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Jorma Kaukonen


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Former Airplane guitarist just looks ahead

Thursday, February 12, 2009 9:51 AM EST

MINNEAPOLIS — Even though his guitar helped Jefferson Airplane soar with the San Francisco Sound on hits such as "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," Jorma Kaukonen is not sentimental about the psychedelic '60s.

"The '60s were a long time ago," Kaukonen says. "You just can't go backward. The arrow of time only goes in one direction."

Kaukonen, 68, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with Jefferson Airplane but a self-described "old folkie at heart," is out with "River of Time." It's his second CD on St. Paul-based Red House Records after 2007's "Stars in My Crown." Recorded at Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, N.Y., "River of Time" features Kaukonen's fine guitar work and comfy, lived-in vocals on songs by Merle Haggard, The Grateful Dead and the Rev. Gary Davis.

Kaukonen (pronounced KOW'-kah-nen) did some singing in the Jefferson Airplane days, and does again on the new disc. "The first time I heard my voice solo, though, at a studio, back in the '60s, I wanted to die," Kaukonen recalls.

But now, he says, "I realize I don't sound like Ray Charles, and I'm OK with that today."

It's shaping up as a busy year for Kaukonen. He's currently on The Guitar Blues Tour with Ruthie Foster and Robben Ford that wraps up in Seattle March 8. After that, it's back on the road with longtime friend and former Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady for a series of acoustic and electric Hot Tuna performances. In March, Kaukonen and his wife, Vanessa, open their Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp in southeastern Ohio for its 12th year.

AP: You have a lot of folk roots. Can you tell me about the heyday in the '60s, before Jefferson Airplane?

Kaukonen: In that era, there was just a lot of ... sociable music interaction going on. This is pre-hippie, pre-psychedelic. And the cast of characters that we've come to know as the San Francisco Scene were just a bunch of folkies like me. And people just hung out and played.

AP: What are your plans for the coming year at Fur Peace?

Kaukonen: We've got some really great artists coming in this year to teach and give concerts. I don't think we're physically going to grow any larger, because I really like the size. We can actually remember everybody's names in the course of a session. But we've been so fortunate. The economy — which has troubled so many people — really doesn't seem to be affecting us that much right now. And we're certainly blessed by that.

AP: Do the '60s stay alive for people?

Kaukonen: I don't think that me and some of my friends were really typical, if indeed there is such a thing as a typical '60s person. I never lived in a commune. I always wanted to be in the music business. I wanted to make my living doing that, which in some ways seems to contravene some of the '60s ideals. ... So I'm not a real sentimental guy about stuff like that. I had a great time. It was certainly good for me, and it certainly carved a path that I've been walking for many years, but I'm pretty happy where I am today.

AP: You've been sober for about a dozen years or so. How have you been able to maintain your sobriety?

Kaukonen: I just do what I need to do. I think if it hadn't happened, I'd be dead. I realize that everybody in the world is not a drunk, but I certainly was, and I'm glad I'm not drinking today.

AP: Is your playing better?

Kaukonen: I think my playing is better. I think I'm much more in touch with who I am and what I do. And as an artist, to me, that's become really important.

AP: Just what attracts you to gospel?

Kaukonen: I wasn't raised Jewish but I am Jewish — because my mom was a Jew — and my wife and I are members of a shul at home. Why do so many middle-class Jewish guys like gospel music? And I'm not sure what it is. First of all, there's just something extremely inviting about it. ... I love the chord changes. I like the uplifted attitudes of the words. I just like everything about it, I really do. It's great, great music.

On the Net:

Jorma Kaukonen: http://www.jormakaukonen.com

Fur Peace Ranch: http://www.furpeaceranch.com

Red House Records: http://www.redhouserecords.com

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Thanks for posting this, Mr. Phelps!

Jorma is the first act I recall seeing live, and seeing him solo or as part of Hot Tuna is the only priority I put on concert going these days. The blues he covers is some real old time stuff, with fantastic finger picking style. The electric shows still feature the pyschedelic songs of the 60's and 70's, but I guess this article is describing this new album in saying that is in the past? For anyone interested in checking out these guys at a show - don't expect much of Jorma's singing voice, do enjoy Jack Casady's bass playing!

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  • 3 years later...

Saw Hot Tuna last night at the Beacon Theatre in NYC last night. What a great show! they went on at 8 and finished up at midnight with a 15-20 minute break. Just amazing musicians. They had 6 special guests like Steady Rollin Bob Margolin of Muddy Waters fame, G.E Smith(guitar), Larry Cambell(guitars, violin, dobro, vocals), Teresa Williams(lead backing vocals), Cindy Cashdollar Wilson (Lap slide guitar), Steve Kirchen (guitar). All were amazing!!!

Jack started the set dedicating the night to the people of NY/NJ with a blazing 5 minute bass solo that lead into Hesitation Blues. They did Dylans "Times are a changing". the Deads "Sugaree" approx. 20 minute version of "Rock me baby". Just amazing jamming with every song they performed and there was a different lineup.

Definately 1 of the best concerts i ever witnessed and i sat 4th row. When i went outside for a smoke break at intermission they must have been 200 people getting high and probably all of Broadway getting high too!

Picked up Jorma's 70th bday bash DVD at the beacon in 2010 where Byron House (Robert Plant & Band of Joy's bass player special guested.

Such gorgeous passionate music!

These guys are right up there with Zep in my book. Just great Rock N Roll!!!

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