Posted: September 9th, 2009 by Jon Berry
Mark Karan of Jemimah Puddleduck by Robin Tamburr
Who are Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck?
Interview by Robin Tamburr Part 1 of 2
Mark Karan plays lead guitar with Bob Weir’s RatDog, in his down time he plays with his own band Jemimah Puddleduck with John Molo (TOO, Phil Lesh & Friends, Fogerty) on drums, John JT Thomas (Bruce Hornsby) on keys and Bob Gross (Albert King, Delaney Bramlett) on bass. Mark brings his blues-based vocals and inspired guitar work to Jemimah Puddleduck, a band who delivers a soulful mix of rock and R&B, with a taste of folk, blues, reggae, jazz.
Over the years, Mark has worked with Dave Mason, Paul Carrack, Delaney Bramlett, the Rembrandts, Huey Lewis, Jesse Colin Young, Sheena Easton, Alex Call and Sophie B. Hawkins among others. Since 1998, Mark has toured with members of the Grateful Dead, including The Other Ones and Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum and Bobby Weir’s Ratdog. He also plays from time to time with Mark Karans Buds.
I had the opportunity to interview Mark so we can learn more about him, his music and Jemimah Puddleduck before they head out on their first east coast tour. Id like to start by thanking Mark for doing this interview on his day(s) off from playing with Ratdog and to also give huge thanks to his staff for making it happen
RT: Mark, you sound like youve been a pretty busy guy over the years. How did this all start for you? When were you drawn to music and playing?
MK: Oh, since I was a kid. I picked a guitar at around 9 years old Where have all the flowers gone, If I hadda hammer etc then the Beatles happened and I was hooked.
RT: You have a great bluesy voice. Have you always been a singer?
MK: Yes and no Ive been singing since I was a kid. I was in the San Francisco Boys Chorus we even did opera and some shows with the Vienna Boys Choir! And I sang a lot in my youthful bands but in my early 20s I started getting a lot of work as a sideman type guitarist and there was less need for my vocal skills LOL! Then when I moved to L.A. I started getting a lot of session work as a singer and was staff writer and producer so here I am playing with a guy whos best known for singing/writing & rhythm guitar so in Ratdog I stick pretty much to guitar and in Jemimah Puddleduck I get to stretch as a writer and singer as well as indulging my muse on guitar.
RT: In the beginning, who/what were your strongest musical influences?
MK: Beatles without doubt then I guess the Dead, Ray Charles, early-ish blooze- BB King, Albert, etc Hendrix, Cream, Allmans. Im 50, so I was a kid during all the classic rock thang. Between that, being nine when the Beatles happened and my Mom & Dad being Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and be-bop folks I had a pretty good leg-up in the influences department.
RT: So were you encouraged to pursue music as a profession or did your parents have something else in mind for you?
MK: Mom was pretty supportive of music, although I think my taking it as my “living” scared her and she was right! The music BIZ aint for the faint of heart LOL! Its tough to make ends meet out there but you gotta be what you are period.
RT: You play so many diverse styles of music, what is the evolution of your musical education?
MK: Well, I took a few lessons as a kid but mostly my education is the result of a LOT of listening, copping stuff off records, playing with a lot of different people in a lot of different styles so I got exposed from actual trial by fire participation in funk, harder rock, country rock, blues, ol school R&B, country, oddball pop, some mainstream pop and now, hopefully Im able to draw from all those different experiences as my musical education.
RT: Do you know what you are doing in regard to theory?
MK: To a point. I certainly understand the basics and some more advanced stuff but I tend to try to forget all of it when Im actually playing. I dont want to think. I want to intuit so I risk getting lost and hitting wrong notes by just following my ears and fingers a lot of the time but Id rather make a few mistakes and be genuine than be calculating everything Im doing
RT: Sounds like its working to me. Do you play any other instruments?
MK: Some piano but just enough to sorta sound things out and write. I enjoy writing on piano because it forces me to do things I wouldnt naturally gravitate towards on guitar because my familiarity with guitar tends to make me go for what I know.
RT: What are your limitations or should I say, what are you refining in yourself as a musician?
MK: Ive been working on finger picking a skill thats thus far eluded me LOL. I have also been listening to a lot of old Caribbean melodies and trying to expand what I do in a one chord jam. I tend to get bored without chord changes and a melodic basis for a jam.
