Karl “The Diesel” Denson and his Tiny Universe ensemble will come truckin’ into Asheville, North Carolina on Thursday to perform at New Mountain AVL, one of four stops on the Southeastern leg of KDTU’s Runnin’ With The Diesel Tour in which they will be joined by longtime friend and legendary guitarist, Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh Quintet, Jazz is Dead, Aquarium Rescue Unit). This is going to be a hot string of shows, with two preceding dates in Georgia sold out weeks ahead of time.
To kick things off on Thursday, Asheville’s own up-and-coming group The Digs will funkify New Mountain Theater with a jazzy, soul-filled set before KDTU and Herring take the stage.
The 20-stop Runnin’ With The Diesel Tour comes in the midst of yet another very busy year for Denson. Still riding high off of recent touring with the Rolling Stones, KD finds himself set to release Electric Diesel, a new studio album with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, early 2017. He’s been playing shows coast to coast, and gearing up for his 60th birthday celebration “KD60” at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Nearly three decades in, The Diesel is running stronger than ever, showing no signs of slowing down.
When The Poke Around caught up with KD over the phone, he was fresh out of the studio, cutting a record with an indie band he “adopted” in Los Angeles.
Jimmy Herring, couldn’t imagine a better fit for these NC and GA shows. How did that collaboration come to be?
Me and Jimmy have been pretty good friends for the last decade or so, we like each other’s playing. I met him when he was playing with Phil and Friends, quite a while ago, and we just hit it off right away. I actually didn’t know who he was. We just started talking, and we’re hanging out for probably an hour or so before someone said his name and I realized, Oh that’s Jimmy Herring! I got him to come out and do [New Orleans Jazz Fest] with me a few years ago, he played Tipitina’s with us, and it was super fun. So we’ve been trying to figure out a time to do it. I kept bugging him, and finally we got all of the stars to line up.
You have carved out your own niche in the jamband world. What is it that makes you so comfortable in this scene?
We’ve been here kind of since the beginning of this thing in a way. Starting with the Greyboy Allstars in ‘97, when we started doing shows around The Dead and Phish and Widespread Panic and String Cheese. There was a time back in the late 90s when I used to wonder what the hell was going on. We’d show up at a festival and it would be us (Greyboy Allstars or KDTU) and String Cheese, Leftover Salmon, and Widespread Panic. And I was just wondering: What the hell are these people up to that they listen to this many different genres? Medeski Martin Wood, Galactic, you know? All of the beginning bands, and it was just about improvisation and letting what happens happen. It took me a minute to wrap my head around it, but once I did, this became my place in the world. And I am continually trying to keep people interested in what I’m doing.
From the beginning, you’ve played with the best. From Lenny Kravitz to Steve Winwood, Phil Lesh and the Rolling Stones. Everybody loves to play with you, is that a testament to something you are doing?
It’s just a matter of building something, and all of the time that I’ve spent working on my craft, it pays off after a while. When the Stones called it was one of those moments where you’re kind of like: OK…you know? It was just really a nice icing on the cake. I’m doing my thing and I’m doing the best I can do and then somebody like that calls you, and your like: Ok, this is pretty rewarding at this point. For you to be able to tell your kids: Hey, I’m playing with the Rolling Stones now. It’s like, WOW. It’s just a shocker.
You’ve been doing your thing for nearly thirty years now. Coming up on your 60th birthday, and I’m curious, does it get any easier? Time? Slowing it down and capturing the moments?
No, no. I think it probably gets easier to release it. You just have to stay busy. And every once in awhile you will look up and it’s: wow another year, you know? I’m getting ready to go on Jam Cruise (Jam Cruise 15 marks KDTU’s 15th appearance on the boat), or getting ready to do New Years Eve again. I think that once you get more settled into your life, it just gets to be more fun, and you start to take advantage of situations more as far as smelling the roses a little bit more.
“It’s been a weird little journey, man.” – Karl Denson
Article by Seth Davis