Furthurmore With Jorma Kaukonen (Part Two)
Here is the conclusion of the lengthy interview with Jorma Kaukonen, which began in the April issue. In this segment Jorma talks about the many storied musicians who have performed with him over the years. More information about Jorma is available at his web site. In addition, Hot Tuna will be opening a number of shows for the Allman Brothers Band this summer.
RST – Now we enter the “memories” portion of the interview. First of all, I mentioned The Triumphs, what do you remember about The Triumphs? You played rhythm guitar, and Jack (Casady) played lead, right?
Jorma – Yeah, I was the rhythm guitar and singer. Jack played lead; we had drums, and a bass player that couldn’t afford a bass, so he played on the muted strings of a Country Gentleman or something like that. We were just kids, we weren’t even a garage band, we were a living room band. Parents used the garage for cars in those days. It’s just funny stuff. We did a single with this guy… Covell… what’s his first name?... (groans) my mind is gone, I can’t remember his name…. We did a single with this guy, one side was called Symbol Of Our Love, and the other was, Magic Key. It’s a 78, and I have probably the only one in existence. This is funny because, maybe somebody, like Jack wanted one, and I say, “No, you can’t have one, because somebody will get a copy. This way there’s only one.” I put it on D-88 in case I trip over it and break it or something like that. We’re gonna put it on an Anthology one of these days. It’s not bad. It’s this twangy, 50s kind of thing. The singer sounds like that. Jack takes a real nice twangy guitar solo, with natural room echo; I mean the whole deal you know? I listened to it after the fact, and I used to think, “God, we must have really been horrible.” We weren’t that horrible. We weren’t that original, but we weren’t that horrible.
RST – Well, musicians often think they’re doing worse than they really are at times.
Jorma – Yeah, and listen to it after and think, “gee, it wasn’t that bad.” I remember our first job we played some Sorority party at the Wilson High School that we went to. I think we made enough money to get a hamburger at the Hot Shop or something like that afterwards. But, I remember thinking at the time, “Hey, it may not get any better than this.”
RST – How about Ian Buchanan and his connection with Rev. Gary Davis, and his effect on you?
Jorma – Ian is my teacher that really got me to sit down and actually learn how to finger pick and stuff. I met him in Yellow Springs, OH at Antioch College. Ian had actually… I’ve never studied with the Reverend, and I’m not a Rev. Gary Davis authority, but I do love his music. My door into that stuff was Ian. Ian’s dead, unfortunately, but he was a great guitar player, a really nice guy. I theorize after the fact that the reason that he took me under his wing is that my “Triumph-style” thrashing just probably drove him nuts, because we had rooms next to each other in this little house. He probably figured the only way to do this is to teach this guy how to do something I could stand to listen to. He really, basically said, “come here kid, let me show you how to play.”
RST – And Rev. Gary’s music is still a large part of your repertoire.
Jorma – Oh absolutely. My playing style is not a Rev. Gary Davis style, and when people are really interested in that I always suggest Stefan Grossman’s books, or Roy knows how to do it really well. There are a lot of people who know how to do that. But the spirit of his music has certainly infused my playing a lot and I love his songs…. He’s still the man as far as I’m concerned.
RST – How about the early days with Janis Joplin in blues and honky-tonk bars?
Jorma – I met Janis the first weekend that I moved to California. It would have been in ’62. I was living in Santa Clara; I was going to school there. There was a little coffeehouse in San Jose called the Folk Theater, later on it was called the Off Stage, but it was called the Folk Theater. They had a Hootenanny, few people remember what a Hootenanny is these days, but some do. We had a Hootenanny, Jerry was there, and Pigpen, and Janis, and Steve Talbot and alotta people. I had just come from the East Coast, and I was a big Memphis Minnie fan, so I knew a lot of those songs. I knew how to play them – I couldn’t sing them. Janis, of course, was superlative at singing those songs. So, I got to play with her, and I remember at the time thinking, “man, this is unbelievable,” because she was unbelievable.
RST – It was pretty obvious even then that this was a special performer?
Jorma – Oh, she was out there, no question about it.
RST – Then the coffee shop days started with Paul (Kantner, co-founder of Jefferson Airplane), Jerry, and I guess you met Marty (Balin, another original Airplane member) that way?
Jorma – Actually Paul met Marty in San Francisco at the coffee shops. I lived down the Peninsula. I didn’t move to San Francisco until Paul conned me into joining the Airplane. So, I wasn’t really as familiar with the guys up there. Jerry and his friends were from Palo Alto; they were a little closer to where I lived. And of course we were more interested in the same kind of music and stuff so…it was still sort of a close knit family. Marty was more into the “commercial Folk thing,” which of course was great when we started to play rock ‘n roll, because he knew all about vocal ranging and stuff like that which I still don’t know a thing about.