In his songs for children and their families, Randy Kaplan blends American Roots, Country Blues, and Comedic Storytelling. He fingerpicks his way through unpredictable live shows which, in addition to his original compositions, include Tin Pan Alley gems, Broadway numbers, Delta Blues songs, and Ragtime tunes. “He doesn’t dumb it down for the kids… He just expects them to come along for the ride. And they do” (TIME OUT NEW YORK KIDS). As indebted to Steve Martin and Loudon Wainwright III as he is to Robert Johnson and Dave Van Ronk, “(Randy is) offbeat, smart and funny, funny, funny!” (Mindy Thomas, SIRIUS-XM RADIO) as well as "an absolute ace guitarist, picker and ragtime player" (SMOKY MOUNTAIN BLUES SOCIETY).
“One of the most exciting newcomers to kids’ music since Dan Zanes” (PARENTING MAGAZINE), Randy has released four children’s albums so far. All have been recorded by bluegrass master Mike West in Lawrence, Kansas.
Randy's fourth not-JUST-for-kids CD, MR. DIDDIE WAH DIDDIE, was released in July, 2012 by My Kazoo Music and Universal Music (UMe). The album consists of Randyized versions of classic Country Blues and Ragtime numbers originally performed by the likes of Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, and many more. In their August 6 issue, PEOPLE magazine implored parents to "take (their) kids on a time warp with (Randy's) collection of blues and ragtime numbers from the early 20th century" and placed the CD 3rd on their list of "8 Cool Kids' Albums" of the summer while Sheryl and Don Crow of the NASHVILLE BLUES SOCIETY named Randy "one of the nation's foremost children's entertainers" in their review of the record.
Randy's third not-JUST-for-kids CD, THE KIDS ARE ALL ID (2010), won top honors from NAPPA, their Gold Award, was voted a Top Five CD in the NICKELODEON Parents' Picks Awards, and appeared on the Top Ten CDs of 2010 lists of FIDS & KAMILIES, TIME OUT NEW YORK KIDS, ZOOGLOBBLE, OWTK, and FAMILY MAN ONLINE (where it was awarded the #1 slot)! "For all of its ability to capture children's perspectives and parents' experiences this (album) is one of the best I have ever heard. You need to hear it too," raved Family Man Online. The record features all-time classics like Bob Dylan's "Forever Young," "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" (from Porgy & Bess), and "The Derby Ram" (George Washington's favorite folk song) along with original songs like "The Hebrew-Speaking Bear," "The Kid Is All Id," and "Little Bee." There are also three songs based on the classic picture books of Ezra Jack Keats.
“LOQUAT ROOFTOP (2008), Randy’s second kids’ CD, is Kaplan at his best: Memories; images, figurative and literal; sights, sounds… flavors, textures; humor and fun” (KIDSMUSICTHATROCKS.com). Like its predecessor, Loquat Rooftop contains its share of classics, such as Charlie Brown, Move It On Over, and Tomorrow (from Annie) and original songs like No Nothing (the tale of the depraved cat “Nothing” and the hungry monkey “Kqxhc” – you’ll have to hear the song to see how his name’s pronounced!), the eponymous Loquat Rooftop, and The Ladybug Without Spots (after an ill-advised watermelon seed gluing spree a ladybug devoid of polka dots learns to accept her spotless self). “Loquat Rooftop (is a) mixture of blues and folk-rock, laced with good humor and heart” (ZOOGLOBBLE.com) and was voted one of the Top Ten Children’s CDs of 2008 by NPR (NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO) and COOL MOM PICKS. “No Nothing” and “The Ladybug Without Spots” are among the most requested songs on SIRIUS-XM Radio’s Kids Place Live; Randy has also guest-hosted The Absolutely Mindy Show (XM ch. 116) and performed a concert at XM Radio Headquarters in Washington D.C. which has been broadcast several times so far.
