PPNA Happenings

Happenings, history and news of the Prospect Park Neighborhood and Ypsilanti

Scotty Karate Report By Chris Berggren

Posted by ppna on April 4, 2008

Chris Berggren wrote an article on Scotty Karate which he has allowed me to share with you.

Scotty Karate still searching for musical niche
By Chris Berggren

Scotty Karate runs his hand through his stubby blond hair, shakes his thick sideburn chops and fumanchu mustache, and takes a swig of beer.
Karate admits he’s at a crossroads. He’s had plenty of fringe success in the music business and he’s successfully turned his wacky moniker into a legendary character in southeast Michigan, so much so that Dark Horse Brewing Co. even has a beer named after him, their Scotty Karate Scotch Ale. But what Karate says he really wants is to break through with his music and finally reap some financial success.
“Exposure helps create a legend, which I’ve already done,” Karate says. “But legend don’t pay the bills.”
Karate, 33, who was born Fredric Scott Leeman, in Norman, Oklahoma, picked up his nickname at age 10, soon after moving to Michigan.
“My dad and grandfather are named Fredric, too,” Karate says. “So I’ve always gone by my middle name. And when I moved up here I was nervous about meeting new kids and everything. I’d been taking karate and so I made a few karate chops and that’s where the name came from.”
After graduating from Chelsea high school, he briefly attended Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti, where he formed his first band, the Plumbobs. The Plumbobs released one album and their song “Bud Foam” was used in a 1996 Budweiser commercial. But Karate then watched his band unravel, largely, due to drug problems.
“For a while that was an exciting time,” Karate says with a faraway look in his eyes.
Karate briefly played guest banjo for 2 Star Tabernacle, a band which featured Dan John Miller, the lead singer of Blanche, who portrayed Luther Perkins in the Johnny Cash film Walk the Line, and Jack White, of White Stripes and Raconteurs fame.
“We played a show at the Heidelberg in Ann Arbor,” Karate recalls. “There was hardly anyone there, but that’s the first time I remember Jack going off on the guitar. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he sure has gotten a lot better.’”
At age 23 Karate moved to San Antonio and with his friend, Gregory Stovetop, and started the two man guitar band, Crab Lady. Musically, San Antonio was great according to Karate and Crab Lady released an album in 1999 before disbanding.
Karate yo-yoed between Ypsilanti and San Antonio, before moving to Chicago and then to New York, where he still rents an apartment. Frequently he finds himself back in Ypsilanti, though. His current projects include his New York band, Scotch Bonnet, and singing guest lead-vocals with another New York band, Awesome Color. He also plays as a one man band, singing and playing either the guitar or banjo, while keeping beat with a bass foot drum.
“There are a million one man bands out there now,” Karate says. “It’s a novelty act and I don’t like it as much as playing in a band, but it’s still an opportunity to play my songs. Plus, I’d like to be the first one man band to play network television.”
Scotch Bonnet is currently working on a new album, but Karate says he’s not sure how the CD will be produced. In the past he’s self-produced his solo and band material, but has become increasingly frustrated with that route.
“You can only go so far with it and then you’re hitting your head against the ceiling,” Karate says.
Karate readily admits that he’s a poor business man and he feels frustrated that his years in the music industry haven’t taken him further. He’s had plenty of opportunities and near misses along the way, too. He’s opened solo for David Allen Coe and for Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth with Awesome Color. And he’s watched friends such as Miller and White find success. Legendary British DJ John Peel even started playing some of Karate’s material right before he died.
According to Karate, his love of performing and sense of showmanship started at age 4 when he joined the church choir. He also lists unlikely influences, such as classical and old world music from the 50s and 60s as shaping his sound—though his Oklahoma roots show through, as well.
“There’s one part of the Scotty Karate character that a bit dust bowl,” Karate says. “But there’s also a little captain fantastic.”
Scotch Bonnet will be performing on May 10 at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor and Karate admits that that may be his last show in the area for a while.
“I know I’ve got a good thing and I’m not trying to drop out,” says Karate. “I’m just trying to go somewhere else with it all. And I’m pretty sure that going somewhere else means leaving the country.”

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2 Responses to “Scotty Karate Report By Chris Berggren”

  1. Great article! -Jeremy

  2. Usenet said

    Nice Report.

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