Remembering Charlie Karp

Charlie Karp — the Westport kid who left Staples High School at 16 to play guitar with Buddy Miles, then hung and played with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards and wrote songs for Joan Jett and Joe Perry, before returning home to earn a fanatic following with bands like Dirty Angels, White Chocolate, Slo Leak and the Namedroppers, while simultaneously earning Emmys as a producer of music for sports networks, documentaries and feature films, and becoming a guitar teaching mentor to generations of aspiring young stars — died last night, at 65. He was diagnosed just a few days ago with liver cancer.

Charlie Karp

Charlie’s friends and families wanted him to know how much he was loved and admired. A Facebook posting when he went into hospice care on Friday drew hundreds of comments.

Brian Keane — Charlie’s classmate in Staples’ Class of 1971, who has composed music for many films and TV shows, produced over 100 albums, and won Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys, realized Charlie’s talents during Coleytown Junior High’s 7th grade Battle of the Bands.

Brian wrote: “Charlie had the ability to channel something magical and musical, to deliver a special sense of feeling that connected with people, and moved them to the core on a fundamental level. Charlie possessed a rare treasure that is impossible to teach, and nearly impossible to attain. Charlie Karp was a natural.”

Charlie Karp (left) and Brian Keane, at Coleytown Junior High School.

As he played in area venues with Charlie, Brian wrote, “the simplicity of his music made me concentrate on a deep level of honest human feeling.”

Charlie played at any club he could (including, at the Georgetown Saloon, with Keith Richards), and for any charity that asked.

Charlie Karp and Keith Richards. (Photo/Ray Flanigan)

He was particularly pleased to join ’71 classmates Brian, Michael Mugrage, Bonnie Housner Erickson, Dave Barton, Bill Sims, and Rob and Julie McClenathan in the Reunion Band. Their concert at the Levitt Pavilion was one of the greatest shows ever there.

Charlie and Brian co-wrote “You Lift My Heart.” It was released on Marion Meadows’ album “Secrets” a few years ago. Brian finds it a fitting tune for Charlie lifted so many hearts.

Brian’s tribute on Facebook elicited heartfelt comments, from a broad array of Charlie’s admirers. Some wrote as fans of his bands. Some were classmates. Some were his guitar students, or their parents.

Joe Dochtermann called Charlie his “musical mentor. He taught me everything I know about the art of life as a musician and beyond.” They set up a studio in the Bahamas, and worked together in Easton for a time of “intense musical creation.” Charlie also connected him to “many other kind and talented souls.”

Joe wrote, “I can’t fathom where my life would have headed without his compass.”

Dennis Hrbek mixed Slo Leak’s first album. He had never heard anything like “Charlie’s vocal coming out of a big amp in the studio, making him sound bigger and badder than ever. That week completely changed the way I listen to music.”

The first rock concert Bob Cummings ever saw was White Chocolate, at Fairfield University in 1973. They were “on fire,” Bob wrote, “with Charlie’s guitar screaming! God bless you, Charlie. Let’s have a cup of Hot White Chocolate!”

Sarah Green thanked Charlie for his warmth, friendliness and talent teaching her son Matt how to play. He went on to become a School of Rock All-Star, performing at Lollapalooza in Chicago.

“Thank you, Charlie, for giving so much of yourself in your careers as a musician and a teacher. What an inspiration. Sending love to you, and peace and good wishes, always.”

In 2016 — just after Charlie’s 45th Staples reunion performances — I posted this story on “06880.” It’s my tribute to the legend we just lost.

You may know Charlie Karp from his many local bands. You may have heard his his work as an Emmy-winning producer of music for sports networks, documentaries, and feature films.

But you may not know his Staples-era back story.

When he was 14 in 1967 — and still a student at Coleytown Junior High School — Charlie’s band opened for the Doors, at their legendary Staples concert.

He was at Fillmore East the next year when it began, and stood on the side of the stage on New Year’s Eve 1969, for the fabled Band of Gypsies concert featuring Jimi Hendrix.

Later that night, 16-year-old Charlie hosted a party at his parents’ Upper West Side apartment. His dad was away — but Hendrix was there.

Not long after, Buddy Miles asked Charlie to play on what became the renowned “Them Changes” album. Charlie contributed an original song — “I Still Love You, Anyway” — and played acoustic guitar.

In April 1970 — while his classmates trudged through junior year — Charlie played with the Buddy Miles Express. They opened for Hendrix at the Los Angeles Forum, in front of a capacity crowd of 18,000.

Charlie Karp (left), playing with the Buddy Miles Express.

In 1971, Buddy Miles — with Charlie — opened for Three Dog Night at the Cotton Bowl. That same year Miles recorded a live album with Joe Tex. Charlie joined bassist David Hull (part time Aerosmith player), and a tremendous horn section.

After all these years — there is not enough room here to talk about his career from the 1970s till now — Charlie is still very much a working musician. He teaches guitar and songwriting at his Fairfield studio. He helps his students and other professional musicians produce their own music too.

His latest release — “Endless Home Movie” — is available on iTunes. It comes almost 50 years after his 1st single — “Welcome to the Circle” — with his Fun Band, on ABC Records.

And 45 years after he left Staples, to follow — and reach — his musical dream.

He did not graduate with his class. But he helped make this year’s reunion a very classy one.

29 responses to “Remembering Charlie Karp

  1. Charlie was indeed a good friend to so many near and far. And his passion for what he was doing was second to none. I especially loved listening when he would play a new song he was working on. He had such joy in continuing to create new music.

