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Published: 2009/07/31
by Brian Robbins

Mark Karan: Tempered By The Fire

BR: I remember hearing that for the first time on the original live Puddleduck album – a great emotion-filled jam that swirled into “The Other One” and eventually ground to a smoking halt back at the main theme.

MK: That’s cool – that’s a great description. It truly is meant to be a journey, you know? I think John Molo’s drumming really drives this version in particular … the whole band just rides the rollercoaster together.

BR: And then everybody gets a chance to catch their breath with “Love Song.”

MK: I wrote that one a long time ago – I was probably about 20 at the time. That’s another song that took on new meaning with time: when my wife and I got married, I sang it at our wedding. I wanted to include it on the album.

BR: An audio bouquet …

MK: Exactly! (laughter)

BR: There’s a neat moment towards the end when you modulate from the key the song’s in to the jam – is that the original arrangement?

MK: Actually, I rearranged it for the album to give the song somewhere to go. It originally was just this simple little acoustic number that was always done ala James Taylor, you know? I’d never had an occasion to play it in a band setting – maybe waayyy back in the 70s in a country-rock band I was in – and without an arrangement, the song is all of about two minutes long. We laid down the basic song in the studio and I really didn’t feel like it warranted a big, structured solo, but at the same time, it was like, “Two minutes is just too damn short – we’re not making a Kinks record here.” (laughs) So it ended up just kind of going into this loose jam sort of thing – basically because we were just screwing off. (laughter)

BR: And don’t forget your recording debut as a whistler. (laughter)

MK: Again, that was just something that I did off the top of my head while we were tracking vocals … it was kind of cool and funny and we ended up leaving it in.

BR: No – don’t tell me that. I want to imagine this all-night session where you did, like, 97 takes to get the whistle track down right.

MK: Oh, right – absolutely. (laughs)

BR: And then the dobro takes over …

MK: Yeah – I really liked the way the dobro almost sounds like a sitar at the very end.

BR: Randy Newman’s “Think It’s Gonna Rain” – what a neat band song.

MK: Absolutely. We tracked that song exactly the way it went down: all together in the room with no overdubs, nothing punched in … that’s just the way it happened.

BR: That’s cool to hear because that’s how the track feels on the album. And it’s another good example of even though the lineups change from track-to-track, it all feels like one session … there’s a common thread, a common vibe throughout the album that ties it all together.

MK: You know, one of my favorite albums is Eric Clapton’s Journeyman. He does the big produced pop numbers, he does the real raw bluesy stuff … and yet, no matter how eclectic the mix of songs is; no matter how different they all are from each other, it creates a work, you know? That’s what I was hoping for.

BR: Well, you nailed it. From Randy Newman we go to Joe Jackson’s “Fools In Love” – man, you play some sweet white-boy reggae. And that’s another full-Puddleduck track with JT unleashed on keys once again.

MK: JT really is one of my all-time favorite piano players and I’m blessed to play with him. You know, he gets to play with Bruce Hornsby live, but Brucie doesn’t always let him run free on his records … so my theory is, “Let the boy run!” (laughs)

BR: And the album closes with “Easy Wind” – you caught the raunch on that one. People can try to cover Pigpen, but if they don’t have that natural grease, they’re going to end up sounding like Perry Como, man.

MK: (laughs) You know, I grew up a huge blues freak – I listened to a ton of blues in my life; played a ton of blues in my life. I was also fortunate enough to be around the Dead a lot and caught a lot of shows in ’66, ’67, ’68, ’69 – you know, living here in San Francisco, all of us little junior high school kids could get into the Fillmore. (laughter) So I really cut my teeth listening to Piggy; he was definitely one of my inspirations for doing this … by observing him first-hand as a kid, it really got deep inside of me.

All these many years later, it just feels natural for me to go there, to play a song like “Easy Wind.” That was all one take, by the way – we just went in and did it, front to back.

BR: All right, well thank you for taking the time to do this, Mark. I know you and Maile have gone out of your way to thank everybody for their love and support while you were tackling the cancer, but you know … it’s all a function of what you put out there yourself – it reflects right back at you.

MK: Well, thanks, man … it’s true. And it’s one big family, for sure.

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