Legendary finger-picking blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, co-founding member of 1960s rock band Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, an offshoot band of Jefferson Airplane, will perform at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2.
The Argonaut interviewed Kaukonen, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with fellow band members of Jefferson Airplane in 1996.
Along with bassist Jack Casady, Kaukonen formed Hot Tuna in 1969-70. Hot Tuna’s first album in 20 years, “Steady As She Goes,” was released in 2011.
Kaukonen talked with The Argonaut about meeting the late singer Janis Joplin in the early days of his career in San Francisco and their collaboration on “The Typewriter Tapes”; reveals an amusing story about the Woodstock music festival; his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio; and why he continues to perform.
Do you have an interesting recollection about the “bad old days” of Jefferson Airplane?
Looking back, I think about Woodstock in 1969, what it was like, that many people in one place. Some of the performers were flown in by helicopter, but we didn’t make the cut, and had to rent some Ford station wagons. I drove one of them and we’re on these back roads, trying to get through. We got on stage late, and I remember hearing (Carlos) Santana and thinking how great he was.
We had to get back to New York after we performed to do a TV show, so we jumped in the car and tried to make our way out. Problem was, the roads weren’t that wide. I was trying to get past all of these parked cars, and got a flat tire. I drove on the rim and then scraped the trim off someone’s car because it was such a narrow space to get through. So, to the owner of the car that I damaged, I apologize.
You’ve been one of the keepers of the blues flame. What’s to become of that style of music in the future?
That’s a valid question. Bluegrass is real, but not so visible. There are a lot of us out there. It’s a multi-dimensional, enduring art form, and it’s absolutely safe, alive and well.
You met Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia at a small club in the early 1960s in San Francisco when you were attending college, and later recorded some demo tapes with her, referred to as “The Typewriter Tapes,” because of the sound of typing in the background. What impression did she make on you?
Back then, we were all in the same boat, starting out. We heard her sing and we knew she was something special. We’d never heard anything like that before. It was classic folk-blues special, and that singing style of hers was my favorite.
You just completed two weeks of Fur Peace Ranch On the Road music class training in San Diego. Tell us about the ranch.
My wife Vanessa and I conceived the idea of a music teaching ranch back in 1989, but we didn’t get off our butts to do anything about it until 1998. We just had a dream and bought the property, which is in the Appalachian foothills. I thought of it as a ranch that grows guitar players. This is a ranch where budding and seasoned musicians immerse themselves for several days and come out with renewed inspiration and tangible progress in their music.
While we speak guitar here, there’s also instruction on other instruments, from bass guitars to lap steel guitar, mandolin and percussion, vocals and songwriting. The ranch has cabins, a workshop space, a musicians’ resource library, a store, the Beatrice Love Kitchen (named after Kaukonen’s mother), and a theater that hosts concerts performed by world-class musicians, with many of them serving as instructors. Vanessa just bought a 40-foot tall silo, and she plans to call it the Psylodelic Art and Culture Museum. We’re hoping to open it in March at the ranch.
You have an event called “Pick and Putt.” What’s that about?
When I used to ride motorcycles, I was a fan of the ‘largest things’ on the road, like the biggest ball of twine, etc. I still ride, and ‘Pick and Putt’ is a combination of guitar lessons and riding motorcycles.
You’re still performing at venues across the country, and some of those are sold out already. What keeps you going?
I’ve kept pace all my life. I still really love to do it, and when it’s time to get out there and play music, it’s very compelling.
McCabe’s Guitar Shop is at 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica.
Information, (310) 828-4497, or www.mccabes.com. Information about the ranch, www.furpeaceranch.com.