Interview: A Quick Chat with Karl Denson!

Karl Denson | Photo ©Robbie Jeffers
Karl Denson | Photo ©Robbie Jeffers
June 17, 2019Digital Beat Magazine’s Pix Meyers recently had an opportunity to talk with Karl Denson – of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Greyboy Allstars, Karl Denson Trio (KD3) and, since 2014, the saxophone player for the Rolling Stones. While currently preparing for a summer tour in support of his new album with Tiny Universe, Karl graciously took time out from Stones rehearsals to discuss the new album, “Gnomes and Badgers and to give us a little insight on what is going on in Karl’s world…
Cover Art: Gnomes and Badgers
Cover Art: Gnomes and Badgers
Digital Beat Magazine: “Gnomes and Badgers” is an interesting title for an album, how did you come up with that?

Karl Denson: It was a title from a recording session with my other band, Greyboy Allstars, that we never used. Not sure who made it up, but when it was discarded I took it. The title seemed to speak to the underlying theme of this record. 

DBM: This is your first release with your own imprint.  Can you explain to our audience what that means and how was that different from your previous albums?

KD: It means I get to pay for everything: recording, manufacturing, and promotion. I took it on mainly to be free of the opinions of industry people. I’ll let the fans decide. 

DBM: You are credited with being a flutist and saxophonist, along with songwriter. Do you use a different instrument when you write? Are there other instruments that you play that our audience would be interested to know about?

KD: I mainly write in my head, but I have been learning guitar. It’s a great writing tool.  But other than that, sax and flute are my primary instruments. 

DBM: You were able to collaborate with some great musicians on this album including Lukas Nelson, Anders Osbourne, and the legendary Ivan Neville.  Tell us about that experience.

KD: It’s just awesome to know these people, never mind get to work with them. They’re really talented cats. Playing music with them is the icing on the cake. Anders has a been a huge influence and inspiration on my songwriting. Lukas put a great guitar solo on “Something Sweet.” And Ivan, well, anytime there’s an opportunity to collaborate with him, I jump at it. 

DBM: What do you hope your fans (old and new) take away from this album?

KD: I hope they will be renewed and reinvested in the Tiny Universe. We have a lot of music on the way that we hope leaves them inspired and more engaged in their own world positively. These songs will make them dance, but I hope it will also make them think. The goal is for the music to work on both levels. 

DBM: Who inspires you?

KD: I’ve been way into Joseph Campbell as of late. He helps me feel more connected to everyone. 

Karl Denson | Photo ©Robbie Jeffers
Karl Denson | Photo ©Robbie Jeffers

DBM: Let’s talk the Rolling Stones….

Tell us about getting that phone call to replace the legendary Bobby Keys.

KD: Very unexpected. Lenny Kravitz and Mick Jagger are good friends. Lenny was the middle man and had Mick get in touch. The rest as they say is history.  

DBM: What is it like to work with the Rolling Stones?

KD: I can only answer this one way: IT’S THE ROLLING STONES!!!

DBM: Can you bring any of yourself to the gig or “just play the part”?

KD: I’m not Bobby but have great respect for what he created. It’s always going to be me trying to honor the songbook. 

DBM: The Stones are about as big as it gets.  Are there any other performers that you have or would enjoy working with? 

KD: Joni Mitchell is the top of the list. 

DBM: What does a day off on the road look like? On the flip side, what’s a day off at home look like?

KD: Pretty much the same; practicing, working out, listening to music, writing. The big difference is that I don’t get to cook on the road. 

DBM: You have an intense touring schedule and have traveled the globe.  What place or places stand out that you’ve visited?  Where have you not been that you would like to go?

KD: We did South America two years ago…Amazing. The subtle differences in culture was eye opening. I’m looking forward to going to Asia and Africa. 

DBM: What is currently on your playlist? What are you listening to?

KD: Right now, it’s a lot of Afrobeat and African music in general: Fela, Ebo Taylor, Paul Thomas, as well as Labelle, Joni Mitchell and The Band


Digital Beat Magazine would like to extend our thanks to Karl Denson for taking the time to answer some questions. Stay tuned to DBM in the next week for show coverage of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at their upcoming performance in Indianapolis, IN. at The Lawn at White River State Park, opening for Govt’ Mule.  

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe band is made up of awesome musicians: DJ Williams (guitar), Zak Najor (drums), Chris Stillwell (bass), David Veith (keys), Chris Littlefield (trumpeter), and Seth Freeman (slide/steel). Be sure to check HERE for dates as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe makes their way to a town near you!! You won’t want to miss this evening of high power funk, rock and blues!!