Peter John Downing Karp is an American roots/blues singer-songwriter, guitarist and pianist. Known as the songwriter’s songwriter, Peter Karp is a multi-instrumentalist whose Roots Rock style, mixed with Blues and Folk humor, give a unique and unusual look at life’s sometimes happy, sometimes sad reality.
Karp was born in Leonia, NJ a small town just across the Hudson river from NYC. His father John J. Karp was a military pilot and his mother Ruth Downing Karp was a copywriter and avid music fan. His stepmother Ruth Turner was an African American woman from the lowlands of South Carolina. By the time he was 8 years old his biological mother had taken him and his sister into the city to see many of the popular musicians of the day. (James Brown, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, etc.) At 9 he lived with his father in a trailer park in Southern Alabama. It was there that he first heard southern “race” radio playing artists like Sun House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf as well as regional country music out of Montgomery and Nashville. Later his love for this music would lead him to Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and the other rock luminaries of the 50’s and 60’s. He started to play the accordion at 7, the guitar and piano at 15.
Peter began his professional music career as a songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist with the critically acclaimed, seminal art-blues-punk band “They Came From Houses,” a mainstay in the stable of “The Underground Music Venue” managed by former Rolling Stones/Yardbird manager Georgio Gramalski. Playing NYC’s lower east side venues like The Mudd Club, Folk City and a favorite of CBGB owner Hilly Crystal (who described the sound as surf-punk-distorted blues, they opened and shared the stage with Marshall Crenshaw, Mink Deville, The Toasters, John Hammond Jr., The Stray Cats, George Thorogood, and David Johanson. While receiving much critical acclaim and offered a recording contract, Karp became disillusioned with the music business and creatively unhappy. He folded the band, walked away and married the lead singer, Mary Lou Bonney.
After leaving a commercially promising music career, he spent the next 10 years raising a family, traveling, and working in the film industry. Along the way, he worked as an editor with some film makers with which he shared a creative connection – most notably, Oscar-winning underground film director, Emile D’Antonio. He also continued working in music, directing, producing and playing with musicians Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Johnson, Van Walls, Don Henley, Michael Brecker, Richie Havens, The Jacksons, Ric Ocasik and Jackson Brown.
While on his musical hiatus Peter also became deeply interested in the rich African American culture that has flourished for over 200 years in South Carolina’s South Sea Islands. Influenced by his stepmother, Ruth Turner, who came from the area and guided by his friends the Pazant family of Beaufort, who are cultural ambassadors of the Gullah heritage and descendants of slaves, he immersed himself in learning about the Gullah and its musical roots, taking trips into and filming parts of the South Sea Islands where the original Geechee language is still spoken. His song “Geechee Geechee Wawa” is based on his experiences in South Carolina and the deep spiritualism of the people he met there.
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