Jorma Kaukonen Ain't in No Hurry Anymore
Jorma Kaukonen's relaxing new record reflect where he's at now in his life.
Photo by Barry Berenson
As the quintessential American troubadour, Woody Guthrie recorded hundreds of original songs in addition to his adaptation of traditionals. He performed even more than he recorded, and wrote more than he performed. And that's still not the end of his musical fountain. Which is how Jorma Kaukonen recently ended up co-writing a song with a man who died nearly 50 years ago.
"Woody's legacy is carefully guarded. And I'm sort of buddies with his daughter, Nora," Kaukonen says from Fur Peace Ranch, his home/concert venue/guitar camp/recording studio in Pomeroy, Ohio. "He apparently wrote thousands of poems that nobody has ever seen!"
So when Kaukonen was putting together material for his new record, Ain't No Hurry (Red House Records), he included covers of Depression-era standards like "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and the Carter Family's "Sweet Fern." He also penned a few like-minded originals, such as "In My Dreams," "Seasons in the Field and "The Other Side of the Mountain".
But the chance to do a posthumous collaboration with Guthrie? Yes, please.
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"[Nora] sent to me by DropBox four of his poems," Kaukonen says. "Some were photographs of his actual manuscript handwriting, and I was ecstatic!"
He eventually chose the work "Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me," which mixes metaphors of Jesus with more then-contemporary parenting concerns. With longtime Bob Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell as a collaborator, he says they had the basic music written in about a half hour.
"I have a son who will hopefully graduate from high school this year and go to college. And I loved [Woody's] line 'you go to college and buy your degree.' That wracked me!" Kaukonen laughs. "And to have co-written a song with Woody Guthrie? How cool is that!"
The 11 tracks on Ain't No Hurry are by measure relaxing, lolling, easygoing, and laid back. A Sunday Morning kind of disc, all recorded near his front doorstep. "[Fur Peace Ranch] is just fantastic," he offers. "To make a whole record and get to sleep in your own bed at night? It's wonderful."
And while Campbell, longtime collaborator Jack Casady, and others contribute instrumentation, it's largely Kaukonen's show, which will be reflected in his solo acoustic concert at Dosey Doe on Wednesday.
"It's a very cohesive record, and a little window into where I am in my life today," he says. "I wish I could say I plan things years in advance, but I don't! As things move along, I find myself more relaxed in the recording process, and a little less self conscious every time."
But Kaukonen's music wasn't always so relaxed. In fact, it was more revolutionary.
As an original and classic-lineup member of Jefferson Airplane, the guitarist was at the forefront of and fully immersed in the political, social, and pharmaceutical changes during the late '60s in San Francisco. The band is best known for classic-rock radio staples like "Somebody to Love," "White Rabbit," "Volunteers" and "We Can Be Together."
However, it took a much more traditional media for Kaukonen to win over one critic of his lifestyle and career decisions: his father.
"When I got in the band, I had just graduated from college, and I daresay he was repulsed," he says. "He was in the foreign service, a government guy, and when he and my mom came to visit me in San Francisco, my hair was long by his standards, and he questioned my sexuality. It wasn't pretty!"
But as time went on, Jorma Sr. eased up, realizing that his son was part of some sort of "art movement," and showed up at gigs. Even if it meant hearing lead singer Grace Slick screaming about twats from the stage.
"The frosting on the cake was when we got on the cover if Life magazine. And when that happened, dear old dad - may he rest in peace - realized that I had a real job!", Kaukonen laughs.
Story continues on the next page.
Hot Tuna: Still serving it up after 40-plus years: Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen.
Photo by Barry Berenson
That real job also took him on the stages of the three major rock festivals of the '60s:
"That was not a great day for anybody. And that became apparent early. Have you every driven around that area? There was no water, no food, no amenities for anybody. And when we got there, the stage was only about three feet off the ground!" he remembers.
During the Airplane's set -- partially captured on the 1970 documentary film Gimme Shelter -- the rowdy/drunk/high Angels "security force" began beating a concertgoer with pool cues. Seeing no one rushing to his aid, Balin jumped into the crowd to try and help, and was in turn was beaten and bloodied by the motorcycle gang.
"If you watch the film, you'll notice that when Marty got into it with the Angel, Jack [Casady, bassist] and Spencer [Dryden, drummer] and I just kept on playing," he says. "We weren't going to stop, because that was going to make things worse."
And while they were flown into Altamont from San Francisco on a helicopter, when the Airplane's set was over that transportation method was nowhere to be found. And Kaukonen wanted out -- fast.
"Spencer, my ex-wife, and I went into the parking lot and found some guy passed out in a Ford Mustang. I woke the guy up and told him if he would let me drive all of us out of there back to San Francisco, we'd buy him a Mexican dinner!", Kaukonen says. "He said OK, [and] that was that. That's how I got out of Altamont."
Kaukonen would leave the Airplane in 1972 to concentrate on Hot Tuna, his rootsier, blues-based duo with Jack Casady. Hot Tuna still plays and records today, now augmented by Barry Mitterhoff (mandolin) and Skoota Warner (drums). Kaukonen would also build a more modest solo career, with more than a dozen records.
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Jefferson Airplane's formation. And while fellow SF group The Grateful Dead are going out with three huge farewell stadium shows, Kaukonen says there are no current plans to mark the Airplane's same benchmark, particularly since Slick has vocally and publicly retired from live performances.
Given his druthers, though Kaukonen would like to get band members onstage with some acoustic instruments, and have a "spirited discussion" about their shared history, moderated by someone else and filmed. He's not holding out much hope, though he still sees and plays with Casady all the time.
"Jack has gotten into hiking lately. I mean, I'm in pretty good shape for my age, but he has like zero percent body fat!" Kaukonen laughs.
He then tells at story about taking an chairlift to the top of a mountain in Wyoming. After awhile, he called Casady to ask where he was -- only to see the bassist waving from the top of another peak...that he had walked up.
As for Houston, Kaukonen recalls playing here many times with various groups over time, but it was at a show a couple of years ago that stood out most.
"We were playing a warehouse that was more for electronic music I remember, and after the show I was outside," he recalls.
"This woman -- who had, shall we say, just a little to drink -- came up and was screaming that we had not played a song that she wanted to hear. Her date was trying to calm her down, and when the valet pulled up with his Jaguar, she was so angry that she kicked a dent in it with her foot!"
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