“FIVE CENT PIECE (2006) combines a gloriously wacky collection of oldies (and originals)” (NEW YORK MAGAZINE). It features all-time classics like "Over the Rainbow", "Kids" (from Bye Bye Birdie), and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (a good first mantra for children) as well as original songs like "Shampoo Me" (the account of the friendly but demanding shark in the bathtub), "Mosquito Song", and "Roaches" (they're tryin' on your underwear, checkin' out your grocery list, readin' your copy of Metamorphosis).
Randy studied philosophy, writing, and literature at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and at U.C.L.A. He then trained in acting, improvisation, and writing with Scott Bernstein in Los Angeles. Randy’s theater credits include Spring Awakening, Fifty Minutes, and The Fresca Wars. He has also acted in films and on television shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Growing Pains, and A Different World. As a singer and songwriter, he has toured throughout the U.S. and released nine CDs. His most recent, Durango, is comprised of songs he wrote with Brian Schey over the past two decades. Randy and Brian also collaborated on CLEAVE, a musical comedy that was staged at The Boulder International Fringe Festival in Colorado in 2008 and in which Randy co-starred. Randy’s poetry has been published by Ugly Duckling Presse and he is the recipient of several ASCAP awards for his work. He never imagined that so many of his groupies would be under the age of nine!
In addition to his four children's CDs, Randy has released eight others. For the past seven years he has worked with folk and bluegrass master Mike West who produced and recorded Randy's records in Lawrence, Kansas at his Ninth Ward Pickin' Parlor. Here's a breakdown of Randy's eight adult CDs:
“SONGS FOR OLD LOVERS (2011), is a true concept album which pays tribute to some of the earliest concept albums in American pop music history. Randy’s original compositions are responses to songs from the 1930s and 40s, standards recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, and Nat King Cole… There are nods to the songwriting styles of the day throughout, both harmonically and lyrically… Producer Mike West usually works with Randy in a bluegrass/country/folk/blues idiom. But, as evidenced here, these guys can do anything!” (from the liner notes by Montague Z. Young) As AMERICANAS-UK notes, "many of the songs here are melodically almost indistinguishable from some of the stuff churned out by Tin Pan Alley in the first half of the Twentieth Century, replete with touches of vaudeville and lounge-jazz, the philosophy on which the songwriting is based is an outright subversion of the form. Indeed, songs like 'Let's Not Fall In Love' and 'Hard To Love' are outright rejections of the values which such songs typically expressed." The cover of the record features Randy posed as Sinatra on the cover of his "In the Wee Small Hours."
DURANGO (2008), a collection of 11 songs Randy co-wrote with Brian Schey over the past two decades, was released in November 2008. The record is bookended by two jazz/pop piano-based songs, the title track and "No Matter What" (which also appeared on the CD REBORN AS BEES in 1999). There are also skewed rock anthems, Mexican surf numbers, and cabaret-influenced ballads. Brian Schey is an accomplished composer, arranger, and producer who has toured the US and Europe as a bassist with, among others, Dan Bern and Great American Taxi. Randy and Brian have worked together in many styles, from rock to jazz to musical theater.
ANCIENT RUINS (2007) contains several bluegrass numbers - fiddle, banjo, guitar, upright bass and all- but there's also the trademark Kaplan unorthodox ballads and curiously anthemic rock songs. Along with his ten originals, Kaplan covers Nirvana's "On a Plain", Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", and Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" (transforming this old school rap classic into a bluegrass barn burner).
