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Interview: Peter Karp

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The world is full of paradoxes. You'd think life could never be dull if you have a short attention span. I've found that not to be the case. Short attention spans are only one of my many charming qualities, but it's the one I've been thinking about this morning. It's easy to get excited about something only to cast it aside moments later. Today's "it" becomes yesterday's "what?" or "huh?" so fast, a process being eased every day with technological advances. That was a little too Ted Kaczynski for me. See, I'm already getting off the track here. I don't blame technology- in fact, I don't even really want to talk about technology.

I wanted to talk about a life spent racing from one thing to the next, too often forgetting what came immediately before. Some people savor life. They stop, look around, and take notice. They pause to take it all in. That's not me. Sometimes I gorge, sometimes I nibble, but I rarely stop long enough to take it all in. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I listen to music. I listened obsessively to Counting Crows for the days leading up to and immediately following my interview with Adam Duritz. I briefly gulped down Dan Wilson's Free Life before doing the interview with him. I haven't listened to much besides Bruce Springsteen since seeing him in Atlanta. I have an interview with Glen Phillips scheduled this week. Gee, I wonder if I'll get into a Glen/Toad the Wet Sprocket phase.

I don't know if this is a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the septic tank or if I'm really going about this all wrong, but that's me. I get tossed and thrown about and I land how and where I land and I never feel like I have all that much control over any of it (although that doesn't stop me from trying). Sometimes when the moment ends and I move on I never come back. Other times — intentionally, subconsciously, or coincidentally — there are enough bread crumbs strewn about for me to find my way back to places worth a revisit.

I got an e-mail from the press contact who first turned me on to Peter Karp yesterday letting me know Peter was playing a show down the road in Birmingham on Monday. That e-mail set off a chain reaction. The first thing that happened is that I stopped listening to the Mudcrutch CD I'm trying to review. The second thing I did was to start talking to TheWifeToWhomI'mMarried about arrangements to go to Birmingham Monday night. Thirdly, I remembered that I never did go back and transcribe my interview with Peter at the end of last year. I'd tell you I don't know how that happened, but I think I just did. Life moves fast and I get moved with it, sometimes against my will. Fortunately, I have a trail of bread crumbs that actually lead somewhere.


"I walked away because I was very young. I walked away because I was… smart," said Peter Karp, on why he walked away from his first band. That, combined with having a young family, kept him off the road for the better part of a decade. "I got married young and had a couple of kids quickly and I just decided that the two do not mix," said Karp.

He didn't stop working altogether but music became a part-time gig. When he was ready, his path back to working as a full-time musician took him to some strange places and brought him in contact with some of the legends of the music world. He spent time learning from Willie Dixon, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Pinetop Perkins, who he'd met a few months prior to our interview.

"I said, 'Man, I'm a big fan and you're terrific,'" said Karp. "He (Perkins) said to me, 'I'm 92-years old.' I said, 'Yeah, I know.' He said, 'No, you don't understand. I'm 92-years old!' That's all he kept saying to me. He said, 'I'm alive. I can't believe it!' He's really a lot of fun. He's a great guy."

From Perkins, he got a great story. From Lockwood Jr., he got a unique perspective. Robert Lockwood Jr. is the stepson of blues icon Robert Johnson. Johnson actually taught Lockwood how to play guitar. Karp said he's been working on a book and a lot of what he'd written to that point had to do with the time he got to spend with Lockwood.

"His whole philosophy was really interesting. The first time I ever met him, he saw me and I was wearing a certain kind of clothing and he came over and he sat down and he took my hand and pulled me real close and he (Lockwood) said, 'You're a musician, ain't ya?' I said, 'Yes, I am.' He said 'I can tell.'

"He said to me, 'I love musicians because we're exposed. We're exposed to everything. We're exposed to beauty. We're exposed to love.' He pointed to some liquor and he said, 'We're exposed to that.' He pointed at a couple guys getting high and said, 'We're exposed to that.' And he said, 'You know what happens when you're exposed? You learn something… unless you're just goddamn stupid and then you don't learn nothin' at all.'"

