takin’ a walk Jorma Kaukonen-Behind the scenes with a music legend.mp3
Announcer [00:00:00] Welcome to Taking a Walk podcast Music History on Foot. If you like this podcast, please share it with a friend you can find taking a walk on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart, the Podcast Playground, or wherever you get your podcasts. Plus night is your host. And join him for this episode with a rock and roll legend. Jorma Kaukonen. Jorma is a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, and he’s also had a successful solo career. He’s truly one of the great guitar players of our generation, and we welcome him to Taking a Walk next.
Buzz Knight [00:00:39] Well, Jorma, it is so great to be virtually taking a walk with you. You were gracious enough to take a walk with me on an earlier episode at the Lovely Fur Peace Ranch. But this is the next best thing.
Jorma [00:00:56] It is where we’re taking a modern walk here.
Buzz Knight [00:00:59] How are things at the Fur Peace these days?
Jorma [00:01:02] Well, you know, the fur pieces is moderately, moderately uneventful these days. We’re not doing in-person things now. We’re doing a lot of zoom stuff. I’m pretty comfortable with the Zoom, and we’re doing a lot of shows, though, so that is very definitely happening. And yeah, our our company store is open four days a week and people have been coming in and looking at the silo and, you know, we’re getting ready to. We’ve been doing the broadcasting shows and recording shows and the only thing we’re not doing is in-person students. You know, COVID changed everything for us as it did for everybody. And we’re still trying to figure out what the next move is going to be. But so far, we’re alive and kicking.
Buzz Knight [00:01:50] Well, you’re coming to the city winery in Boston June 23rd, and it’s a great venue and it’s just going to be Jorma acoustic, right?
Jorma [00:02:02] That’s correct. As Jorma and Jorma.
Buzz Knight [00:02:06] Can I be your road crew?
Jorma [00:02:08] I’m the easiest guy in the world. I really am.
Buzz Knight [00:02:12] So the news broke that you and Mr. Jack Cassidy will be doing the last round of the Electric Hot Tuna tour forever. Tell me the thought behind that decision. So.
Jorma [00:02:27] So yeah, I mean, and things like that, You know, those are momentous decisions in our lives, of course, because we’ve been doing it for so long. But there’s a lot a lot of pieces in play here. And and I’ll give you as many of them as I can remember off the top of my head. And this is not an order of importance. These are all pieces in play. So one of the things is, is that to do an electric tour these days is extremely expensive and people are well, there’s only three of you guys. And I go, Yeah, that’s true. There’s only three of us. But but if you got a bus, then you need a trailer. There’s a lot of stuff. I mean, look, I’m not complaining about expenses because everybody’s got expenses, but so that is an expense is a factor. The fact that, you know, at almost 83, I’m still really pretty darn vigorous, you know, but it’s electric shows take a lot out of you. But that’s not the main reason either. One of the things I think is that, you know, we really I the only time I pick up an electric guitar is when I get together with the guys. I’m not one of these guys who would shed’s by himself because I’m not I’m not a chops head in that way. When I play electric music, I like to play with people. I need these people to play with. And we only get together when we’re going to do a tour and then we take some time to rehearse and get to know each other, etc., etc.. So. So for me, the electric shows, it’s not as dynamic a living art form for me as the acoustic thing that I do all the time, either by myself or with Jack or with my friend John Hurlbut or Larry Campbell, a bunch of my other friends. There’s just something more in me emotionally immediate to me at this moment about playing the acoustic music. And so, you know, and that’s pretty much the pieces that are in play on this.
Buzz Knight [00:04:22] I get it completely. So, Jorma, you’ve always been a teacher. Yes. Throughout your life, and you’ve always been a learner also. Yeah. What have you recently learned or relearned?