For his CD PERFECT GENTLEMAN (2004) Randy amassed a collection of cheap yard-sale organs. He used their built-in drum samples to create rhythm tracks; he then utilized these rock, jazz, waltz, swing, bossa nova, dixie, cha-cha, and rhumba beats to fashion songs ranging from simply-structured folk and country ballads to torch songs, lampoons, spirituals, and satires. By editing, manipulating, and overlapping the beats from these various 1970's organs Randy transformed the crude and kitschy samples into more polished and developed sounds. At times, though, he just placed a sound 'as is' into a new context. The characters who inhabit these songs often seek to gain mastery over their chronic pathologies, or at least to acknowledge them. These characters include an anti-prophet who asks only that he be given as big a funeral as Jesus and Moses, an overweight middle-aged man who carries around a picture of his shirtless teen-aged self in order to lure women, the ghosts of Edith Wharton and Alexander Hamilton, a trucker driven to prostitutes by southern evangelical radio preachers, and the first human on earth (the hermaphrodite, Eve).
MIRACULOUS DISSOLVING CURES (2001) is a musically rich collection of threnodies and noiresque tales that find Kaplan battling the forces of love and loss as well as the hypocrisy of both the secular and religious worlds. In "Crushed Berries" the narrator laments that his "friends will save a fly from a spiderweb but then they'll order rack of lamb or baby back ribs." In "Volunteers" the ghost of Job's wife rails against G-d for letting her children die "because of some bet, some stupid bet." "Cutty Reel" is the dreamscape of a jilted degenerate; in an attempt to win back his beloved, he tries to buy a voodoo doll of her but finds that they're "all sold out." Stylistically, the record ranges from the quasi-Latin beat of "Crushed Berries" to the hint of electronica in "The Girl Who's Done It All" to the irresistible mix of synthesizer and Spanish guitar throughout "Unpaid Bills". There's also a full-color 12-page CD booklet featuring abstract paintings (by Yasmina Palumbo, Leila Hamilton, Masha Solomon, Lucille Dreyblatt, and others) juxtaposed to the words for each song. MDC was recorded by Colin Mahoney in Lawrence, Kansas. The record also features Brian Schey on bass and Bradford Hoopes on keyboards.
In 1999 Randy released two albums simultaneously, REBORN AS BEES and LAKE CHAMPIONS. Both were recorded at Z'gwon,th Studios in Lawrence, Kansas by Colin Mahoney, who also played drums. BEES was created as a tribute to Randy's father, who died in an automobile accident in the summer of 1997, and as an investigation of grief and hope. It is an eloquently dark and sometimes angry record but it is also universal in its hard-driving and melodic psychological study of loss, unfulfilled love, and the struggle to find second chances. Backed up by a full band, Kaplan opens the album quietly and gently with cautious hope in his voice: "I know the end is near but so is the beginning". He sings about unanswered prayers in "Deaf Ears", of a numb rebounding in "No Matter What", and with paranoid and helpless rage in "Many Times Over" and "Great Disguise". REBORN AS BEES, whose title comes from a Chasidic saying via Martin Buber, is a true concept album- a profound, gallant, and mystical work.
LAKE CHAMPIONS was recorded during the REBORN AS BEES sessions. On a day when Randy didn't feel like working on BEES, he sat down with his guitar and recorded eight songs. He sent the demo to his anarchivist Scott Bernstein who decreed that it must be made into an official album. Randy sat down one more time and recorded eight additional songs. This eclectic record has just about everything: torch songs, ballads, and tales; hope, love, and despair. In "Drunk As Can Be" a southern boozer tries to extricate himself from an addictive relationship. In "I Didn't Buy It", a sympathetic cad second-guesses himself and his dearly disposed. The narrator of "Gold" enjoys requited and true love while in "Robinson Crusoe" a man with a strong sense of entitlement tries to lay down the rules for a lopsided affair. In "Next To You" a woman makes her lover feel like Humbert Humbert and Jack the Ripper. A man visits the seedy bars of his old neighborhood in "Standard Time Chop" and, repulsed, is filled with domestic yearnings. In "G-d's song" a gentle, forthright, practical, and insecure G-d revises his commandments - eliminating circumcision, easing the strictures on sexuality, condoning drug use, and admitting that even He isn't quite sure of what's going on. LAKE CHAMPIONS is a personal and intimate album that touches on all the trademark Kaplan subjects.
