In a career that has already spanned a half-century, Jorma Kaukonen has been
one of the most highly respected interpreters of American roots music, blues, and
Americana, and at the forefront of popular rock-and-roll. A member of the Rock &
Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy nominee, he is a founding member of two
legendary bands, Jefferson Airplane and the still-touring Hot Tuna. Jorma
Kaukonen’s repertoire goes far beyond his involvement creating psychedelic rock;
he is a music lehttps://youtu.be/WDi0NwdpFOYgend and one of the finest singer-songwriters in music.
Jorma currently, as he has for many years, tours the world bringing his unique
styling to old blues tunes while presenting new songs of weight and dimension.
Jorma is releasing his next solo album, Ainʼt in No Hurry, early in 2015 on Red
The son of a State Department official, Jorma Kaukonen, Jr. was born and raised in
the Washington D.C. area, with occasional extended trips outside the United
States. He was a devotee of rock-and-roll in the Buddy Holly era but soon
developed a love for the blues and bluegrass that were profuse in the clubs and
concerts in the nation’s capitol. He wanted to take up guitar and make that kind of
music himself. Soon he met Jack Casady, the younger brother of a friend and a
guitar player in his own right. Though they could not have known it, they were
beginning a musical partnership that has continued for over 50 years.
Jorma graduated from high school and headed off for Antioch College in Ohio,
where he met Ian Buchanan, who introduced him to the elaborate fingerstyle
fretwork of the Rev. Gary Davis. A work-study program in New York introduced the
increasingly skilled guitarist to that city’s burgeoning folk-blues-bluegrass scene
and many of its players. After a break from college and travel overseas, Jorma
moved to California, where he returned to classes at Santa Clara University and
earned money by teaching guitar. It was at this time, that he met Paul Kantner and
was asked to join a new band. Although Jorma’s true passion was roots music, he
decided to join. That band was the Jefferson Airplane.
Jorma invited his old
musical partner Jack Casady to come out to San Francisco and play electric bass
for Jefferson Airplane, and together they created much of Jefferson Airplane’s
signature sound. A pioneer of counterculture-era psychedelic rock, the group was the first
band from the San Francisco scene to achieve international mainstream success. They
performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—
Monterey (1967), Woodstock(1969) and Altamont (1969)—as well as headlining the first Isle
of Wight Festival (1968). Their 1967 record Surrealistic Pillow is regarded as one of the key
recordings of the “Summer of Love”. Two hits from that album, “Somebody to Love” and
“White Rabbit”, are listed in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
Jorma and Jack would jam whenever they could and would sometimes perform
sets within sets at Airplane concerts. The two would often play clubs following
Airplane performances. Making a name for themselves as a duo, they struck a
record deal, and Hot Tuna was born. Jorma left Jefferson Airplane after the band’s
most productive five years, pursuing his full-time job with Hot Tuna.
Over the next three and a half decades Hot Tuna would perform thousands of
concerts and release 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 but never straying far from their musical roots. What is
remarkable is that they have never coasted. Hot Tuna today sounds better than
In addition to his work with Hot Tuna, Jorma has recorded more than a dozen solo
albums on major labels beginning with 1974’s Quah and continuing with his recent
acoustic releases on Red House Records—2007’s Stars in My Crown and River of
Time, produced by Larry Campbell and featuring Levon Helm.
But performance and recording are only part of the story. As the leading
practitioner and teacher of fingerstyle guitar, Jorma and his wife Vanessa Lillian
operate one of the world’s most unique centers for the study of guitar and other
instruments. Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp is located on 125
acres of fields, woods, hills, and streams in the Appalachian foothills of
Southeastern Ohio. Since it opened in 1998, thousands of musicians whose skills
range from basic to highly accomplished gather for weekends of master instruction
offered by Jorma and other instructors who are leaders in their musical fields.
A multitude of renowned performers make the trek to Ohio to teach at Fur Peace
Ranch and play at the performance hall, Fur Peace Station. It has become an
important stop on the touring circuit for artists who do not normally play intimate
200-seat venues, bringing such artists as David Bromberg, Roger McGuinn, Arlo
Guthrie, Dave Alvin, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Warren Haynes, Lee Roy Parnell, Chris
Hillman and more. Students, instructors, and visiting artists alike welcome the
peace and tranquility — as well as the great music and great instruction — that Fur
Peace Ranch offers. There they have opened the Psylodelic Gallery, a museum in
a silo, which celebrates the music, art, culture, and literature of the 1960’s, tracing
important events and movements of the psychedelic era.
Jorma Kaukonen is constantly looking to take his musical horizons further still,
always moving forward and he is quick to say that teaching is among the most
rewarding aspects of his career. “You just can’t go backward. The arrow of time
only goes in one direction.”
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