Jorma [00:04:36] Sure. So, you know, I mean, you know, guys like me are always absorbing stuff. You know, guitar players are a gregarious lot and you know, and where you learn musical things, of course, and this and that. But I’ve got this friend of mine named Frank Goodman. I’ve known him for many years, and he was working in Nashville for a number of years writing songs and songwriter, and he’s retired now. But anyway, so. He wrote a song called Where My Old Friend’s Gone. Come Hell or High Water, The creeks going to rise. We’re still hanging on, but they’re dropping like flies. Oh, Lord, where are my friends going? It’s sort of like, you know, it’s a song that I can relate to. It’s a kind of it’s a funny song and it’s a lot of fun. Anyway, the point, the learning thing it’s in the key is, see, I’ve been playing songs in the U.S. for well over the better part of half a century. What new is there to learn? And the answer is no. Why’s probably now mastered in the way things are assembled probably align and all of a sudden it does this superficially simple little song that just uses the normalcy chord. See a minor e f I mean just a normal gaggle of, you know, circle of fifths C songs, but they’re so artfully put together. And usually and you’ll be hearing it when I’m coming out of your way, by the way, because I’m starting to do this song and just these little licks and stuff like that. And it was so different from the way that I play normally. I just sort of assume things and make a mine. But in this case, I really like what Frank did. So I found a Vimeo video of him doing it and I studied it for about a month. I mean, that’s so I can kind of replicate his moves that were different than mine, you know, Anyway, and so here I am in the first position. C Song Guitar players will know exactly what I’m talking about. What more can you learn? And the answer is you never know. And probably a lot.
Buzz Knight [00:06:24] So since we took our walk last year, the the big talk has been a guy. Artificial intelligence. Oh, boy. Where do you think it’s going to do to musicians and to the music industry?
Jorma [00:06:39] You know, it’s this is so, you know, as a big science fiction buff, of course, I’m all over this stuff and there’s a bunch of great series about it. I mean, but but I’m not a scientist. And this like, who knows, really. I mean, I would like to think that on some level there is some inherent quality to human to the creativity that the humanities endowed with. If you’re lucky, that will not be able to be replicated by A.I.. And I guess maybe the flip side of that, again, being a science fiction fan, is if it is if I’m completely wrong and I can do all this stuff, maybe we can learn from it. Who knows? I mean, I don’t know it on many levels is scary stuff in a lot of ways. But as an artist, I really believe that there’s there’s a there’s a human quality that cannot be replicated by machines no matter how smart.
Buzz Knight [00:07:37] So I have a couple of questions from some members of the Taking a Walk listening audience. Her first one comes from a gentleman by the name of Muzzy, who happens to be my neighbor who lives around the block. And he wanted me to ask you the first album or concert that you went to that really got you fixated on fingerpicking.
Jorma [00:08:06] Oh, fingerpicking. That’s a good one. That’s a good one. Okay. I guess the first time I became aware of fingerpicking, I was taught it was probably, wow, I might not have even been playing the guitar yet. And it were. It would have been. It would have been. Yeah. I think just before I got a guitar would have been the early fifties. And we went to I lived in Washington, D.C. We went to a Pete Seeger show somewhere, probably I don’t remember where listen to auditorium maybe. Who knows? And just because I sort of was really entranced by what he was doing on the guitar. More than the banjo with the banjo, too. He’s holding these fretted instruments and his both hands are moving. And this music was coming out. And I remember that I made my dad bring me backstage and I made Pete let me touch his fingers and his finger picks This Before I played, I met Pete Seeger a lifetime later and told him the story. He was not as excited about the story as I was, but but I think that was the first time. And then then later on in the fifties, I started playing guitar. I was not fingerpicking. I was not really even aware of the possibilities of it. And when I was in Antioch College in the summer of 1960 or the spring quarter, 1960, when I met Ian Buchanan was the guy who really taught me to play. I was there’s a couple of guys in the house who played fingerstyle music and I got to see it. And when Ian took me under his wing and taught me to it, that was the deal. The next thing, of course, is when I was working in New York City and I actually got to see Reverend Davis play.
