Pivotal members of the legendary Jefferson Airplane, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady return to the concert stage with acoustic Hot Tuna.
“It’s just going to be me and Jack,” says Kaukonen while on tour in the southwest.
“I think an acoustic show is a little more internalized which is satisfying. I’m not sure each of us knows what the other is going to do. We listen really well and we’re willing to go wherever the other person is leading.”
“We want to give people the best possible experience that we can,” adds Kaukonen. “We’ve got a great team that helps us do that in terms of sound and all that stuff, the palate to express ourselves. In terms of the show, to let people hear the stories and in some way be part of the conversation.”
“Jack is my oldest friend,” says Kaukonen. “If you talk to him you know that he and I are really different people but we’ve always tolerated (laughs) and respected each other personally and artistically. I think that just makes it easier to get together and have fun.”
Relocating from the east coast to San Francisco in the early ‘60s, Kaukonen befriended fellow guitarist Paul Kantner who he joined along with vocalist Marty Balin and later, bassist Jack Casady, to form the Jefferson Airplane.
Signed to RCA Records, and following the release of their unsuccessful debut “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off” (1966), vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden joined the band. It was their follow-up album, “Surrealistic Pillow” (1967), featuring the singles “Somebody to Love” and “ White Rabbit” that would be the break the band needed. Both songs were instant classics and remain a part of the soundtrack of the ‘60s generation. The band released five more albums, “After Bathing at Baxter’s” (1967), “Crown of Creation” (1968), “Volunteers” (1969), “Bark” (1971) and “Long John Silver” (1972).
“When you go back and listen to the freshness of that music, when it was new for all of us, it’s hard to recreate that sort excitement or newness.,” recalls Kaukonen. “At the same time, I think I have a deeper appreciation of what we were able to do.”
Kaukonen recalls performing at the decade’s most significant musical and social gatherings.
“Both Jack and myself and a lot of my contemporaries have been so fortunate,” recalls Kaukonen. “A lot of it has to do with being in the right time and the right place with the right people. And to leave footprints on the pages of history like that, it just doesn’t happen to everybody. People say, ‘You were at the big three: Monterey, Woodstock and Altamont’ - we had no idea what was going to happen. Woodstock was an oddity because there were a number of festivals that summer, but there was only one Woodstock. You just couldn’t script that but there it was and there we were.”
“Time marches on, nothing stands still,” adds Kaukonen. “I think there is a lot of truth in that one of the things that I think made the music so important to all of us, not just the creativity that was happening at the time, but the relevance to the social fabric at the time. I just don’t hear that today.”
In an effort to expand their creativity outside the band, Kaukonen and Casady formed Hot Tuna in 1969, which initially included Marty Balin. Featuring Kaukonen’s blues finger picking and Casady’s powerful bass licks, Hot Tuna released their self-titled debut live album in 1970.
“Jack is one of the best bass players in the world, ever!” says Kaukonen. “He has the ability to play groove, which he is so good at as well as extremely inventive improvisational and crafted solos. You would think that people would know about him. I guess maybe the reason is that he isn’t a front guy and he has played with other people and so people don’t hear about him as much. It is a shame because he is so good!”
With the disbanding of the Jefferson Airplane in 1972, Kaukonen and Casady concentrated their efforts on Hot Tuna. Initially an acoustic act, they evolved into an electric band as well. Their third and first studio album “Burgers,” yielded the hit “Ja Da (Keep on Truckin’).” Kaukonen launched his solo career with the release of his debut album “Quah” (1974). Hot Tuna broke up in 1978 reforming again in the late ‘80s. He has spent the last three decades performing and recording with Hot Tuna as well as his own solo career.
“I’m at a point in my life that I’m not self conscious at all (laughs),” says Kaukonen. “I don’t now if that’s a good or bad thing but that’s how it is. You give what you’ve got to give and if the people like it, great but if not, oh well.”
“I can truthfully say that I never phone my parts in. I’m always there in the moment,” adds Kaukoen. “Sometimes your ability to be able to communicate on that primal level, to me, the music is storytelling. Success is when I’m telling the story and people are getting what I’m saying.”
“Our fans tend to be people of a certain age that have made the journey with us,” says Kaukonen. “I would just like to thank them for being part of our life as we’ve been part of theirs.”
Kaukonen and his wife Vanessa own and operate the Fur Peace Ranch, a 119 acre stretch of land in the hills of southeast Ohio, near Pomeroy, which includes a recording studio. The ranch offers music camps to aspiring musicians, both young and old, as well as live concerts.
“We are starting our 21st season at Fur Peace Ranch,” says Kaukonen. “We’ve got great teachers. We’ve got great shows and we’ve got great food. The teaching thing for me has always been important. You try to believe that you have to make the world a better place. But on a more personal level, in some way to be able to give back the access to the music that was given to me. I’ve been teaching on and off since before Jefferson Airplane. It’s so enjoyable to me because I enjoy the process so much it’s just a gift to be able to do it.”