Duo branches out but sticks to its roots

Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman have built a following in their home state of New York. Now they're gaining new fans.

By Lynn Van Matre

Singer-songwriter karen Savoca needs no introduction to folk-rock fans in upstate New York, where she and longtime partner-accompanist Pete Heitzman have won seven Syracuse Area Music Awards and play to packed houses. Elsewhere in the country the duo are more or less new faces on the club scene - despite performing together since the early eighties and winning Musician Magazine's annual Best Unsigned Band contest in 1996.

"For a long time we had a band and some of the guys didn't want to travel, so we put off touring." explained Savoca, who will headline Saturday at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale. "But for the past few years it's been just as a duo, and Pete and I wanted to startseing the country and playing for new people."

A literate lyricist and engaging vocalist, Savoca fits loosely into the contemporary folk category, though her music often mixes folk, pop, blues and funk.

"Actually, I don't have many folk music albums in my collection, " Savoca said. "My mother was a big band singer when she was young, and when I was growing up, I listened to a lot of jazz, along with rhythm and blues and soul singers like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.

"Later, an aunt turned me on to Bob Dylan, and I liked the singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills, Nash &; Young, " Savoca added, "But I also was a big Jimi Hendrix fan. "

A onetime music major at Syracuse University, Savoca switched to elementary education because she didn't want to train as an opera singer. "

"I'm still pretty passionate about education, " Savoca said, "But after college I started joining groups and performing more and more, and I've made my living as a musician since then. "

Savoca, who plays conga, piano and guitar, and Heitzman who also plays mandolin, have released four compact discs. All four, including their latest CD, "Here We Go," have been released on Alcove Records, Savoca's own label.

"In the beginning, we spent a lot of time going to New York [City] and meeting with record industry people, but eventually we realized that trying to get a major label deal wasn't worth all the energy it was taking, " Savoca said. "well, let's see how far we can take this on our own. "

"And realistically, when you sign with a label, you have to expect to make some compromises, " Savoca added. "For women, especially, the compromises can be devastating, with people telling you what to wear and trying to sex up your image and telling you you're 'too old' once you're over 25. I would rather have a smaller career and feel good about myself and my image. Besides, our CDs are in stores here and there, and we sell a lot of records at shows and through our Web site [karensavoca.com]. "

Home base for Savoca and Heitzman is a renovated 19th Century country church between Syracuse and Oneida, NY. "It's a beautiful place to live, and I love to garden, " Savoca said. "It's always very relaxing to come home. "

-- Lynn Van Matre
Staff Writer, Chicago Tribune

Back to Press Page

[home] [press kit] [on tour] [photo album] [links] [souvenirs] [contact]