Karp jams at Dykstra park with blues, folk and rock extravaganza

| 31 Aug 2017 | 09:36

By Laurie Gordon
SPARTA — Peter Karp loves New Jersey, In particular, he loves Sussex and Warren counties because that's where his music really took off. Now a highly reputed musician who tours around the world, Karp returns to play in Sparta as part of the Summer Concert Series every year as he did on Friday night.
“This is home. This is where I got my start. These are my roots and it's great to play with my original band when I'm back here,” he said.
Karp is a story teller who does it through his music. And it's really good music and all original. His tunes are an intoxicating combination of electrifying rock, blues and folk. He regaled the audience of several hundred at Dykstra Park with a combination of his older, more well-known music and some new tunes that will be on the CD he'll release in January.
In addition to singing, Karp plays a mean slide guitar and is brilliant on the keyboard. Some of his songs are happy, some are sad and some bring life lessons such as the one about secretes which choruses: “some things are best taken to the grave.” The way Karp introduced his band is another one of his hallmarks. He spins a yarn about a car he had that he hadn't started for a long time. He tried to “start” the car with his keyboard but couldn't. Next, his guitarist tried with some chords, but he couldn't either. Next up was the bass player. Again, he failed. Finally, with all due pomp and circumstance, Karp introduced his drummer who jammed out and “started the old car.” They ended the song with everyone playing.
Karp was born in Leonia, New Jersey. His father John J. Karp was a military pilot and his mother Ruth Downing Karp was a copywriter and avid music fan. His stepmother Ruth Turner was an African American woman from the lowlands of South Carolina. By the time he was eight, his biological mother had taken him and his sister into the city to see many of the popular musicians of the day. (James Brown, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, etc.) At nine he lived with his father in a trailer park in Southern Alabama. It was there that he first heard southern “race” radio playing artists like Sun House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf as well as regional country music out of Montgomery and Nashville. Later, Karp's love for this music would lead him to Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and the other rock luminaries of the 50’s and 60’s. He started to play the accordion at seven, the guitar and piano at 15.
When Karp was 16, he saw Bruce Springsteen play at The Bottom Line in New York City. “I had the chance to stand in front of him and hear him sing about all the places I knew in New Jersey. It was very powerful to hear him sing about running away to the Jersey Shore when I was doing just that,” Karp said. “It was that concert that forged me on and made it clear to me that I knew exactly what I was meant to do: write and perform music.”
Karp began his professional music career as a songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist with the critically acclaimed, seminal art-blues-punk band “They Came From Houses,” a mainstay in the stable of “The Underground Music Venue” managed by former Rolling Stones/Yardbird manager Georgio Gramalski. Playing NYC’s lower east side venues like The Mudd Club, Folk City and a favorite of CBGB owner Hilly Crystal (who described the sound as surf-punk-distorted blues, they opened and shared the stage with Marshall Crenshaw, Mink Deville, The Toasters, John Hammond Jr., The Stray Cats, George Thorogood, and David Johanson. While receiving much critical acclaim and offered a recording contract, Karp became disillusioned with the music business and creatively unhappy. He folded the band, walked away and married the lead singer, Mary Lou Bonney.
After leaving a commercially promising music career, he spent the next 10 years raising a family, traveling, and working in the film industry. Along the way, he worked as an editor with some film makers with which he shared a creative connection – most notably, Oscar-winning underground film director, Emile D’Antonio. He also continued working in music, directing, producing and playing with musicians Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Johnson, Van Walls, Don Henley, Michael Brecker, Richie Havens, The Jacksons, Ric Ocasik and Jackson Brown.
“I wandered around a while but in 1998 returned to performing with a new perspective. That year he made “Live At The American Roadhouse” a poorly recorded but exciting live collection of original songs that included “Moments,” a song that would be picked up and re-recorded for a national commercial for JVC. In 2000 Karp released “Roadshow” on the Indie Blues label BackBender. Though a small label with limited distribution, Karp received his first of many positive national reviews as a songwriter. In 2003 Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor became aware of Peter after a DJ had sent him some rough recordings of songs. The result was Taylor flying to the US to play guitar on Peter’s next recording “The Turning Point.” Taylor also toured with Peter during that time.
After a year of heavy touring in support of the album, fate intervened when Karp's wife of 27 years was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.
“She had complained of some back pain,” he said. “Then it got worse, then the doctor told us what was causing it. It was all so surreal You know, the kind of thing that happens to other people but not to you.”
Karp quit the road to spend the last remaining months of her life with her and their children.
In the midst of a busy touring life, the tapes of the live recording at The Bottom Line in NYC with Mick Taylor turned up and early in 2016, Karp released the tracks on an album called “The Arson’s Match.” The album is part of a charity project that he started in honor of his late wife, Mary Lou, to raise funds for Ovarian Cancer Research. He performed the album's namesake song, The Arson's Match, on Friday.
These days, Karp tours all over the world and has bands in Italy and Germany. There have been highs and lows to his career but now, he said, “I'm on the path I've worked for all of my life and it's a really good one.”
To budding artists, Karp's advice is, “Sometimes music can be frustrating or you go through a time when your writing is stale. You have to keep working through it and follow your dreams.”
If you missed Karp on Friday, he'll be in Piedmont, NY, on September 8th and in Tuckertown, NJ, on September 9th. After that, you'll have to head to Germany to see him for the next few months. For further information about Karp's music, visit www.PeterKarp.com.
The Sparta Concert Series, which plans to return next year, is a labor of love driven by Stewart Liebman and committee members.
“We raise most of our money from local sponsors,” Liebman said, “And this has been going on every summer for over 30 years.” He added, “I love music, and it's a pleasure to bring great artists like Billy Hector and Peter Karp to our series.” He said the organizers are extremely endebted to their sponsors which are listed at: www.spartaarts.org/sponsors/. Liebman said, “The concert series also showcases many talented individuals who reside right here in our own community. To this end, we bring in opening acts to give local artists the chance to showcase their music.”