Randy Kaplan is one of the most talented children’s singers in the country. On June 1st Randy will be releasing his family friendly album “Jam on Rye.” That record will showcase Kaplan’s trademark fast-talking and half-singing Rap-Bluegrass barnburners as well as a Dan Bern cover. He will also have a calypso tune and a couple of lullabies on the album. He will even have his single “Don’t Fill Up On Chips,” which is very popular on the Sirius-XM station “Kids Place Live.”
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Randy about his new album, fatherhood, and who influenced him musically growing up.
Art Eddy: Let’s start off by talking about your new album called “Jam on Rye” that will be released on June 1st. What can fans expect from this album?
Randy Kaplan: The album that I did before this, “Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie” was my “Randyized” versions of my favorite country and ragtime songs from the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. It was like a twenty page book type of American music history. I told my good friend, who has been my creative consultant that I was going to write music inspired by my own kid’s first few years of life. There is a lot of scatological stuff in there.
I told him that I will have songs about burps and farts. He was like, ‘Come on Randy. You can’t do this. You just did this noble, gallant record about American music history.’
I told him that I think I could pull it off. Then I sent him all those demos. He said to me that the scatological songs were his favorites and that those songs were very catchy. I have dabbled in that kind of stuff in my past albums, but now that I have a kid of my own I was looking to write what I know. The first year I spent burping him in the middle of the night. I was changing his diaper so that tended to come out in song.
There are only a few songs about that though. There are other songs about being married, getting sent to the supermarket, and a lot of them are in the form of those rap, barnburner Bluegrass numbers that I am known for.
AE: Do you have a favorite track on this album?
RK: The album is a play on words. Ry is my son’s name. His full name is Ryland and we call him Ry, just r y. Though the name on the record, “Jam on Rye” has an e. I like the song “Jam on Rye.” It is about me substituting ingredients at restaurants, but they have to rhyme with the original word. So instead of eating ham on rye, I order jam on rye. Instead of rice and beans, it is ice on beans. It is really a call and response Boogie-woogie Blues number. It is a real fun song.
There is also a track named “Hockey Puck.” I am trying to indoctrinate my kid into sports. He just loves hockey and it is the only sport that I thought of that didn’t have a ball. It is a list song of all the sports that have a ball. Then the chorus is hockey puck. He gets to say hockey puck on the song.
AE: That is great that you have your son on your upcoming album. I like that a lot. For you growing up what got you into music? Was there a certain band that got you to notice music at an early age?
RK: My folks were from Long Island. My dad used to own a record store. I have every Bob Dylan and Paul Simon original LP. I also have a bunch of bootlegs that he got in the record store. He introduced me into folk and protest music. Stuff from Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. All the standard singer, songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s. Eventually I investigated their sources, which ultimately became my favorite music.
It was artists like Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, and Robert Johnson. It is all the Country Blues, Ragtime Blues, and Jazz guys. Harry Chapin was a big Long Island singer, songwriter. He was my mother’s favorite. She used to take us to see him. I must have seen him like ten times growing up. I even met him and shook his hand.
I was exposed to Broadway plays all the time, which I complained about as a kid. Later I got really into them. I even wrote a musical myself. I became a Jazz fan and an Opera fan. So once you have the music in you I think you have to investigate it all. Some genres you take to and others not so much. I think I take to a lot of them though.
AE: Growing up what were your favorite songs to sing as a kid?
RK: Hmm. Interesting. Well I remember loving the Harry Chapin song, “The Rock.” I remember playing it 100 times in a row. It is a story song about a kid who lives in a town that has a rock hanging over it on a cliff. He is always warning everyone, but they are just writing him off. They think he is a nut job warning people about the rock.
It never gets noticed, but the rock is slipping. One day it might happen and the kid would be vindicated. I love the story song and that is what I have become known as in the kids’ music world. These songs that are also stories. So that song influenced me a lot. Other than that I remember the standard, “Let It Snow” song when I was younger. I would use that song as a snow dance type of song to try and have school cancelled. (Both laugh.)
AE: When you are on tour do you have a favorite venue where you love to perform?
RK: Here is L.A. when I would go to concerts in the 80’s and 90’s I would see all my folk music heroes at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Now I do kid shows there. I feel honored to be playing there. I love the venue and the people. It is the acoustic guitar mecca of the west coast.
On the east coast in New York, Symphony Space is very nice. They are always nice to me there. It is a beautiful theater on the Upper West Side. World Café in Philadelphia is great too.
AE: Which album or song do you get the most feedback from your fans?
RK: It is funny. “Jam on Rye” will be my fifth album, but whenever I am out and about people always ask me about certain songs that are on my first album, “Five Cent Piece.” I also tend to perform most of the songs from that album when on stage. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because I am the most comfortable with songs from that album. So I would have to say “Five Cent Piece” is the album that people ask about the most.
AE: What were your initial thoughts when you found out that you would become a dad?
RK: I first thought that everyone would be shocked. I was on the list of least likely to get married and have kids from my entire family and friends. Ten years ago I couldn’t take care of a plant. Then I found a dog and people said you can’t take care of a dog. Next I got married and then we had a kid.
It was a mix of emotions. I was panicked and excited. The first year was way harder than I could ever imagine. People say, ‘Isn’t it amazing and beautiful?’ I am like yeah, but it is also a nightmare in addition to it being great. Every parent knows lack of sleep is tough. I never knew that bone tired weariness before.
AE: What are some of the morals and values you look to instill in your son?
RK: The classic thing that parents and grandparents always say is that they want their kids to be happy. I realized as I got older that was the most important thing. Also it is to be is a good person. Hopefully that will bring you happiness. So I definitely want to teach him to be a good person and a compassionate person.
Luckily he has his mom’s looks, so he is set in that department. (Both laugh.) I want him to be thoughtful, present, and open minded. So far so good as far as a two year old goes.
AE: You said Ryland was on “Jam on Rye.” Will he be singing more on your next album?
RK: Yeah. I think so. Hopefully I will be able to bring him next time. I record all my records in Kansas. For “Jam on Rye” I flew there and left the wife and kid back home. Next time he can be there with me when I record and be on the album. On past albums I did sketches with kids so maybe Ry will take over that role.
He is already singing a few of my songs at home so that is a good start. He is obsessed with drums, which is my weak spot. So we will see.