Fats Kaplin – Groove and vibe
ND: And you’ve worked steadily with a variety of people.
FK: I recorded with the Scorchers on Clear Impetuous Morning and I’ve worked with Jason [Ringenberg] on most all of his records as well, including the Farmer Jason projects, as has my wife Kristi Rose. I also got called to go work with the Tractors and there was a big huge tour.
ND: You and Kristi have been married for quite awhile, haven’t you?
FK: We’ve been married for twelve years. I knew Kristi Rose when she had the band the Midnight Walkers and was very big in New York City. We were kind of in that same circuit, and we were both on Rounder Records. I was playing with the Mavericks at the Bluebird in Nashville and Kristi came, and I recognized her and she kind of recognized me. I ended up doing a couple of shows with her, and we got to talking and this and that and being expatriate New Yorkers. The next thing you know we’ve been married for 12 years, and have worked and put out some records. We have a new one that’s coming out in a couple of months.
ND: You are most known for being a multi-instrumentalist. What do you consider to be your main instrument?
FK: I don’t really have one; I prefer to be thought of as a musician instead being defined by an instrument. For example, there are steel guitar players who are defined by their instrument. They are specialists. I never sought out to become a specialist. I never sought out to become a multi-instrumentalist either, meaning I never picked up an instrument thinking that this would be a good double.
Any instrument I play, I play because I became interested in it. Button accordion was very much that way. I never had any idea that one day I would be recording with it. I just wanted to play some early Tex-Mex music.
I’m very comfortable on fiddle since it is the one I have played the longest. With Kane, Welch, & Kaplin, I end up playing a fair amount of electric guitar, kind of in a Pops Staples type of style. Pops is probably one of my main influences. The sound of his is just the coolest sound. I don’t know if there is anything better than that. There might be something different, but not better. He had very cool tone.
ND: Any instrument endorsements?
FK: No. I have an Elixir string endorsement. My instruments are so divergent that I’ve never really had one. I play the oud and the baglama from Turkey — not a lot of endorsement deals available there. I play an Emmons steel guitar, but I’ve played other steel guitars. My Emmons was made for me back in 1980. I have two German fiddles, one made in 1923 and the other in 1926. Right now I am playing a Phoenix mandolin made by Rolfe Gerhardt, a very interesting make, a double cutaway much like what Jethro Burns used to play. It’s a great instrument.
As far as guitars go, I have kind of a goofy assortment; Kays, a couple of Martins. On the road with Kane, Welch, & Kaplin I wind up playing a small Kay parlor guitar with an old Bill Lawrence pickup. Joe Glaser and I worked out a way to kind of hang it from the sound hole and it’s a very quirky instrument. It’s the cheapest little parlor Kay that they ever made; it’s a plywood guitar, kind of a piece of junk really, with a really nice neck and a good pickup. It plays really well and has a funky sound, a lot like a resonator guitar. I have a Martin D-18V that I will use running through various things.
ND: What do you get the most call for as far as session work goes?
FK: Occasionally I’ll get called in to do button accordion stuff; somebody is doing a record for a major label and they want some Tex-Mex accordion on one song. I’ve done that a few times. Mostly I get called in to do fiddle and steel and mandolin, and maybe dobro or something else, just to be a general utility player. It’s worked out pretty well. If one thing doesn’t get me work, something else does.
ND: What about the cooking? I keep hearing references to your cooking.
FK: I really love to cook. I kind of studied on my own, Italian cooking. Last night I went down to North Alabama where Kristi Rose’s brother and family lives, and for his birthday I made a rustic pasta with a gorgonzola sauce.
I’ve cooked since I was a kid; I’ve always really liked to cook. I cooked quite a bit of Chinese stuff growing up. My mother taught art in junior high school in Chinatown for 25 years, so we were around Chinatown quite a bit, around the real Chinese; also around the real Italian cooking.
I’ve been to Italy a whole bunch and would study regional cooking, using local styles and ingredients. I always say that I would have loved to have been a chef…but that’s because I never was one. I hear people say, “I wish I was a professional musician or a songwriter.” That’s because you are not one. It’s not as fun when it’s your job.
ND: What is your preferred music? What is it that just grabs you and won’t let go? Is it still the string band stuff of your youth?
FK: I have to say I really love, and have always loved the early string band and earlier blues more than anything else. I love those early recordings of Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers; that stuff is just fantastic. But I think somewhere along the way bluegrass became too structured. It became, “This is what it is, these are the instruments you have to use, this is how you have to play it.” It’s very tightly structured, and that’s one of the things that draws some people to it, where with the early string bands and jug bands, there wasn’t any “right way” to do things.
ND: How would you describe your musical style? Do you have a musical philosophy?
FK: A while back, Kristi Rose and I were driving through Memphis on our way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to go hang out and record with Steve Ripley. We found this great Memphis station that was playing regional dance hits. It was so cool. Some of them weren’t very good. They might have been poorly recorded, or something similar, but they were all hits in the local areas. Kristi looks at me and says, “It’s all groove and vibe.”
That’s all it is. It’s just a vibe and a groove; everything else is secondary. That’s the answer to everything: groove and vibe.