Gruber: Coming Into My Own
Gruber grew up in Florence, Alabama, across the Tennessee River
from Muscle Shoals, a town rich in recording history. Some of her
earliest musical memories are of listening to Elvis and James Brown.
Karen’s teenage years brought Santana and the Allman Brothers,
and through her mother, Karen was also influenced by Julie London,
Peggy Lee, and Frank Sinatra.
After retiring from
performing in 1984 to raise her family, Karen made the decision
in July 2000 to return to music. “My sister’s battle
with cancer, and her ultimate death, drove me back to expressing
my emotions through music,” Karen explains. “I had locked
my voice deep inside and protected ‘her’ for sixteen
years. I had to fight with myself to let her back out.” Once
free, though, her voice flowed in a mix of old influences, sadness,
and a new maturity.
Karen has taken
her vocal talents and performed at various clubs, restaurants, and
private parties in the Muscle Shoals area, Huntsville, AL, and in
various locations in Tennessee as well. Her career has also taken
her to Birmingham, where she has sung at Sazerac, Moonlight Music
Café, and Ona’s Music Room. She was part of the W.C.
Handy Music Festival in the early ‘80s, started back up again
in 2001, and this past year saw her performing on eight dates with
a variety of backing musicians. She has performed with such notables
as Charles Rose, Sonny Harris, Bob Wray, Harvey Thompson, Jack Pearson,
Ray Reach, Marcus Pope, Tim Goodwin, Greg Chambers, Tom Wolfe, and
Pete Avallone. Future bookings in Memphis are on the near horizon
for Karen, as well as in Atlanta and Florida.
In addition to her
singing talents, Karen also has delved into other artistic avenues
of expression in her life. She was part of several stage productions
at the University of North Alabama, Zodiac Theater, Center Stage
Productions, and was in a small film production as well. Karen also
sang a hymn which is included in the background of a documentary
film entitled Stitch.
Making the leap
into the recording studio with renowned producer/guitarist, Jack
Pearson, Karen chose to record eleven of her favorite songs. The
result is a CD collection of jazz standards entitled Into My
Own. “I love how the players really ‘stretch out’
on these songs.” says Karen. “Each song feels so intimate,
and that’s exactly how I like to perform – this CD suits
me.” Pearson assembled quite a collection of players for Karen’s
CD, among them Steve Kummer on piano, Jim White on drums, Elizabeth
Pearson and Jim Ferguson on bass, Tom Cherry on sax, and Clayton
Ivey on keyboards. These seasoned professionals helped to accent
Karen’s silky smooth voice, and her CD almost sounds like
it could have been recorded directly from a performance. The intimacy
and immediacy of this recording is stunning in its power and yet
its utter simplicity, and Karen easily takes the listener on the
journey with her in each song.
Into My Own
can be heard on Alabama Public Radio, WQLT-FM, WJAB-FM, and recently
it has been picked up nationally by XM satellite radio. Wherever
you hear her, take note of this as you listen - she sings almost
totally naturally, having only taken a very few voice lessons in
her life. This voice is pure in every way, and full of emotion in
every note and in every phrase.
“As I see
it,” Karen explains, “the musical notes are the vehicle,
but to me, it is all about the lyrics. To quote ‘Desdemona’
from the Allman Brothers, ‘I make my living pouring out my
pain.’ I truly feel every word I sing, and hopefully
you’ll hear that in these songs I have chosen.”