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Published: 2013/11/01
by Joe Lopergalo

Karl Denson Enlists Zach Deputy for a Soul Spectacular

How can a musician with a career that spans nearly three decades keep current and interesting to listeners? Equally as important, how can a musician playing the nearly lost genre of boogaloo continue to keep himself excited about the music?

“For us, the best part of it is when it’s fun. And we’ve kind of grown into a place where it’s fun,” says legendary jazz-funk saxophonist Karl Denson of his current band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Denson, 56, stays incredibly active on social media outlets and blogs and is constantly thinking of new projects and collaborators to keep the music fun and exciting for everyone.

Denson has embarked on a Ray Charles tribute tour entitled The Soul Spectacular Tour: Ray Charles Boogaloo Dance Party with special guest Zach Deputy to honor the music of the late jazz great and to hopefully bring new light to the music of the 50’s and 60’s. The following conversation touches on that as well as his upcoming studio record and the origins of his sound.

Okay, so really, the big news right now is your Ray Charles tribute tour: The Soul Spectacular. What made you decide to put this together?

You know, we’ve been…me and my manager Erik [Newson] have been talking about different things to do to kinda tantalize the crowd for the last couple years. You know, we did the Beastie Boys thing and the Sticky Fingers with Anders [Osborne]. And it just happened that, a couple years ago, I sat in with Zach Deputy when he was in San Diego. He called me to come down and play, and I came down and he started his show off with this whole Ray Charles shtick. And it was insane and I was like, Dude, I didn’t know you could sing like Ray Charles.” And Ray Charles has always been one of my very favorite male voices, you know? So it just kind of made sense to put it together, and I recommended Zach Deputy and my management tried to dissuade me and…but I prevailed and it was crushing.

He’s a very talented instrumentalist; I mean he’s playing a lot of things at once, which is a really exciting thing to see.

And that was the cool thing. Because even more than his vocals was his guitar playing. His guitar playing is amazing so, you know, I had him sit in with Tiny Universe and it was just like, you know, like “I wanna have this guy in my band.” So it’s gonna be really fun, we’re gonna have a good time.

I’ve been watching a bunch of videos and listening to some clips of when you did Sticky Fingers tour and when you did The Beastie Boys and it was all very exciting. I’m a big fan of Anders Osborne actually, and now it’s actually because of you that I’m getting into Zach Deputy more, which is awesome because I’m really enjoying it. So do you think you’ll be introducing a lot of people to him and his sound?

I’m hoping so, you know. That’s kind of the big picture.

I had been thinking, “Why would you pick Zach Deputy?” And then actually listening to him, he is really funky and he’s got a lot of soul to his voice. I think it makes perfect sense.

Yeah, you know, he’s one of those guys – he’s kind of like my guitar player that I have now, D.J. Williams – he’s one of those guys that every time he sat in with me or I played with him, I felt like we belonged together. You know?

So that just clicked when you guys got together?

We’ve been playing together…I met him probably four or five years ago at Bear Creek. And he was like the side stage guy for us. And you know when I was setting up I was just like, “Who is this guy?” So I went over and met him and then we kind of…you know every time we’re in the same vicinity we find time to hang out.

*I was watching what you did with him at Jam Cruise in 2011 as well and I thought that was just spectacular; that was great. *

I was gonna say that I definitely hit him up – you know, whenever we’re around – I hit him up to come and do whatever I’m doing because he’s so creative. I can leave him alone and kind of rely on the fact that he’s got solid ideas that have structure and that will go on somewhere.

In the past when you did the Stones tribute and the Beastie Boys tribute, they were kind of shorter sprints and this one seems to be a little bit longer; a little more like a full length tour. What was the inspiration behind that? Why are you taking this one out further than you took the others?

Well you know, I think it was the restriction of, you know…Anders only wanted to do, you know, a little bit of that Stones thing. He didn’t want to do it too much. And it was kind of the same thing with the Beastie Boys. You know, after Adam [“MCA” Yauch] died it kind of made it – because you know, we came up with the idea and did a couple of shows and then MCA died – and so it kind of made it a little bit more somber. So we didn’t want to do too much of that, you know it kind of put a little damper on it. This one the cool thing is that we’re gonna be able to do it for a couple of months and improve on it and kind of really take our time on it which is gonna be awesome.

I think that’s great because Ray Charles has such a vast catalog of music that you can really work with as well.

You know, his dance music…you normally don’t hear enough about it. People think of the ballads and things like that that he did. You know, we’re kind of looking to get people to the whole boogaloo side of Ray Charles.

What are you most excited to play of his? If you had to pick something, what are you really excited to dig into?

I mean I think for me it’s the whole catalog because it’s so much of where I’m from in terms of, like, the whole Greyboy album sort of thing. That’s the whole boogaloo idea so it’s very simple. Harmonically it’s really simple and then you listen to the Ray Charles recordings and you hear those amazing solos of David Newman. So I’m just looking forward to getting things tight enough where we can have fun soloing over it you know, and really expanding on that.

Do you plan on really opening up some space for improvisation within all of that? I mean, you have some incredible players you’re working with.

We’re gonna try to make it just like if you were back in the 50’s and 60’s in a little club dancing your ass off. We’re gonna try and put a little spin on things. We already have this cool version of “Hit the Road Jack” that we do that I’m gonna eventually turn into an original because we did kind of a cool thing with it. So, you know, it’s gonna be a nice fun experiment.

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