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Published: 2000/04/15
by Rob Turner

Furthurmore With Jorma Kaukonen (Part One)

Here is part one of an interview that staff writer Rob Turner conducted with Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. It focuses on his performances over the past year, both as a solo artist, and as a member of Hot Tuna. Then it goes on to talk about some of the musicians he joined on stage in 99 including the Allman Brothers Band, Trey Anastasio, and Phil Lesh. It also touches on his Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp.

RST – Are you enjoying yourself on this solo tour?

Jorma – Yes I AM! (with a strum of his guitar emphasizing AM)

RST – There’s been a lot of talk about this being a rare occurrence. Exactly how rare is it to see you performing alone these days, and why?

Jorma – Well, just to really do a solo thing…I think it’s been a year since I did it. I don’t do it very often. I am gonna do it more. I actually have been having a really great time. I’ve been playing for years and shit…it’s not like it’s a “new day”...and sometimes you just you just don’t do things for a while…and I think the favorite thing I like to do now, musically, is to play with the trio, ‘cuz I like the textures and all of the stuff that Pete (keyboardist Pete Sears), Michael (rhythm guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Michael Falzarano), and I do together. I’ve really been havin’ a good time.

RST – Could you talk about how your approach varies musically in these different settings?

Jorma – Sure…. Well, of course, when I’m playing’ with a keyboard player…when you do the guitar/keyboard thing, the keyboards take up so much space, then you really….I don’t wanna use the term “get lazy”...but…you don’t have to do as much cohesive picking. You know, you can do more fills and parts and stuff like that. But when you’re playing solo, you gotta play all the time. I’ve done it for years, but I don’t do it that often. So, the first night down in Athens…I was thinking’ “Wow this is…” (shakes head), it almost feels empty in some ways, you know? But I was also thinking “this is really cool,” because I also do things when I’m playing solo that I can’t do when I’m playing with other guys because it clutters stuff up. For example up at the guitar camp (Jorma’s Fur Peace Ranch) we get like ten finger pickers together. They can all be real good, but when they’re all playing it’s like a barrage of notes, and you have to say “slow down guys we gotta figure out what to do.” When you’re playing with yourself you can give the barrage of notes and THEN it’s cool…does that make sense?

RST – Yes, definitely…and then when you throw Jack (bassist for Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, and many other bands) into the equation…

Jorma – Right, Ok and that’s another thing too. Jack and I have started to, in addition to doing the Hot Tuna band thing, we occasionally do duo things, just the bass and the guitar, which we’re doing up at the camp, I think, toward the end of this month. Jack and I have this thing, that’s a totally different thing too, you know, we have this thing where we… of course we’ve been playing together since “rocks and water” you know…

RST – ...since The Triumphs…

Jorma – (a deep, reflective sigh) Wow! But that’s a bit of a different thing too, and once again I don’t do as much constant finger picking because it’s not necessary, ‘cuz I got him doing the “Jack thing.” So, it’s just different. It’s like stripping layers from the onion, not that one layer is better than the other, but they’re different layers.

RST – Well, how about using “Embryonic Journey” as an example?

Jorma – Well, Ok Embryonic Journey, you know I do it a little bit differently every time, but it’s an arrangement song for me. It’s the same length, pretty much, unless I screw up and have to “pull the fat out of the fire” by making look like I’m taking off somewhere. If I were to play Embryonic Journey with Jack I would probably not do some of the off-beat timing things, like some of the descending runs that I would do solo, because I can’t be sure that he would do it at the same time and then it would sound like we were making mistakes. I think both of us clean our playing up a little bit when we play together. Now if we’re doing something like Mann’s Fate, in the solo parts, I do what I’m doing then Jack goes bonkers, then it doesn’t matter what I’m doing ‘cuz Jack is going bonkers. But, hopefully at the end of the “bonkers session” we will come back to the same part…

RST – the same moment…

Jorma – Hopefully, yeah. And it happens more often than not.

RST – Someone was yelling for Come Back Baby in Atlanta, and you were joking about how you would need Jack to drown out the…ah…

Jorma – Subtle guitar parts, right. Actually in a sense that’s true. Now it’s not a value oriented statement, but I wouldn’t do as many like, little ornaments and stuff like that when I’m playing with Jack because you just wouldn’t hear him. It’s just different, you know. It’s not really simple, we just try to pull things back to the nucleus that hopefully we’re orbiting around, as opposed to me noodling. I mean a lot of times I’ll be doing a solo guitar thing and I might not even keep the thumb going I’ll just play a couple of lead licks and stuff like that. And, it doesn’t matter that I dropped the bass parts out because somehow the audience’s elastic consciousness fills in the spaces, ya’ know. But, when you’re playing with other people I think in some respects, if you’re not thinking about it, there has to be an intuitive thing so you don’t step on each other’s toes. That’s one of the nice things about me and Jack is we tend not to step on each other’s toes.

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