Guitar/Vocals/Adapted Slide Guitar (Summer 1977-January 1979)
Photo by Bill Sosin
Skafish first saw Karen Winner performing in a local rock group as a vocalist/guitarist when the two were both in their high school years. Shortly afterwards, the two were introduced through one of Karen’s band members who happened to be a Skafish classmate. At Skafish's first visit to Karen’s home, he immediately connected with the “progressive and artistic” vibe of the Winner family, and started hanging around their house regularly.
Months later, Karen, who had been writing songs in a classic pop vein, invited Skafish to play piano on a solo demo record she was recording. Besides her love of timeless pop music, Winner was highly influenced as a vocalist by Bessie Smith and Janis Joplin, while at the same time playing loud rock ‘n’roll as a guitarist. Her mother, an avid antique collector, had a show business/artistic background, having worked as a vocalist in New York before giving up entertainment to raise a family. Mrs. Winner encouraged artistic expression and even had Karen model as a young girl.
At the time Skafish formed his band in January 1976, he and Karen had already established a solid friendship, but she was attending college, and was therefore not a consideration for the first incarnation of the Skafish group. By the summer of 1977, when Skafish was looking to augment his line-up with a female guitarist/vocalist who displayed both presence and attitude, Karen was available and joined— ultimately adding a whole new dimension to the act.
With her oversized B.B. King style Gibson guitar, Marshall amplifier stack, designer gowns, classic make-up, and tough, no-nonsense stage presence, Karen Winner was decades ahead of female alternative rockers. On the 1978 recording of “Work Song,” Karen sang an alternating octave vocal part with Skafish that helped to stamp the track with machine-like precision. Her aggressive, defiant guitar playing can be heard on several Skafish recordings.
When Skafish’s band went through a line-up revision in early 1979, Karen momentarily considered staying with the act, but ultimately left the band along with brother Mark and Greg Sarchet. She and brother Mark then formed their own group, simply called The Winners. The group played in Chicago, then New York, when Karen and Mark moved to the city in 1980.
Putting her musical career on hold, in the years to come Karen turned her attention toward being a writer. It was in this niche that she found great success as an investigative reporter and author. She wrote the book, Divorced From Justice: The Abuse of Women and Children by Divorce Lawyers and Judges, which was published by Regan Books/Harper Collins in 1996. As a former policy analyst for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, she researched and wrote two groundbreaking reports that resulted in sweeping legal reforms.
Karen has appeared on numerous national shows including CNN’s Burden of Proof, Court TV, National Public Radio, and Inside Edition. Her work has been cited in The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, UCLA Women’s Law Journal, and Harvard College Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, among several other publications.
Still feeling a deep connection to her music, these days Karen listens to a lot of Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt and rockabilly girls. She dreams of performing again, “ under the right circumstances, and with an open heart.”
All photographs copyright by the respective photographers