The Argotist OnlineTM

Home        Articles       Interviews        Features       Ebooks       Submissions      Links

 

 

Jorma Kaukonen

 

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.

 

After a break from college and travel overseas, he 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 that was being formed. He agreed, and invited his old musical partner, Jack Casady, to play electric bass in the band. With the band still looking for a name, Jorma suggested the name "Jefferson Airplane", inspired by an eccentric friend of his who had given his dog the name "Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane". He and Jack Casady, together, 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’. He left Jefferson Airplane after the band’s most productive five years, pursuing his full-time job with Hot Tuna.

 

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, such as 2007’s Stars in My Crown and River of Time, produced by Larry Campbell and featuring Levon Helm.

 

As the leading practitioner and teacher of fingerstyle guitar, he 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 him 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 tranquillity— 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.

 

   

 

Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?

 

A: Not necessarily. Good poetry does not always make for good lyrics and the reverse is often true.

 

Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?

 

A: I do not think it is important for songs to rhyme. As long as the lyrics flow and the groove sustains the story it will be a good song.

 

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?

 

A: Absolutely not. There are many ways to skin this cat and few, if any, rules from an artistic point of view.

 

Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?

 

A: For some strange reason, Shakespeare made that connection for me as a kid.

 

Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?

 

A: The relative freedom of ee cummings.

 

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?

 

A: Nothing evokes memory like a musical sound in my opinion. With making a value judgment the enjoyment of music takes less audience participation that reading does.

 

 

copyright © Jorma Kaukonen