Interview - Richard Klein
April 2006: Richard Klein(Vol.2 No.4)
Interview recorded by S.Kenan on 18/02/06
was nineteen years old when I set off for what was intended as a three
year trip around the world with my fiddle and back pack. …first the
Eastern seaboard of Canada, rich in it's Scottish, Irish and French
musical traditions, then over to England, Ireland, Scotland and all of
the Scottish isles in search of fiddlers, fiddle tunes and adventure."
Klein had just cooked up a delicious 'Gumbo' at the 2006 Fiddler's
Convention. The Camp Eureka kitchen wood fired stoves were put to good
use stewing up huge pots of the traditional stew, a spicy chicken and
rice stew of the Cajun community in southern America. As well as being a
Cajun style fiddle player Richard also is a chef back in New Zealand
where he and his wife Maria run the Italian winebar and retsaurant
'Maria Pia's Trattoria'. Richard had earlier on that day run a Cajun
fiddle workshop and that evening had led the Cajun dance, singing,
playing the fiddle and leading the band, all at the same time. Later on
in the evening, after everyone had eaten, I sat down with Richard to
record this interview for the Fiddle News.
Q. Do you need to eat Gumbo in order to become a good Cajun fiddler?
reckon it helps. Its like maybe you know, do you have to be a good
dancer in order to be a good fiddler? It helps you enter into the spirit
of the music and the culture above all and the links between music and
food are many and ancient. Food is very intimate, like music and
language. You are curious and you are interested and somehow music and
food are those things, that even as a complete outsider, you can embrace
and be completely be captivated by very quickly, even if its not your
culture. You may have grown up eating or listening to things that were
very different but you discover these tastes and sounds and its like
'Wow, a new world'. The Cajuns are fiercely proud of their unique
culture which is expressed through their language, their music and their
dancing and food.
Q. What area of America are you talking about?
Cajuns are from south west Louisiana. The story of the Acadian people is a long and sad tale of exodus and forced emigration.
Q. From France?
From France they chose to immigtate to Canada to what is now Nova
Scotia and were settlers there. In the mid eighteenth century, after the
French and Indian wars, the English took possession of those lands and
they were presented with an ultimatum basically which was to pledge
allegiance to the Church of England or not. They chose not, they were
devout Catholics. They called themselves the Acadians and from that word
came Cajun. They were forcibly taken from their homes with many
horrific stories of wells being poisoned. They were shipped down to the
Caribbean where died like flies. They were basically decimated and
almost made extinct.
The Governor of Louisiana then offered them
land and that how they ended up in that part of Louisiana. Being a very
resilient people, they were fishermen and farmers, they created their
corner of the world and flourished. I'm not a Cajun, I just have a lot
of love for their culture and discovered it when I was pretty young. To
get back to your original question, music and food and language are the
keys, personally anyway, the keys to discovering cultures and that's how
I got into Cajun music but I play other kinds of fiddle music as well. I
got into fiddle music quite young, about fifteen.
Q. Were you trained in Classical violin?
wasn't. Like a lot of American kids I was obliged to learn a musical
instrument and they got me playing the string bass in the school
orchestra because they needed one. I detested it after a while because I
just had to count the whole time and at a certain point, I think I was
about sixteen, I just did not like it and I wanted to just learn the
fiddle and I don't know how because I didn't come from a musical family,
so I didn't hear fiddle music.
The whole folk revolution was
happening and Woodstock which had its little element of folk in it of
traditional music. That's the first time I heard fiddle music and I said
"That's it. That's what I want to play." The first time I really heard a
fiddle that just made me feel like this is really what I want to do was
from a 'New Lost City Ramblers' album with Mike Seeger on fiddle. This
was the first time I heard Cajun music and I was only about seventeen. I
had been experimenting with singing with the fiddle. It was not too
successful an experiment but I was mesmerised and I heard Mike Seeger
with Tracy Schwartz I think, The 'New Lost City Ramblers' anyway and
they played a couple of Cajun numbers where they played on two fiddles
and they sung in harmonies. Mike Seeger played the fiddle and the
harmonica in harmony and when he wasn't playing the harmonica he would
sing, and I heard him sing some Cajun songs and he sang 'Don't let your
Deal go Down' and that was a life altering experience. That was it, I
wanted to become a singing fiddler.
I then met a man who was from
my same home town of South Orange, Maplewood New Jersey and his name's
Andy Arleo, he moved to France but he was a phenomenal musician and
folklorist actually. Now he was the first person I met who could play a
fiddle tune from start to finish. I tried learning from some recordings,
I had nobody you know. Sheet music yes but it didn't work. I took some
lessons with a guy but he was a classically trained violinist and his
approach' typical of many classical musicians was, well that's fine but
you need to learn how to play it 'right' and then you can learn how to
play it 'wrong.'
He tried to impose on me learning Bach and
things. I was fifteen, I didn't want to know about it, I wanted to learn
to play the fiddle so it didn't last that relationship. Then I kind of
mucked around on my own and I found musician friends and people who were
playing Old Timey tunes when I was about sixteen, seventeen. We had a
good time but I didn't have any fiddler I could look up to and then
there was this guy Andy. He came back on a visit from France and he
really inspired me. Inspired me not only to play fiddle but take off and
travel with my fiddle so that became my goal in life and I made that
happen by the time I was twenty years of age. I had worked for three
years and saved up a lot of money so I left home and quit my job.
1977 I took off. At that time I was really attracted to the whole
Celtic world. I had heard the 'Boys of the Lough' play and I really got
into Irish music, like most people I guess. You have your relationship
with Irish music, in this case it lasted a few years, I won't say it was
a fling but I never really quite embraced it. I don't know if its
because I was too young or musically immature. I went and lived in
Ireland and I worked in Ireland and travelled and stuff and recorded
amazing players. I tried learning the tunes but I'm getting ahead of
When I left in 1977 I went to the East Coast of Canada to
Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia. I busked around the streets and met
all these amazing fiddlers and started learning the Cape Breton fiddle
music. From there after about six months I went across the Atlantic and
went to the U.K. and through England to Ireland. From Christmas 1977
till about the Autumn 1978 I travelled all around Ireland and the
British Isles, Shetland. I was finding sessions and finding people and
recording them and getting into their kitchens, getting back to the link
When I was in Shetland I heard this group of Swedish
musicians and that was another awesome experience. I don't know whether
you listen to Swedish fiddle music but it is really amazing because you
get big numbers of fiddles playing together and they are all playing
these different harmonies and they are improvising. They use different
kind of chord structures, they go a lot from major to minor.
first time I heard Swedish fiddle music it completely blew me away. I
ended up going there and living there a long time, I learned to speak
Swedish, I was convinced I was going to live there the rest of my life.
In Sweden I discovered some of the best fiddlers were amazing dancers.
That is one thing I have to say, is that the Scandinavian tradition
really ingrained into me the fact that it is such a dance culture.
Q. What is your favourite instrument?
favourite instrument is the fiddle in harmonies. There is something
that touches deep in the soul for me when I hear fiddles playing in
harmony. Particularly the harmonies and that is why I kind of drifted
away from Irish music, there are no harmonies, they are only incidental.
I have been to these places in Scandinavia where its their tradition
and the tunes are very local and they are named after the villages and
you will have hundreds of fiddles together and they will all play the
same tune as part of a ceremony to open or close the event. You will
have three hundred fiddles, hundreds of fiddles playing this tune. It
even happens when you have three or five fiddles playing together and
that to me is the greatest, fiddles in harmony.
I will confess, if its not fiddles then it's the soprano sax.