Mark Karan is a musician's musician. Not so much an innovator as a stylist, and without ever calling attention to himself, he utilizes an understated detailed approach to guitar as a means of finding his level within the music he is playing. That approach might well describe the course of his career.

Before and after becoming immersed in the greater community surrounding the Grateful Dead, Mark pursued a number of diverse endeavors including work with Dave Mason, Delaney Bramlett, Little Feat, Spearhead and Galactic. In 1998 he was selected to fill the guitar slot in The Other Ones, remaining with this post-Dead aggregation for their 1998 and 2000 tours and appearing on their only album with them released in 1999. Joining Bob Weir's RatDog, with whom he has toured consistently for close to a decade, Karan has availed himself of opportunities to collaborate with Mickey Hart's Planet Drum and Phil Lesh & Friends.
Meanwhile, he has continued to nurture his own interests, most conspicuous of which is Jemimah Puddleduck -- a group of players who, like Karan, have made their names contributing their talents to a variety of big-name acts like Bruce Hornsby and John Fogerty.
In this free-wheeling conversation, Mark showed himself to be a good-natured, self-effacing fellow, talking openly and sagely about any number of topics including the technical side of the recording process and his 2007 bout with cancer. Discussing the prolonged process to record his recently-released album, Walk Through the Fire (Quacktone Records), his sense of humor was as obvious as his sense of practicality, the combination of which is key to the man's unerring improvisational sense: Mark Karan knows just where and how much to contribute when he plays. The relaxed air of this conversation belies how busy the man is.
I appreciate you making the time for me this morning. Are you busy enough these days or do you need more to do?
[Laughs] It's all going pretty well at this point.
Is this the first time you've been back to the Beacon Theater since they prettied it up last year?
Absolutely, yeah.
I was there this spring to see the Allman Brothers and having been going there since 2003, I thought it was great to see how they really cleaned the place up but still left it a little bit funky.
Well, they left the primary theater part of it pretty much alone. They restored it rather than changed it, it seems. And I don't know if you were ever in the backstage area before the restoration, but the backstage area used to be awful.
I've never been there but I've seen footage of musicians being interviewed there and it looks like they're in the depths of an old dirty basement.
Yup, except that it was upstairs rather than down.
[laughs] Well that's good. That's a good place to have the major clean-up take place to make the bands and everybody else feel comfortable while they're waiting to go on stage.
I have to tell you I've been listening to your album [Walk Through the Fire] a lot and really enjoying it. Has anyone ever told you that your singing reminds them of Levon Helm a little bit?
No, but I'll take it [laughs].
That was one of the first impressions that leaped out at me, how some of the phrasing really reminds me of Levon in his heyday when he was singing with The Band. I wanted to offer you that thought because I really enjoyed that aspect of the album.
Well, very cool. Levon's definitely one of my heroes.
The other thing that I thought listening to the album--and I know it was a project that you worked on for a while--but it all sounds like it happened very naturally. I know you had a lot of musicians playing on it, but it sounds like everybody just sat down and played and everything flowed. Is that pretty much the experience you had or is that just an illusion?
I mean, it was a little tough to get off the ground, that's why it took so long. It started out as a Jemimah Puddleduck record, which is the band I've been trying to get out on tour for years now. We had gone into the studio I guess about four years ago and cut a couple of tunes with the intent to cut more. But between my job with Bob, John [Molo] touring with Lesh and Fogerty and whatever else he's been doing, and JT [Thomas] being with Hornsby, it was almost impossible.
Literally years went by after that first set of sessions and when I got the cancer in 2007, at the back of end of it I said to myself "OK, well, I love the guys, I love the band, but I can't wait anymore."
I can understand why you would feel that way.