Buzz Knight [00:09:49] That’s awesome. Next question comes from our friend Mark from the Cleveland, Ohio area. He wanted to know. You know, from all of the various offshoots from the airplane where there’s been so much solo work and other projects that certainly many of the band members took off on. What are some of your favorites from your your your your coconspirators?
Jorma [00:10:21] Wow. Well, you know, the airplane got me into rock and roll. And when and when I when Jack and I split off and and and formed hot tuna, I think that we were in some ways going back to our first love. The good news for our first love with that kind of soul music was is it was heavily it had a broader palette of colors as a result of my experience in an idiosyncratic rock band. But the point that I’m getting at here is I don’t think I was really that much interested and in where my coconspirators were going because I really wasn’t interested in their music. Although I wish them success. I mean, we have Jack and I always joke, you know, about the Starship. We always quick to quit the band before they make the big bucks, you know, because the Starship was a huge hit band of the eighties, which we were not. But their music didn’t really set me on fire in the same way that some of the earlier stuff did. Anyway, that make any sense that I answer that question on some level.
Buzz Knight [00:11:28] Absolutely. So on a recent episode of this podcast, we had the author and music critic from the Bay Area, Joel Selvin, on.
Jorma [00:11:42] Joel Great guy.
Buzz Knight [00:11:43] And I asked him about his relationship with with Bill Graham and what he what he said is essentially Bill always thought that Joel worked for him and that was sort of the relationship. And I think Joel, you know, took a lot of what Bill said, you know, with a grain of salt ultimately. Sure. What was your relationship like with Bill Graham?
Jorma [00:12:10] So, yeah, So first of all, I totally get what Joe also talking about there. And I think he hit the nail absolutely right on the head. So so Bill was an interesting guy. And, you know, we we we met him doing a benefit when he was working for the San Francisco monitor. We did a benefit for him. And at the time, he seemed to have organizational capacities that that exceeded the norm of the sort of hippie consciousness that was San Francisco at the time. I mean, if you think about the music scene in San Francisco, it almost was in a parallel universe in a lot of ways. And I remember that some of the people that I met professionally later on, there were bands from, you know, blues bands of Chicago, you know, bands from New York, bands from L.A. that really thought about us as sort of like bumbling amateurs, which by their standards, in some ways we were, but we did okay. Anyway, Bill had a way of like sort of like pulling those bumbling amateur threads together again. He started to do a very successful, you know, the Fillmore West lives on in a way to this day. He just had kind of had a ways of getting things done. But like Joel said, I think Bill always treated everybody’s if they worked for him, which is why ultimately we parted company with him as a management company. But but Bill just got things done and there was something there. In spite of his his sometimes arrogant abrasiveness, there was something endearing about that possibility. I mean, Chet Helms, it was sort of like his counterpart with the Avalon Ballroom was. He got things done in his way, but not in his not in as predictable away.
Buzz Knight [00:13:54] So you’re always looking towards the future in terms of new musicians to play with, to inspire you. You keep it fresh that way. Who are some of the people on the horizon that you want to talk about?
Jorma [00:14:13] Wow. So, so. So mostly, I think the stuff that sets me on fire is is singer songwriters. I’m really more interesting in the tail than I am in guitar licks, although you never know when a guitar licks at a pop up, don’t get me wrong. But I think that again, about it’s about the story. And and earlier this year, a couple of months ago, I got, you know, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who’s been kind of like my poet laureate. And the songwriters I like tend to be female. Gretchen Peters is another one. But so Mary Chabon, Carpenter did did this album, I guess a couple of years ago. I was unaware of it. I just stumbled on it, somehow called Between the Dirt and Stars. And so I immediately got it on Tidal, which is a high end streaming search. Purvis and I bought the vinyl and all. You know, when I go crazy, when I get stuff, I have to get the vinyl and the CD and all this stuff. And, you know, I’ve been listening to her since the eighties when she put her first record out and just heard the stories that she tells, you know, and she’s had pop hits also. But they’re they’re not the most interesting songs to me lyrically. But but the poetry, her Tell just gets me on fire. And then that’s the kind of stuff I’m always looking for, you know, a Korean Poleward She’s a Scottish Scottish folk ish songwriter. Vic’s very fond of her. Gretchen Peters, again, great songwriter. And that’s the kind of stuff that I love for.