RT: Looking forward to hearing that develop. Your bio contains an impressive body of work. In the beginning, what kind of jobs did you have before music became a full time gig?
MK: Ive pretty much always starved for my art LOL. I had a job as a seafood cook when I was 19. I worked as a custodial worker (janitor!) at an ol folks home, cut some wood for a minute but mostly I, frankly, played a fair amount of music that wouldnt have been my first choice, because it was a paying job PLAYING! And a lot of that is what helped make me more well-rounded than if Id only followed my own interests.
RT: So what would you consider your first real break into the industry?
MK: Hmmm the other ones in 1998 was a HUGE change for me before that Id done some cool stuff but it was here and there with a lot of time in between doing demo sessions, blues gigs around town, etc, etc I did tour with Paul Carrack in 1988 and that was my first real tour. Before that I, believe it or not, did some funny stuff like lip-sync appearances on Solid Gold & Soul Train with Sheena Easton!
RT: LOL~ My next question was going to be Soul Train? : ) Whats that about?
MK: See above LOL!
RT: You’ve played with and met many accomplished musicians over the years. Was there ever an instance when you were star struck?
MK: Ive been intimidated sometimes by celebrity but it usually depends on the other artists attitude too. If someones open to being real Im usually pretty comfortable. If they act all star-time then I usually cant be bothered playing that game. Music isnt sports. It shouldnt be competitive. I hope to always come to any meeting with other musicians with a good attitude and a genuine desire to share something cool.
RT: Thats a great attitude and sheds light on why youve had success with such a variety of musicians. Was there anyone that really changed the way you looked at music, or your approach to music?
MK: Hooking up with Bobby and the Boys in 98 was a blessing musically, in that it re-kindled a desire to do music for musics sake and not to be so record deal/career focused so in that sense, the GD boys Other than that, no thereve been too many different people and situations that helped shape me to single any one person out maybe Sarah Baker. When I was pretty young I was her lead guitarist and she showed me a lot about being an artist and being true to that and to your song/muse playing to that stuff, not to the ego gratification side of the fence.
RT: Switching to your gear for a moment. I see that youve collected a few guitars over the years! Do you have any special stories about any of them?
MK: Not sure what would make a special story I found my Fender 1951 Nocaster in Seattle with my wife. We went browsing at a vintage guitar shop (Emerald Guitars) and I saw this guitar. I wasnt gonna buy anything but I picked it up and strummed one chord. Maile, my wife looked up from across the room and the look on her face said it all HADDA have it!
RT: Thats great Id call that a special story!
MK: Other than that I dont know that the acquisitions have been nearly as interesting as what theyve been thru since theyve with me
RT: Hmmm well have to get back to that at another time ~LOL. Whats your gem?
MK: Cant really choose just one. Maybe for GD stuff itd be my Strat but, along with the Strat, the Nocaster, the SG, the Goldtop and the Gretsch are my top five definitely.
RT: And whatll you have out on the road with you?
MK: See above and add my Santa Cruz Tony Rice Professional acoustic.
RT: What other gear are you using these days?
MK: Got a few hours? LOL thats one of my favorite subjects. Im afraid Id likely bore your readers with too much detail. I have been using Two-Rock amps for a while now and recently started using an amp by a new company called 65 Corp. I love toys pedals ways to give the guitar different textures, but without removing the actual voice of the guitar itself I use hemp Tone Tubby speakers I recently discovered some GREAT attenuators that allow me to maintain the sweet spot on my amps at any volume lovin that.
RT: Cool! Id like to ask you some questions about your experience with songwriting. How involved are you with writing music and lyrics?
MK: to be continued.
I asked a lot of questions and Mark was kind enough to answer them all! Please stay tuned for part 2, to be posted in about a week.
Mark just finished up an east coast tour with Bobby Weirs Ratdog and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, followed by Comes A Time – A Musical Tribute to Jerry Garcia at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Ca. Hell be back east October 14-22, with Jemimah Puddleduck to rock us again with an intimate tour of clubs in MD, NJ, NY, and PA. The final shows are slated for Jerseys own Fireside in Denville, on October 21 and 22, with the John Ginty Band (www.johnginty.net) as the opener. Tickets for all shows are on sale now!
For more info about Mark, the JP tour/ticket information and purchasing CDs go to www.markkaran.com
Photos provided courtesy of Alan Hess / Shot Live Photo www.shotlivephoto.com
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