Jorma Kaukonen was the lead guitarist of the Jefferson Airplane. Together with bassist Jack Casady, he split off from the Airplane to form Hot Tuna and pursue other interests, originally in acoustic blues. Their first album, recorded live in Berkeley, has been reissued in a deluxe two-disc format and sounds better than ever. The heart of the album consists of traditional blues songs with updated arrangements of numbers by Rev. Gary Davis, Kaukonen’s first musical hero. Kaukonen’s own “Mann’s Fate” closed out the album on a high note.
Smart and funny, Jorma is an encyclopedia of traditional American music as well as an engaging performer. If you’re in the vicinity of the Twin Cities, you can catch him for either of two shows tomorrow night at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis (7:00 and 9:00 p.m.). According to Rick Mason’s note at City Pages, Jorma will be performing with Larry Campbell on steel guitar, Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, and Teresa Williams helping out on vocals. Tickets are available for both shows. You can reach the Dakota box office at 612-332-1010. (We’ll be there for the 7:00 p.m. show. Please say hello if you make it.)
Jorma is touring in support of his new recording Ain’t In No Hurry, released on St.Paul’s own Red House Records. The new disc leads off with “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” one of the songs on which Jorma accompanied Janis Joplin on a homemade tape in San Francisco in 1964 while Jorma’s wife pounded out something on the typewriter in the background (below). Kind of amazing.
I saw Hot Tuna on both of the two nights they appeared at the Dakota this past summer. They turned in beautiful sets on both nights. On the second night, Jorma started off with a song called “Reenlistment Blues.” It was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. It was the song, it turns out, that James Jones contributed to the film version of From Here to Eternity. I thought to myself that Jorma is a seriously omnivorous musician. Gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
During their 2009 visit to the Twin Cities, Hot Tuna dropped in to the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in downtown St. Paul to play “Hesitation Blues” (with Barry Mitterhoff, video below). It is one of the many highlights from that first Hot Tuna album, still beautiful after all these years.
Jorma’s interest in roots extends beyond music to Judaism. The Times of Israel posts an intriguing interview with Jorma under the heading “Wife’s conversion brings Jewish bluesman back to the Jews.” Thanks to reader Eric Tanquist for pointing it out to me.