Buzz Knight [00:15:42] Who did you learn your storytelling from?
Jorma [00:15:46] Wow. I think that’s I think I just liked in this case, kind of funny because on some levels when I was a kid, I was very shy and you’d have to make me talk. But once I get talking, I like to talk. And we’ve talked for a while. So, you know, kind of know how I am. And I’ve always liked reading, I’ve always enjoyed reading, and I’ve always enjoyed a good story. I don’t think I, I don’t think I specifically set out to find that. But that’s the kind of thing that draws me. And if there’s a good story to be heard or tell.
Buzz Knight [00:16:21] Talk about the latest project on Red House Records, if you would.
Jorma [00:16:26] So. So we’re not with Red House anymore. They’ve a that’s an interesting story. I was a red house was bought by Compass and Compass is a big record company that’s a national company. They really don’t care very much about us. The news for me is I don’t owe them anything. Hot tuna does have them on record. But anyway, so we’ve been doing stuff with this, with this company I heard about and I did this for this company out and in and Fred, this French company, and they kind of this is sort of like a boutique, limited edition kind of thing, but they did The river Flows for us, so they do beautiful packaging, they do high end vinyl. They let us do exactly what we want. It is kind of like it’s kind of like a dream Culture Factory’s name of the company. It’s kind of like a dream situation for artists, you know, We don’t depend on record sales to make our not, you know, but to me people go, Well, you could have just been streaming seven years like the kids do. And I go, I’m really not interested in that. I like tangible things. I like liked, like a tool, like the Mary Chapin Carpenter thing. I got the vinyl, I got the CD, and I Dan, I downloaded the high end, you know, the whole deal, you know, So. So yeah, so, so, so Johnny Herbert. Now we’re getting ready to do another thing, another record. I’m not quite sure. I think we’re going to call it another life after. Yeah, I maybe, I don’t know, Banana case. We’re going to the same kind of thing we did with the two River Flows records where we’re going to get together at the ranch. When I get home from this trip, we’re going to get my buddy Justin Webb, who’s Larry Campbell’s production partner, and our drummer is going to bring his studio down and we’re just going to play songs until we get enough songs to fill a record.
Buzz Knight [00:18:11] I love it. Well, June 23rd, it’s the big opportunity to see Jorma at the City Winery. Jorma I’m so grateful for catching up with you again, and I look forward to seeing you play in Boston on the 23rd.
Jorma [00:18:27] Oh, you bet. You better stop by and say hello. You know, I love the city winery, folks. You know, it’s really interesting. You know, I’ve been working for them for for a long time since they since they first opened. And I think that I personally think they do a great job. And here’s a funny thing for you in Nashville. You know, I’ve got so many friends, I couldn’t draw flies in Nashville until they opened a city winery. And of course, although the last time we played there, we played the big room. It’s a country music Hall of Fame. So I guess I’m moving up in the world. But but for years, you know, we played the Bell chord. Nobody came, Thank God. I know people there, you know, But the city winery, the City winery is given me and Jack and my buddies at home. And we appreciate that.
Buzz Knight [00:19:13] Well, you’re the best, your treasure. And thank you for being on.
Jorma [00:19:16] Well, thanks. Thanks for taking a walk with me. Walking with you is exhausting. Yeah. Yeah. Stop by and say hello. I’ll be up there.
Buzz Knight [00:19:25] Thank you, my friend.
Jorma [00:19:26] Okay.
Announcer [00:19:26] My brother taking a walk with Buzz Night is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.