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’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.”
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.
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.
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.