In addition to getting to spend time talking with some greats, he also had the opportunity to work with one of them in the form of former Rolling Stones lead guitarist Mick Taylor. Taylor played on his 2004 record The Turning Point.

"He came over and recorded with me and we toured and I released a CD and we had a great time and he went back to England," said Karp. "Mick is one of those guys who, like a Charlie Parker or like a Robert Johnson, he's so underrated because he's had a bit of an odd career because of popularity or making great career moves but he's insanely brilliant. He's one of those guys you can put in a situation and he'll start to play and he has no idea what he's playing and he just- you just go on this journey with him. He can play a half an hour and never repeat himself. It's pretty incredible.

"Rolling Stone (magazine) came out with a list of Top 100 guitarists and he wasn't on there. That's an indication of what Rolling Stone is now. In all fairness, I think a lot of people forgot about him but he's a brilliant, brilliant (player)."

Karp said he went through some difficult times after the release of The Turning Point and found himself drifting. During that time he came to the attention of two guys trying to start up a new label. Their music credentials didn't impress him but he was willing to keep an open mind.

"They signed an act out of England where four of the guys were Turkish and one guy was British and they put together this huge record," he said. "So they said to me we'd like to sign you to our new label. We have this producer in Turkey we want you to work with.

"I asked the one guy, 'What do you do?' One guy said he worked on Wall Street. The other guy was in investment banking. I said, 'You guys have a lot of money.' They said yes and said, 'Good. You've come to the right place.' I said send me to Turkey. So I packed a duffle bag and spent two weeks in Turkey. I worked with this terrific guy named DJ Kambo in the southern part of Turkey, only about 400 miles from the Iraqi border actually, said Karp. "I stayed in this little town and worked in his house and at the time I was smoking cigarettes and I'll tell you what- that's the place you want to smoke cigarettes, Turkey. Everybody smokes cigarettes and drinks coffee."

Karp was impressed with DJKambo as a producer and his ability to capture and create sounds. They did a lot of demos together, many of which he liked. The two of them shared a bond of music and cigarettes. What they didn't share was a common language.

"He'd say, 'I don't understand English, man. I don't care about the words, man,'" said Karp. It made the working relationship strange because lyrics are a major focus of his music. The would-be record company men loved what they heard when Karp returned from Turkey, but he didn't up signing with them.

"I had to admit I really liked it but then I sat back and said, 'This isn't me,'" he said. "It was just too over the top. I never signed a deal with them and we parted ways."

It wasn't a total loss. He came away with an appreciation for a part of the world he'd never seen. "The Turkish people are lovely people, wonderful people, warm people."

He also came out of the whole deal with a slew of new songs, some of which would later surface when he did sign a record deal; this time with Blind Pig. Shadows and Cracks was released in 2007 and is a spectacular mix of blues, folk, rock, country, honky tonk, and more and has received rave reviews (and not just from me).

"I think Blind Pig is responsible- well not responsible- they helped me shape the record in terms of what to put on there," said Karp. "I have a lot of material–more than I know what to do with at this point."

With all that material, Karp has already given some thought to what the next record might sound like. "I think this next record is going to be even more scaled down and very raw," he said. "I'm into the raw." In addition to that, Karp is also working on a duet record with blues guitarist and songwriter Sue Foley on a project that could become something of a "he said/she said" sort of record.

In the meantime, he's still out on the road promoting Shadows and Cracks.

Peter Karp Tour Dates
05/05/2008 Birmingham, AL
05/09/2008 Jefferson LA
05/10/2008 Hattiesburg, MS

06/02/2008 Rockland, ME
06/10/2008 Ridgefield, CT
06/14/2008 Williamsville, NY
06/14/2008 Buffalo, NY

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Simpson

    Exactly. Peter Karp is awesome…an amazing combination of good blues music, great guitar, wonderful lyrics and a great sense of humor. Shadows and Cracks was great!

    I think all Peter’s fans should hear it, once they hear it, I think they will recognize a kindred spirit.

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