Live in the Clubs: Karl coming home with national sound

If you remember Niskayuna-born singer-songwriter John Karl’s performances, both solo and with the ba
Niskayuna native John Karl will be performing with his band at Vapor Night Club tonight.
Niskayuna native John Karl will be performing with his band at Vapor Night Club tonight.

If you remember Niskayuna-born singer-songwriter John Karl’s performances, both solo and with the band Railway in the Capital Region in the 1990s and early 2000s, you might think you know what to expect.

Karl wants you to think again.

“The main thing is, I want them to realize: John Karl is coming back as a hometown boy, but he doesn’t have a local show,” Karl said recently from his home in Nashville. “That’s the biggest misconception I get: ‘Oh, he’s from here, we know what he sounds like.’ No, you don’t. . . . You’re gonna get what any national touring act sounds like. The show you’ll see from Chris Young is the same caliber of show you’ll see from us.”

Karl, who relocated to Nashville in 2002 to pursue a country music career, is returning to the area with his band tonight, performing a free show at Vapor Night Club in Saratoga Springs. At 2 this afternoon, he will also be at Parkway Music in Clifton Park for an acoustic performance and question-and-answer session. These will be his first upstate New York appearances in roughly four years.

John Karl Band

When: 7 tonight

Where: Vapor Night Club, 342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs

How Much: Free

More Info: 581-5772,

Beating odds so far

Although Karl may not be a national name yet, he’s managed to survive in the country music industry while many of his peers haven’t.

“Something like 90,000 people move here every year to be a country music legend, and over the next year over 45 percent of that go home,” he said. “The next year, 75 percent of those people go home. From my ‘class,’ there are three left — besides me, there’s Josh Thompson, who has a hit out, ‘Beer on the Table,’ and Jared Neiman, who has a song out called ‘Lover, Lover.’ ”

Karl has chosen to go the independent route, releasing albums on the small PourBoy Records. In order to survive, he spends most of his time on the road, driving with his band to all of his shows. About five weeks ago, he drove 13 hours in both directions, spending about $900 in gas, to play one night at a venue in Louisiana.

“We just want to come home and perform what we do nationally,” he said. “We’ve been to 43 of the 50 states in America. . . . We were the house act at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville, which is synonymous with good country music. We were there . . . for 243 days in 2008, and the days we were not there we were out touring. We played a ton of music that year, and your vocal chords can’t last, but you push through. Days where you have a 103-degree temperature and bronchitis, you’re still performing.”

Ski-team experience

Karl got his start in music singing in youth choirs in church, and joined the a cappella group Studio Singers at Niskayuna High School. After high school, he self-released a pop album that he “did absolutely nothing with.”

For a time, he quit music, focusing instead on his sign company in Scotia, Image Express, while still DJ-ing at clubs and karaoke bars. But he couldn’t stay away for long, eventually joining local band Railway and playing shows with country station WGNA-FM.

At the time, he was also on the Scotia water-ski team, the Coors Light U.S. Water Ski Show Team, which he joined at 16. “I became the show director for two years, and that gave me the confidence to go out in front of a couple thousand people every day,” he said. “I literally attribute all my entertaining skills to the ski team, because if an act fell or a boat died in the middle of the water, you had to think fast about what you were talking about.”

A member of the team (who wishes to remain anonymous, according to Karl) eventually gave him the push, as well as the funding, needed to relocate to Nashville with his wife.

“The deal was, if I wrote him a song before he went to his other house in Florida in two weeks, and if he liked it, he was going to help sponsor the trip [to Nashville], become the backer for everything,” Karl said. “Literally that night, I went home and I stayed up all night, wrote the song, recorded it, and was knocking on his door at 7 o’clock the next morning — ‘Here you go, it’s done, let’s go to Nashville.’ ”

Built own studio

For his first two years in the city, Karl spent his time learning the business, talking with lawyers, writers, publishers and producers. He’d already had a bit of success in 2001 with his album “Small Town,” with the single “There Goes the Neighborhood” landing at 39 on, between Eminem and DMX.

“Redneck Rich, Hillbilly Happy” was his first album completed in Nashville, in 2007. His latest album, “Are You Ready for This?” was recorded at his newly constructed home studio with his touring band and is due out sometime this summer. The songs, half of which he wrote, range from humorous tales of barflies trying to pick up women (“Cowboy”) to reflections on growing up in Niskayuna (“Old River Road”).

“With this new album, instead of spending money on a major studio, I decided I would just build one,” Karl said. “My band and myself recorded the whole entire album and mastered it ourselves, and so far in town, it’s been rated a major growth album from what I was on the ‘Redneck Rich’ album. You can really hear the difference.”

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply