Playing around the Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin area, the Kaplan Brothers released their first album, The Universal Sounds Of The Kaplan Brothers, on their own Kap Records imprint in 1969. At that point the Chicago-based duo consisted of brothers Richard (aka Dick, guitar and lead vocals) and Ed (percussion and flute), backed on their recording by guitarist Scott Klynas and bassist Jeff Czech. Very hairy, very Jewish (their first two albums both feature covers of Hava Nagila), very oddball, the Kaplan sound mixes spaghetti western whistles with South American congas and a splash of Greenwich Village folk.
For a while the two brothers performed on stage by Larry Andies (bass and backing vocals), before teaming up with younger brother John and issuing a second album, the much more pedestrian lounge folk collection The Kaplan Brothers which features three Beatles covers amongst its tracks. It’s a record that, according to Dick Kaplan himself ‘Hasn't gotten any better over the years’.
For their third – and last – album the boys shot off in an altogether different direction: quite literally. In early 1974 they relocated to California and, a year later, issued their magnum opus Nightbird, a mellotron-drenched slice of kitsch like nothing else you have ever heard in your life. Timothy Ready, on his blog The Progressive Rock Hall of Imfamy, described it rather well when he called it ‘Yom Kippur and Purim combined, in one mega-dose of cheese’.
Nightbird is a classic of wrongness, a prog-rock nightmare which is so gloriously perverse it somehow works. A song suite of sorts, Nightbird even includes a hideous (and hysterical) cover of the King Crimson classic Epitaph and an overwrought reworking of the Jose Feliciano song Rain. Small wonder that the Acid Archives called Nightbird ‘The ultimate lounge-rock extravaganza. A self-proclaimed 'electric symphony' that mixes Ennio Morricone with King Crimson as recorded by a Holiday Inn/bar mitzvah band from outer space. Crooner vocals soar on top of overly-elaborate keyboard arrangements as the music abruptly throws you from one intense mood into another in true psychedelic fashion.’ Although uncredited on the record, the title track Night Bird was written by Larry Andies. According to Kaplan Brothers’ fan James Webster (writing on Bad Cat Records in 2011), Larry ‘was also the composer of most of their original music’.
You need to hear this record. In fact for a couple of quid you can own a CD reissue of it. Search eBay for a copy of the (less than 100% legit) Erebus Records release from around 2009: I found my copy for 99p plus postage! You won’t regret it. But for now, here’s a couple of tracks to whet your appetite, the aforementioned Epitaph and the nutso album closer He, a rewrite (of sorts) of the folk classic He Was A Friend of Mine. As a bonus, I’ve also added a track from each of the Brothers’ earlier albums: Running Scared from The Universal Sounds Of The Kaplan Brothers and, from their second album The Kaplan Brothers, their batshit crazy interpretation of Eleanor Rigby.