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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the January 22, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Peter Karp: Blues Romance
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Peter Karp and his
band, Peter Karp’s Roadshow, are a breath of fresh air on the Garden
State blues club circuit. Karp counts Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs as influences,
as well as the more solidly blues-based influences one might expect:
Freddie King, Albert King, B.B. King, and James Brown.
"I get a lot of my creative side from my mother and a lot of my
gutsy, crazy side from my father," Karp explains between sets
at a recent show at the Old Bay in New Brunswick. Karp’s father was
a World War II fighter pilot who became a POW. His dad later went
to the work for the U.S. government, training helicopter pilots during
the Vietnam War. His mother worked her way up at J. Walter Thompson
Advertising Agency in New York City and became the agency’s creative
"Growing up, I had a fairly schizophrenic existence, moving from
a northern New Jersey suburban town like Leonia to Enterprise, Alabama,"
he says. While his father was down in Alabama working for the Department
of Defense, his mother would visit on weekends and holidays while
keeping her job in New York City
"Living in Alabama in a trailer park gave me a view of a different
side of the South," he says. "I remember my mom didn’t care
too much for the trailer park, but my dad loved it because he was
an outdoors type."
Karp, 43, said his first awareness of the blues did
not come about in Alabama, but in suburban Leonia and New York City.
"As a kid, my mother took me to see all the great acts of the
1960s at the Brooklyn Paramount, the Apollo, and other great places.
My mom was really into music. She grew up liking swing music. We saw
the Temptations, The Supremes — she wasn’t intimidated at all
by the racial thing or the generation gap that was going on in the
’60s," he says.
"My first introduction to blues was T-Bone Walker, Freddie King,
and later, the British Invasion. The Stones immediately led my sister
and me into the music of Muddy Waters and the original stuff."
In addition to his mother, he also cites as a music influence the
family nanny, Ruth Turner, an African-American woman from South Carolina.
"Ruth Turner had a profound impact on my life, because she raised
me as much as my mother did," he recalls. "She took me to
see Reverend Ike and to the black churches in New York, and she always
had the black stations playing on the radio at home. The African-American
and gospel music was always pumping," he recalls. One day his
mother took himand his siblings to the Apollo Theater to see James
"We were the only whites in the theater," he recalls. "I
saw the Beatles and I saw James Brown, and don’t get me wrong, I love
the Beatles, but I don’t think anybody can top the young James Brown!"
Karp began playing guitar in his early teens. He attended Rider College
for a year, and then New York University’s Film School, but never
graduated from either place, "because I was never very good at
sitting in classrooms." For the last 15 years, he has run his
own film production company, Total Picture, from an office on West
20th Street in Manhattan.
Karp is usually accompanied at his live shows by Danny Pagdon, bass,
Dave Keyes, keyboards and accordion, drummer Paul Hernandez, and harmonica
player Dennis Gruenling. At clubs Karp will freely mix his original
songs into sets that include selections from Willie Dixon, Dylan,
Buddy Guy, and Elmore James.
Although Karp has two unofficial CDs — live recordings intended
to get more work for the Roadshow band — he is especially excited
about his forthcoming self-titled debut CD, "Peter Karp’s Roadshow,"
and the one he is recording now with Tony Bennett’s son, producer
Dae Bennett, at the Bennetts’ new recording studios in Englewood.
Of his new recording project, which he has been doing piecemeal at
Bennett’s studios, Karp says, "I’ve been fortunate in that Dae
is a kindred spirit. We’re very good friends and he’s a part of the
whole process." Karp hopes to have his next CD distributed nationally
through Gruenling’s Piscataway-based BackBender Records.
"The reason it’s taking me such a long time is because I invariably
end up writing new tunes in the studio, and then I end up with 20
or 24 basic tracks, and you have to pare those down," he says.
Karp says the CD, which should out by summer, is tentatively titled
"House Full Of Love." The blues-based album will cover "the
idealism of romance to the tragedy of a fallen love affair."
Karp has great concern for and very definite ideas about the future
of the blues.
"This new album stretches the blues paradigm and blues form to
other areas, which I think is really the key to the survival of the
music. It has to keep evolving," he says.
Although he began writing his own songs in grade school, Karp admits,
"I really didn’t find my songwriting voice until I was in my early
30s. I needed time to travel and to live."
"I know a lot of musicians who say, `Yeah, I’m working on this
and putting this together and working on a record deal.’ And I’ll
say, `Well, what have you got? Where are the songs?’ And they’ll say,
`Well, I’m working on them!’ And I say, `You’ve got to understand;
it works the other way around. All that other stuff will fall into
place if you believe in what you’re doing and have your songs together
and worked out.’ "
"Real songwriting is about life experience and interpreting what
happens to you and what happens around you," says Karp. "You
really have to live and feel and throw yourself out there emotionally
— and not be afraid to take a beating now and again. Then the
songs start to surface."
— Richard J. Skelly
Church Street, New Brunswick, 732-246-3111. $5 cover. Saturday,
January 25, 10 p.m.
Road, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 215-489-3535. Saturday, February
1, 10 p.m.
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