May 1998

Fred Kaplan - Signifyin'
Blue Collar Records BCM7109
Limited Gold Label Edition
Released: 1998

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]During another life, I lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for about three years. On selected weekends, my wife and I would steal away to New Orleans in search of great live music and great food. There is no shortage of either in the French Quarter. During those times, in addition to eating some of the finest food anywhere on the face of this earth, we had the good fortune of enjoying wonderful live performances by world-class musicians in very small, intimate venues. One such performance that is indelibly etched upon my mind occurred one evening with the great Dr. John at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. That night, the Dr.’s mastery of the piano was so complete, so natural, that the accompanying musicians and the audience were drawn into the music in a way that transcended the physical experience. There was something spiritual, mystical, going on in that room.

I have never again experienced that sense of connection with a blues piano performance, live or otherwise, until I listened to Fred Kaplan's Signifyin'. "Four Thirty-One A.M. Blues" is a knock-down, drop-dead, masterful example of the blues piano at its absolute best. This is a sit-up-and-take-notice performance of an exceptionally well-written piece of music. "Fred's Blues" builds to a rhythmic crescendo that will shake you down, slap you around and leave you wanting more. I can't begin to describe all the great tracks on this CD. If I did that this review would be far too long because every track is fabulous. Fred Kaplan is a piano virtuoso, a killer on the keys. He is a very special and gifted musician who conveys emotion, soul and spirit with every note.

Kaplan is both a classically trained and self-taught pianist who started playing at the tender age of three. His inspiration for the blues came early in life, when at only 16 he began to listen to Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Charles Brown and Floyd Dixon. During the ‘70s, Kaplan was a member of the Hollywood Fats Band, a group that would become legendary on the active Southern California blues scene.

On Signifyin’, Kaplan is supported by first-class musical talent. Hollywood Fats Band alumni Larry Taylor plays a vicious upright bass and Richard Innes on the drums is tight and hard driving. In addition to the outstanding music on this CD, audiophiles get an extra treat. The sonic caliber of this recording is of true audiophile quality. Blue Collar Music states in its liner notes that its musical recordings are, "live to gimmicks, no tricks, just good, natural music." Further, they note that "all tracks recorded live and mixed in HI-FI MONO directly to a special Ampex two track machine." I can tell you that in my system, Freddie and the boys were right there with me. The sound could not have been more natural and palpable. On every track, the soundstage was dimensionally accurate with the instruments in very precise placement. I kept turning the volume up higher and higher with every song. This is damn good music!

I hope that by now, you have gotten the picture that Signifyin' is the musical equivalent of legal addiction. You need to go out and get this CD so that you too can enjoy the euphoria. This is the finest blues piano performance and recording that I have heard on the CD media. Check out Blue Collar Music's website at