    My condolences to Martha, Eleanor, and Alice. Charlie was one of the true good guys.

  2. K.F. Spearen

    This is Horrible News … He was a Wonderful Guy … May you Rip my Friend

  3. Vivianne Pommier

    My sympathy and prayers to Martha, Eleanor and Alice. We will truly miss Charlie, and his amazing friendship and talent.

  4. Sandra Lefkowitz

    The Westport Cinema Initiative community can be proud to have been introduced to Charlie through Free Cantor’s film “High School That Rocked”.
    We send our prayers to his family. He left a legacy that will last.

  5. Rest In Peace Charlie! We will miss you! 🎼😎🙏

  6. I’m as saddened to see this as I was, always, uplifted to hear Charlie play. I’ll always remember the phone call I received from Charlie’s father; I think it was 1968. I’d graduated from Staples and was away at college. Mr. Karp was upset that his son was talking about dropping out of Staples to tour with a bunch of “much older guys”. He didn’t want to get in the way of a successful music career, but questioned whether that was a realistic possibility for his son. Because I was a slightly older guy with a certain amount of music business experience, he wanted to meet with me to ask if Charlie was really good enough to “make it”. I said, “Mr. Karp, I’ll be happy to get together with you. But if this’ll save you some time and worry, the answer is ‘yes’. He’s actually great.” RIP, but not in silence.

  7. Charlie was such an inspiration!! RIP. You will surely be missed.

  8. Charles Taylor

    A beautiful retrospective for a beautiful soul

  9. Carol Lupo-Simek

    Such sad news. Charlie was a Westport treasure. An enormous talent who brought enjoyment to so many people. R.I.P. Charlie.

  10. RIP Charlie. So sad!
    A question that has been asked for many years. What became of his younger brother Tom Karp, who I also knew at a boarding school in NH.

  11. May you RIP Charlie. You will be missed very much, but you and your music will live on in our memories!!!

  12. John B. Gould

    Sad day! I never saw Charlie without a smile from his heart – the same place his music and friendship came from. God bless Charlie. Gone but not forgotten.

  13. Mark Demmerle

    ‘Heaven done calked another blues singer back home’

  14. I’m so sorry for Charlie’s family and friends loss. He was a wonderful musician and sweet fella. I saw him many times over the years at various venues with several bands. The love of music .. he’d play with anyone anywhere. I’m so sorry we lost him so soon.

  15. Michael F. Tedesco

    I remember Charlie as the YMCA summer camp junior high school kid from the next town who played guitar way better than I did. In fact, he was so much better that he went on the road with Buddy Miles at age 16. I was determined to catch up. I don’t think I ever did. I haven’t had a conversation with Charlie since the late eighties; that was the time he told me about the sobering experience of Jimi Hendrix coming to a party at his apartment. I’ve often thought about Charlie over the years, especially the last few days, while listening to his music. I always respected and admired him. Goodbye, Charlie Karp.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      Mike I also remember “Y” canoe trips to Candlewood Lake with Charlie if you remember we used to crack each other up by substituting risque lyrics to parody the “clean” songs that the counselors wanted us to sing. I didn’t really appreciate his music until later at Staples. However his sense of humor entirely different I enjoyed a lot of laughs with him going back to the age of 11 or 12.

      • That’s funny. I remember(could’ve been at Mahakeno) Charlie singing “dirty” songs when we were about 8. “When you jump off the roof and your balls go oof oof, that’s a rupture”, sung to the Dean Martin tune, Thats Amore’. And there were more. Thanks Charlie

  16. My first wedding that I photographed with my dad happened to have Charlie Karp as the band, I couldn’t stop saying to my dad, “Who are these guys?” Best band ever.

  17. So we had to be 14 or 15 years old, and I asked Charlie what he wanted to be when he grows up, without out missing a beat he said……”a great guitar player.” Check that box, DONE! Like most 71ers’ we return to the reunions to hear the “reunion band”, amazing. During a break I went to him and told him he was a hero of mine. Just imagine knowing your whole life, doing what you love.

  18. Here’s a video of a song by Charlie, “I Haven’t Heard From You,” from an EP he did 2017. It is so good—I bought it on iTunes along with another song, “Lighthouse,” when it came out and have listened to them with great pleasure so many times.

  19. Chic McArthur

    Thanks for this Dan. It’s exactly how I feel.

  20. Carrington Kelley Birnie

    Grateful for your music Charlie. Light and love…

  21. Charlie played Joy – thank you for the mirror that became a resource – you made your love of life come throgh that guitar – in humble gratitude – irreplaceable xoxo

  22. Clearly a Westport legend, who touched many, many people. And, thank you, Dan, for a sweet and fulsome remembrance

    • Every one who knew Charlie loved him…whether you just met him or knew him for fifty years…because he had generosity of spirit…he was always generous…with acceptance.. encouragement..humor and of course sharing his wonderful gift for music..he will be greatly missed.

  23. Seeing Charlie’s band “The Dirty Angels” at The Player’s Tavern in the id ’70’s inspired me to start playing music. They were a powerhouse live band.

  24. Many of us of a certain age had our first dance to one of Charlie’s bands at a junior high Friday night dance in Westport. R.I.P.

  25. Steven Rosenfeld

    Charlie was a great friend and a great person. He was a huge talent and it was an honor for me to have worked with him.