gets to close out the last months of senior year immersed in classic rock studies.

“Growing up, my parents always played The Eagles, The Beatles, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac,” Halevy said. “I really find listening to old music is better, and taking this class it’s like finding something new.”

Nestled between computer coding class and band, Halevy gets to learn about Woodstock festivals and Elvis joining the military.

“That’s what destroyed his career was going to the Army,” Halevy said. “I just thought he faded away.”

Fellow Coal Ridge senior Lindsy Mendoza, 18, chose Luebbe’s class as a way to better connect with her family’s musical favorite: Elvis.

Before taking the class, Mendoza said she was pretty unaware of the specifics of what her mother or her grandmother actually liked.

“I sometimes go home and tell my parents interesting facts,” she said. “I did not know that one of the Beatles said they were going to be better than God.”

Then she learned there’s so much more to music than just the Beatles.

“I like the idea of learning about music and knowing where it came from and not just hearing it on the radio,” Mendoza said. “Most of the music now, it’s very different than how it was back then. The music back then had more feeling to it.”

Luebbe suspects his classroom was strategically placed against a back wall, and he chuckles when people ask him if he blasts music.

Though it may get loud at times, he said his true hope is that students really start listening to the lyrics more closely and making those connections to social justice issues.

“And I hope,” he said, “that they can also make that connection to the fact that virtually every genre of modern music can be broken down to its roots. Its roots are in rock ‘n’ roll.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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