Interview with Jorma Kaukonen

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Jorma Kaukonen
Jorma Kaukonen

Interview by Scott Preston

In a career that has already spanned nearly a half century, Jorma Kaukonen has been the leading practitioner and teacher of fingerstyle guitar, one of the most highly respected interpreters of American roots music, blues, and Americana, and at the forefront of popular rock-and-roll.

He was a founding member of two legendary bands, The Jefferson Airplane and the still-touring Hot Tuna, a Grammy nominee for his highly acclaimed “Blue Country Heart,” and the most in-demand instructor in the galaxy of stars who teach at the guitar camp that he and his wife operate in picturesque Southeastern Ohio, The Fur Peace Ranch.

Over a span of three and a half decades Hot Tuna has performed thousands of concerts and released more than two dozen records. The musicians who performed with them were many and widely varied, as were their styles: from acoustic to long and loud electric jams, to acoustic once again, but never straying far from their musical roots. (In recent years, an electric set has been reintroduced to some of their tour dates.) What is remarkable is that they have never coasted: Hot Tuna today sounds very much like Hot Tuna of 1970, except that the guys have continued to develop as musicians, so today they are even better. (from bio on jormakaukonen.com

Jorma also has an incredible website, Break Down Way which is a highly interactive website that provides online lessons from masters such as Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, founding members of the legendary Jefferson Airplane & Hot Tuna, Woody Mann, Oteil Burbridge, David Wolff, and Barry Mitterhoff.

Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects?

Jorma Kaukonen: We haven’t started working on anything yet. But we are talking about doing another cd for Red House Records. I think its going to be a Rev Gary Davis type of concept. I’m hoping to get Larry Campbell to produce the cd for me. This is going to be a Jorma record. Now Hot Tuna has been talking with Warner Bros about doing a Hot Tuna record early next year. We are all talking about it so its a good place to start.

Cincy Groove: What kind of music did you listen to growing up and when you started performing?

Jorma Kaukonen: Of course when you are a kid you listen to what your parents had around. A lot of gospel, jazz. Now when I started to listen to music on my own it was around the time of the birth of rock and roll. Shortly thereafter I started to get into more blues and more traditional rootsy American music.

Cincy Groove: Did you collaborate with anyone on your latest release “Stars in my Crown”?

Jorma Kaukonen: My friend Byron House produced that record. My friend Barry Mitterhoff plays mandolin and numerous other instruments. Of course I had a bunch of friends like Ed Gearhart, a dear friend of mine and great guitar player. Sally Van Meter the Dobro player was on the record.

Cincy Groove: How did everyone in Jefferson Airplane get together?

Jorma Kaukonen: It really started when Paul moved to San Francisco. What became Jefferson Airplane was starting to get together they were losing their lead guitar player. Paul wound up calling me and seeing if I was interested.

Cincy Groove: Did you come up with the band name Jefferson Airplane?

Jorma Kaukonen: Well sort of, we were all just goofing around. I was sitting with my friend Rich and we were just coming up with goofy names. My friend Tom Hobson was Blind Outrage, Steve Mann was Goldfarb. Steve came up with Blind Jefferson Airplane for me. Where he came up with that I haven’t the slightest idea.

Cincy Groove: Do you remember the moment when you found out you were going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Jorma Kaukonen: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is kind of an interesting beast. Its really politicized in a lot of ways. We had been lobbying for The Airplane for a while. I thought it was surely justified. Not everyone in the band was as excited about it as I was, but I thought it was pretty cool. I think most of the building was up in 1996 but I’m not sure. I think I was one of the first to play at their live radio show that had up there.

Cincy Groove: What led you to settle in Pomery, OH?

Jorma Kaukonen: An old friend of mine from the 60’s called me out of the blue one day, we hadn’t talked to each other in years. He called, his name is John, and said I have this piece of property here in Pomeroy, OH and I’m thinking about selling it and wanted to see if you were interested. My wife thought I had lost my mind of course (laughing). It just seemed like the right thing to do and as it turned out it was the right thing to do.

Cincy Groove: Did you already have the idea for the Fur Peace Ranch when you bought the property?

Jorma Kaukonen: No that came about once we bought the property. We put all the buildings up, and were wondering what to call it. I said well its a Fur Peace from anywhere and we said okay lets call it the Fur Peace Ranch.

Cincy Groove: Are there any young musicians that impress you?

Jorma Kaukonen: You know there are so many, but one of the guys that I have gotten to know is David Jacobs-Strain, he is a young singer/ blues guitar player. He is just one of these guys who are in his own class. A great singer and guitar player.

Hot Tuna is:
Jorma Kaukonen – guitar, vocals
Jack Cassady – bass
Barry Mitterhoff – mandolin
Erik Diaz – drums (during electric sets)

Upcoming Jorma and Barry performances:
for complete show details visit – www.hottuna.com
4/3/08 Patriots Theater Trenton, NJ
4/4/08 The National Richmond, VA
4/6/08 Watercolor Cafe Larchmont, NY BOTH SHOWS SOLD OUT
4/24/08 Merlefest Wilkesboro, NC
4/25/08 Merlefest Wilkesboro, NC
4/26/08 Merlefest Wilkesboro, NC
4/27/08 Merlefest Wilkesboro, NC
6/14/08 Fur Peace Station Pomeroy, OH
10/6/08 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Rhinebeck, NY
10/7/08 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Rhinebeck, NY
10/8/08 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Rhinebeck, NY
10/25/08 Fur Peace Station Pomeroy, OH

Upcoming Hot Tuna (electric) performances:
for complete show details visit – www.hottuna.com
4/12/08 Fur Peace Station Pomeroy, OH
5/1/08 Florida Theatre Jacksonville, FL
5/2/08 Sunfest West Palm Beach, FL
5/3/08 Jannus Landing Courtyard St. Petersburg, FL
5/4/08 The Variety Playhouse Atlanta, GA
5/6/08 Cain’s Ballroom Tulsa, OK
5/8/08 Fox Theatre Boulder, CO
5/9/08 Belly Up Aspen, CO
5/10/08 Paramount Theatre Denver, CO
5/12/08 Mesa Arts Center Mesa, AZ
5/14/08 The Coach House San Juan Capistrano, CA
5/15/08 Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
5/16/08 Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
5/17/08 Crown Room, Crystal Bay Casino Crystal Bay, NV
5/19/08 Aladdin Theater Portland, OR
5/20/08 Triple Door Seattle, WA
11/15/08 Fur Peace Station Pomeroy, OH

Upcoming Hot Tuna (Acoustic) performances:
for complete show details visit – www.hottuna.com
5/23/08 Alaska Center for the Performing Arts Anchorage, AK
5/24/08 Blue Loon Fairbanks, AK
5/25/08 Juneau Douglas High School Juneau, AK
8/23/08 Fur Peace Station Pomeroy, OH
8/28/08 Magic City Music Hall Johnson City, NY
8/29/08 Somerville Theatre Somerville, MA
8/30/08 North Fork Theater Westbury, NY
8/31/08 Morristown Community Theatre Morristown, NJ
9/2/08 Higher Ground So. Burlington, VT
9/4/08 Calvin Theatre Northhampton, MA
9/5/08 Penn’s Peak Jim Thorpe, PA
9/6/08 Tarrytown Music Hall Tarrytown, NY
9/7/08 Tupelo Music Hall Londonderry, NH