In early 1997, Randy recorded BOYISH HIPS at his friend Scott Bernstein's Hollywood apartment on his Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. On the record, his first CD, Randy used guitar, harmonica, piano, Fender Rhodes, and pots & pans as percussion instruments to orchestrate a joyful, Caribbeanesque sound. This deceptively light collection of songs includes "Slow Eater", in which a man denies being a binger and instead blames others for eating too slowly and too sparsely. In "Everyone I See", a man employs skewed logic to defend his inability to commit himself to one woman. "Coach Joe" tells the story of the life and death of a sexual predator. In "Ten Page Letter", a woman demands "action not words" from a man who can do nothing about his feelings but express them in letters. "Send For Our Stuff" is both a love song and a tribute to the naive beauty of Los Angeles (where Randy lived for eight years), seen here as a place where one's innocence may be renewed. The confessional poem "Live Tigers" is set to piano and nylon-string guitar music for the record's final track. This experimental album is full of lyrical and emotional minefields and fraught with neurotic wit, unbridled perplexity, and desperate passions. The narrators of these songs have insatiable cravings for sex, food, love, and, sometimes, self-destruction.
Randy began performing professionally in Los Angeles in 1987. He had moved there to pursue an acting career (which he did, appearing on numerous sit-coms, dramas, commercials, and equity-waiver theatre stages) and took up folk singing on the side. He recorded and performed solo and subsequently with his band "i" which was made up of Randy, Brian Schey on bass, Sherri Solinger on drums, and Byron Thames on piano and organ. The band's diminutive moniker got it left off of billboards from The Roxy to The Troubadour to The Whiskey A-Go-Go. Kaplan often cavorted, frolicked, and/or performed with fellow L.A. songwriters of the time Dan Bern, Eleni Mandell, Andras Jones, Stephanie Naifeh, Julia Albert, Stuart Pearson, Danny Peck, Fran Banish, Kevin Ray, Danielle Harrison, Chuck E. Weiss, Steve Isaacs, Darlene "The Raven" Sovran, and others. Randy left Los Angeles in 1993 and spent time in New Orleans where he first met and performed with Mike West, Myshkin, and Gina Forsyth. In 1994 Randy moved to the East Village in New York city and continued recording demos, playing at Sin-e, The Living Room, and The Sidewalk Cafe (and occasionally touring), appearing on bills with the likes of Lach, Jeff "Lighting" Lewis, Major Matt Mason USA, Andrew Vladeck, Shawn Mullins, Cheryl Wheeler, and his West Coast and Deep South gangs.
After a few years of drifting back and forth between California and New York, Kaplan's Kansas stint began. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas from 1999 until 2001 when he moved back to Long Island. In 2003 Randy found a dog, Virginia Halfwolf, on the Long Island Expressway and settled in Brooklyn, New York. It was there that he fell into the kids' music racket. In 2008 Randy gave up his Park Slope apartment and vagabonded around the US, staying mostly in Los Angeles, California (on the floor of his famed anarchivist Scotch Burnside); Lyons, Colorado (with Gyspy Jazzers Brian Schey & Erin Humphrey); and New York City & Long Island with family & friends. After a 4,000 mile two-week drive from New York to California via Florida in December of 2008 Randy began searching for a place to live in Los Angeles. In February of aught-nine he succeeded and moved to LA's Koreatown. This past year, Randy married Julie May of the Michigan Mays, had a baby boy (Ryland Steven), and moved to the Carthay Square neighborhood of Los Angeles with his fledgling family!
Randy is mostly a one-man show these days but is occasionally joined by his friends Ryan Thompson on drums, Andrew Innes on saxophone, saw, and harmonica, Jody Burr on larynx, Adrian Varnum on violin, and sometimes even the reclusive Gago on the Venezuelan Channel Organ.