By Michael Berick
It seems like Randy Kaplan hasn’t met a musical style that he doesn’t like. The Los Angeles-based musician filled a shelf with awards (including a NAPPA Gold) for his last CD, Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, where he reworked old blues tunes into songs for kids. Kaplan stocks his new album, Jam On Rye, with the sounds of rock, folk, jazz, bluegrass and even a Broadway show tune. Kaplan, who performs music for adults as well as kids, recently offered insight into the new CD, making family music and writing songs about burps, sports and crew cuts.
Was there a song there served as the jumping off point for this album?
There were a few jumping off points for Jam on Rye. I like to adapt old-timey ragtime and country blues songs to make them appropriate for family listening. This time around, I adapted a few of my own non-kids songs. “Slow Eater” was on my first CD, long before I did kids’ music. Now I like my family version of the song even more than the original! I also adapted a tune from my early novelty song days: “Ode to a Shower Door.” Then there were the songs I wrote during my son’s first year, gastric songs about burping and gas and diaper changing.
Several of the songs on Rye have to do with bodily functions. Did you have any thoughts on how many of these songs fit on an album? You start an album with a burping song and have songs about farts and “doody” near the end.
There was definitely a method to the madness, as far as song order on Jam on Rye goes. My friend Scott Bernstein helped me to craft a subtle storyline that takes the listener on a manic day-in-the-life-of-a-family journey. Starting with a burping session in the middle of the night, the album progresses through meals, play, poops, baths, and bedtime.
You also throw in some references that kids probably won’t get (Mazzy Star, Butch Goring, Sweeny Todd). Is it something you put in for parents to enjoy? Is it because you don’t underestimate kids’ knowledge? A combination?
Yes, I try to make my songs enjoyable for family members of every age. On long car rides, the grown-ups will be listening to these things over and over and over again along with their kids. On “Crew Cut” in particular, there are lots of references that parents will get but that kids may not. But I hope the kids will enjoy the song’s words anyway because they sound funny. And they can learn who all those people are by asking their folks. In the same manner, “Hockey Puck” can spark sports conversations that could last for hours. These types of songs that seem to be geared towards the parents more than towards the kids can really give the little ones a solid background in pop culture, if they are curious about what every lyric means!
What draws you to cover a song for one of your family music CDs? Nagasaki, for example, seems like an unexpected cover choice.
In the case of “Nagasaki,” Mindy from Kids Place Live sent me a link to a YouTube clip of the song and said she’d love to hear me do it. The lyrics aren’t really for kids, but they’re vague enough to be fine for a family record. There are two other covers on Jam on Rye: “Not Too Young For a Song” by my pal Dan Bern for his kids’ lullaby album Two Feet Tall and “Goodnight, My Someone” from The Music Man. My wife wanted to sing that one so we saved a spot for her and made a little sketch out of it, with our son on board, too!
The songs on your last album were blues-based. Do you think that kids take easily to this rather old-school style of music?
A lot of old-timey music and even pop songs from the ’40s and ’50s, whose target audience was decidedly adult, would be considered kids’ songs today. I’m thinking of those choo-choo train songs and novelty big band numbers and cutesy crooned stuff like “A, You’re Adorable.” I guess that was before irony and cynicism infected pop culture to the degree that it has. But those old Ragtime and Country Blues songs I adapted for Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie definitely had to be altered. The original lyrics wouldn’t pass muster with the family censors today. I do find that old-timey music is very good for kids. But I still have trouble getting them to dance to ragtime! Maybe they’re too used to those heavy R&B and Rap rhythms. They don’t always believe me when I say that Ragtime was all the rage a century or so ago.
What have been some of the most gratifying experiences performing for family audiences?
I resisted this genre for years, despite the advice of many friends and colleagues who said it’d be a good fit for me. Once I fell into it, though, I loved it immediately. It’s been extremely gratifying to hear stuff from parents about their kids seemingly developing instantaneous attention spans when my CD comes on, and stories about how families listen to my music ad infinitum on their car rides to Florida or Texas or wherever and that the adults don’t get sick of it. I especially love hearing from parents who admit that they put my CDs on in the car even when their kids aren’t with them! Oh, one of my favorite moments was witnessing a kid hearing The Rolling Stones’ version of their own song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for the first time (he had heard my version many times) and insisting, “This isn’t the REAL song!”
Are there many differences when you create a song for children versus for adults?
Well, less and less so as the years go by. Singing for children has sharpened my sense of what an audience would like to hear or even tolerate.
Is there anything special you want listeners to take away from hearing to this album?
In my fantasy, parents say to their kids, “Did you hear Randy just say ‘The night is dark and deep’ in that song ‘Burpity Burp Burp Burp’? That’s from a Robert Frost poem. Let’s read that together right after the CD is over.” Or, when listening to my color commentary in “Hockey Puck” … “Yes, Butch Goring and John Tavares wore and wear the number 91. Let’s listen to Butch broadcast a New York Islanders game.” Or, “Hey, this song (“Not Too Young For a Song”) is by Dan Bern. Let’s look him up and buy all of his CDs and books.”
Randy Kaplan will be performing at McCabe’s (3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; www.mccabes.com) on June 1 at 11 a.m. Tickets are $10.
Michael Berick is Calendar Editor of L.A. Parent.