Hey Shredder

7 questions for guitarists

Mark Karan

Jemimah Puddleduck, Ratdog

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Mark Karan by Alan Hess Photography

Mark Karan is cut from a classic mold. In his ceaselessly tasty playing one hears grin-inducing hints of Mike Bloomfield, Marc Ford and Roy Buchanan. Karan has serious technical knowhow but he never lets it get in the way of delivering feeling, dipping into gutbucket rawness as well as a delicacy that’s akin to guitar calligraphy.

More than anything, the man plays to songs, sidestepping almost all the usual showboating and spotlighting seeking one often finds in guitarists. He listens hard and has an instinct for melody and flow that’s a deep pleasure. It’s especially commendable that he has maintained this level of humility coming from the cult-minded world of Grateful Dead fans, for whom he’s played in The Others Ones and Ratdog, where Karan has been an exemplary guitar foil for the highly idiosyncratic Weir for many years, providing stability and grace where Bob is all sparks and flying colors.

These days Mark Karan is focused on his own band, Jemimah Puddleduck, where he sings lead vocals and takes on primary songwriting duties for their originals while leading a band of pros comprised of Bob Gross (bass), Billy Lee Lewis (drums) and JT Thomas (keys), though some upcoming dates will feature Bay Area great Mookie Siegel on keys while Thomas is out touring with Bruce Hornsby. Find full tour dates here.

Karan has been one of the Impound’s favorite six-string wizards for close to a decade, and the guy only seems more varied and right-on with every passing year. He’s one of those wonderful, rare musicians whose presence means things are gonna be better than they would have been otherwise. Mark has a strength of character and musical depth that rings through in his voice, his instrument and his stage presence, and we’re delighted to pick his brain for this segment.

Favorite effects pedal? Why?
I don’t have a fav-o-rite. I have too many and they’re all different. I tend to lean towards modulation or time-based stuff like tremolo, phasers and/or filter-based effects like the Mutron III as they add color and diversity to what I’m doing, and I prefer getting most of my gain stuff going on at the amp.

In fact, Theo Hartman and i just designed and released an envelope filter pedal! Big fun… first time i’d been involved designing something from the ground up (check out the details here).

That said, I do have a few gain pedals that I really like. The Zen Drive is an awesome solo pedal, sort of “dumble-ish.” The New Wave Cannon from Caroline Guitar is a great, versatile pedal that gives me a good distortion platform when I get stuck on rental amps and the like.

Tastiest guitarist — i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing — currently working six-strings?
IMPOSSIBLE question, just like “Favorite Beatles Song” or “Best Grateful Dead Song.” There are just WAY too many great players. That said, I love giving props to Amos Garrett, as he is one of the least known and most unique and moving guitarists I’ve had the pleasure to experience and be influenced by. Check out his guitar work with Geoff & Maria Muldaur (especially “Georgia,” “Lover Man” and “Lazy Bones”…gorgeous!), and with the Paul Butterfield “Better Days” Band, especially his work on “Please Send Me Someone To Love.” Wow!
A guitar solo I never get tired of listening to is…
See above and/or maybe “Midnight At The Oasis,” also by Amos Garrett, from Maria Muldaur’s Waitress In A Donut Shop.
Preferred brand of axe? Why?
I lean towards Gibsons because of the rich tone I can get through pretty much any amp/set-up, but nothing’s black & white. All guitars have their own “voice,” and I play VERY differently depending on what guitar ends up in my hands/ears/head.
AC/DC, The Beatles, Radiohead or The Byrds – which one gives you the biggest guitar boner? What makes them SO sweet?
The Beatles, without any question. Sooooo many sounds and textures, such varied approaches and flavors, all creating such MUSICAL “parts” – parts that really MEAN something to the SONG.

After The Beatles, it’d be Radiohead. I love their creativity, and the way they all push the envelope from “what’s gone before” towards “what’s next.”

One lesser known guitarist folks should check out is…
See above. I am a champion for Mister Garrett. I also love John Butler, Cornell Dupree, Daniel Lanois, Buddy Miller, Peter Green, and on beyond zebra.
What aspect of being a guitarist always makes you happy?
When I can forget the bizniz…trying to “be” anything or impress anyone…when I cannot be concerned with how many butts are in the seats or whatever… and just PLAY, I am at my very happiest.