Mark Karan: This Is What I Do

By: Andrew Wetzler

Mark Karan by Alan Hess
The South Florida music scene has blossomed over the past decade or so, but there is still nowhere near the flow of gold nugget acts that fans experience in New York, San Francisco, Baltimore or many other more established live music towns. So, when Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck (JP) announced their first ever run through Florida, it was a great marker to place on the calendar. I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Karan over sushi the night before his show at the Funky Buddha in Boca Raton.

Outside of seeing him numerous times on stage with Bob Weir and RatDog, my only other experience was as part of a benefit show with Chuck Leavell and the Werewolves at Bimbo's 365 in San Francisco a few years back. Interestingly, Weir was scheduled to be on stage that night, but he was ill, so that opened the door for Karan to sing lead vocal on many of the tunes. I remember being wowed by his talents and stage presence that evening, even amongst an all-star cast.

Our conversation in Boca Raton was casual, non-political and I walked away feeling like I had just met a gentleman who had an extraordinarily clear perspective on himself and his career. Having beaten throat cancer a few years ago and now back on his own after more than a decade with RatDog, Karan seems to be enthusiastically embracing every aspect of his life.

He made note of the fact that JP is playing decidedly small venues as a way of developing their fan base and avoiding the energy drain that occurs when a larger club is not filled to the point where it can appropriately percolate and get sweaty. Many bands aren't able to find that sweet spot and as a result they deliver a low vibe performance and experience a disconnect with their audience.

Karan explained that their effort to reach out and develop their fan base includes tapping social media, primarily via Facebook and Twitter. They are very early into it, but he recognizes the value of staying connected with his fans through these new channels. His wife Maile is the main driver of those pursuits, along with managing all other aspects of the band.

Mark Karan by Susan J. Weiand
Karan noted how his bout with cancer made him much more a realist and better equipped to navigate through life's challenges. The phrase he kept coming back to was "it is what it is," and his message was that he has become squarely focused on what his life can be moving forward rather than dwelling on why he got thrown such a health curveball. I got the sense that surviving cancer has made the RatDog hiatus easier to adjust to, although he is hopeful that the band will reconnect in the future.

Karan bubbled over with enthusiasm and genuine happiness during dinner. Being served sushi that contained avocado when he explicitly requested that it be omitted from his rolls didn't slow his stride. He explained that not playing music and being in front of an audience wasn't an option for him. It's what he loves, it's in his blood and essentially all he knows how to do.

Joining him on stage were bassist Bob Gross (Albert King, Delaney Bramlett), keyboardist JT Thomas (Bruce Hornsby) and drummer Billy Lee Lewis (Tommy Castro, Roy Rogers). The setlist contained cuts off his fine 2009 release Walk Through Fire, including the title track and a particularly engaging version of Robert Hunter's "Easy Wind" (which appears on the album), along with the blues classic "Good Morning Little School Girl" and a late set funk infusion of "Hey Pocky Way."

Anyone who is able to draw upon a lengthy archive of live music memories can point to instances where the band they were seeing was into it and other times when they weren't. Too often, being on stage seems more like a chore than an opportunity for many performers. Karan's show was not about going through the motions. Rather it was about artistic expression that's setting the stage for future tours and creating the foundation of a fan base, distinct from the coattails of RatDog. This was very evident to everyone who was fortunate enough to be at the Funky Buddha to see the show.

For more with Mark Karan check out JamBase's 2009 conversation with him here.

Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck Tour Dates :: Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck News :: Mark Karan and Jemimah Puddleduck Concert Reviews

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[Published on: 11/15/10]

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