Jorma Kaukonen: Blue Country Heart (Ten Years On)
M.S.- What about doing some archive releases of Hot Tuna. A lot of bands have done it and technology has made it easier to fix old recordings. There are certain periods of Hot Tuna’s history that your live shows were much better than the studio or live albums that came about.
M.S.- I know Relix put out a ton of CDs but they never really went out and picked the best stuff. Would you consider doing something like that?
J.K.- Yes, I would. If you come up with some good quality stuff, sure I would.
M.S.- One of the things that I always liked (and there’s a lot that I liked) was the early dates at the Matrix in 1969. A couple of shows where you do “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and familiar stuff but also instrumental Airplane tracks and songs such as “Star Track.” One time the late Dick Latvala and I were talking and we got onto the subject of Hot Tuna and he said that’s the Hot Tuna I like. And we discussed the merits of trying to get that as an archive release. In fact, after we talked he said the next time he saw you he was going to mention it to you?
J.K.- Unfortunately he passed away, but check this out now that you have fired my interest up again right before he died he made me a couple of CDs and said this was his favorite Hot Tuna stuff and I will tell you honestly I never listened to them, but I know right where they are. Now that you have stirred my interest I will pop them on later this week.
M.S.- I’ll be really surprised if it’s not the same stuff that Dick and I discussed. I think there is a market out there for some archive stuff. Even the mid ’70s stuff when you were getting into the excessive electric stuff like 35 minute versions of “Walkin’ Blues.”
J.K.- (Laughs) Right. You mean the 35-minute ending to “Walkin’ Blues.’”
M.S.- Do you listen to a lot of music these days?
J.K.- I am a big country music fan, not country pop but I listen to a lot of singer/songwriter oriented things. I just really likeI don’t what to call itguys that can really play, player oriented music. We just had Guy Clark at the camp. I listen to a lot of stuff like that. He has a great guitar that also writes songs, Verlon Thompson. I listen to Alison Krauss. I’ve got Randy Travis’ CD in my truck right now.
M.S.- How is the Fur Peace Ranch going?
J.K.- It’s going great. We are almost completely sold out for this year and we have only been open for a month. I just can’t tell you life is great. We just finished building our theatre, we have a 200 seat theatre now, so I am considerably more in debt than I was four months ago, but we are making the payments and a lot of good music is coming here. Do you ever listen to our radio show on your computer?
M.S.- No, I’m still a little in the dark ages with that stuff.
J.K.- Well, when you have nothing else to dothere’s a link on the Fur Peace Ranch site or you can go to WOUB.ORG/Furpeace they have all sorts of stuff archived. You know we just had Peter Rowan here last week. He was spectacular.
M.S.- He is a great songwriter.
J.K.- He is. Oh my god, you know I think about him as a singer and songwriter and he was here performing solo and I forgot what a great guitar player he is.
M.S.- Talking of guitar playing on this album it sounds like you are finger picking rather than flat picking, and most traditional bluegrass players flat.
J.K.- Yes, I’m finger picking…it’s true that most flat pick but having said that Lester Flatt in the early Flatt and Scruggs not only played a Gibson J50 and not a Martin but he played with a thumb pick. He played all that bluegrass stuff but he used his fingers to do it.
M.S.- Well, I live and learn. Did you ever listen to Clarence White of the Byrds?
J.K.- Of course. Speaking of flat pickers of everything pickers. Clarence was brilliant.
M.S.- Anything else?
J.K.- Let me see. Record, going to Merle Fest, tour coming up, Ranch is doing great. The sun just came out it was raining earlier toady. Life is good my friend.
M.S.- Hopefully I’ll see you next time you are in Boston.
J.K.- That’ll be great. And next time I’m in Boston it will be with what ever band we finally get together. As I said it will definitely be me and Sally.
M.S.- Now are there any plans to record any of the shows?
J.K.- Well, when you get into the recording thing that’s another thing with the majors. They don’t fool around with a lot of that stuff. You know they are worried about fans recording stuff and I said it doesn’t matter what you say it’s going to happen, so really try to get over that right now because it is going to happen. But to answer your question there are no plans right now but you never know. If we get a real tight band together we might just say hey we should do a live album.
M.S.- Now there are only 13 songs on the album so when you go on tour I assume you are going to incorporate some of your traditional stuff?
J.K.- Right. I am going to cull from my bag of tricks; songs that I think will play well in that format. I was talking to Sally the other day and she said “You have got to do “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and I said “Don’t worry, I can’t actually imagine playing a night and not doing “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” I have to do it at least once a night. I have been doing it for years, so we are going to pull some stuff out and maybe some of the original songs that I have written that kind of fit into that feeling. I’m not sure yet but obviously it is not going to be a 13-song set and of course, I would like to give everybody in the band a chance to do something. I figure we will wind up with a good two-hour set.
M.S.- So basically you are going to reinvent some of your older stuff?
J.K.- Exactly, that’s what I was looking to say.
M.S.- One of things that I also noticed on the album was not only did these songs from the 20s and 30s make a lot of sense today but thematically there’s a lot of similarities in the lyrics. Was this a conscious thing on your part?
J.K.- You know I was just talking to someone else about that and I don’t think I consciously did but I agree with youbut when I look at the songs I picked its just pretty much where I am at today.
M.S.- Is there anything on there that is a particular favorite?
J.K.- Hmm. I really like the album a lot. I rarely listen to myself once an album is done but I have listened to this a bunch of times because I can hear all those guys play. I really like “What Are they Doing In Heaven Today” and I really like, strange as it may seem “Me and My Old Guitar”.
M.S.- That’s funny they are my favorites and they are the last two tracks.
J.K.- Great minds.
M.S.- Now when I first heard the album I didn’t know who wrote them. They almost sounded like originals. They fit your voice perfectly.
J.K.- Yes they do. You don’t have to be an opera singer to sing them.
M.S.- Do you have any new material?
J.K.- I have a couple of new songs that I have written that I have yet to perform. I might bring them out this summer. I wrote this real nice song about when my mom died but I start getting too sentimental. It’s that Finnish/Russian thing. I just have to get a little more disciplined so I can get through the song but I have about four instrumentals. So, I am slowly but surely getting there.
M.S.- Well, thanks a lot.
J.K.- It’s always a pleasure and I will dig out those things from Dick, god rest his soul.