Jorma Kaukonen to host “Ask Me Anything” Session on Reddit
Legendary guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, will host a Reddit Ask Me Anything on r/gratefuldead. The session will occur on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. ET.
Of course, Kaukonen has a storied music career, including collaborations with the late Robert Hunter, such as Hunter’s 1984 album Amagamalin Street, released at Relix Records. In addition, Kaukonen contributed some words on Hunter for Relix’ upcoming issue honoring the lyricist; head to relix.com/ripple for more information.
Head to reddit.com/r/gratefuldead on Dec. 20 to participate or read the AMA.
Jorma Kaukonen Reflects on ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ And The Life of a Legendary Band
In 1967, San Francisco rockers Jefferson Airplane released “Surrealistic Pillow,” an album that put the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene on the commercial map and featured the band’s two biggest hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” An unprecedented and unmatched mix of Peter, Paul and Mary’s harmonious folk-revival music, Howlin’ Wolf’s overdriven guitar blues, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry’s driving early rock and roll, and melodic pop-rock à la “Revolver”-era John Lennon, “Surrealistic Pillow” offers a spooky and intense vision of psychedelia that stands in striking contrast with the more carefree sounds of other psychedelic music, in its era and since. The Harvard Crimson spoke with Jorma Kaukonen, Jefferson Airplane’s lead guitarist and sometime singer-songwriter, about the making of the album and more.
The Harvard Crimson: Rick Jarrard produced “Surrealistic Pillow.” What did that mean, exactly?
Jorma Kaukonen: Rick really took an active role in how things were evolving in the studio. He had a lot to say. “We need a guitar accent here,” or “we need a solo there,” et cetera. We also had Jerry [Garcia, of the Grateful Dead] on board, and he helped us with arrangements and with band dynamics, because he had so much more familiarity with that stuff, but Rick Jarrard was the producer.
THC: Was there ever tension between Jarrard and the band over his creative input?
JK: We sort of bristled against some stuff, just ‘cause we liked to think we came up with everything ourselves. But at the same time, I think that everybody in the band, even Paul, Grace, and Marty [Kaukonen’s bandmates] recognized that we were in uncharted waters. When you go into the studio and record something, it’s a different ballgame from playing a live show. I don’t think the album would have had the same sonic quality had the members of the Airplane, myself included, been able to drive the bus more. So, did Rick make us do stuff that we probably wouldn’t have done if left on our own? The answer is yes, and after the fact, my personal opinion is that this was a good thing.
THC: What sorts of things did Jarrard push for?
JK: One example is that when he heard me playing “Embryonic Journey” in the lobby to the security guard, just for fun, he said “I want to put that on the record.” And I thought he’d lost his mind, to put a folky fingerpicking piece on a rock and roll record. He recorded that in one take, and all the echo on it is real room echo.
THC: I’ve always assumed that the echo was applied in post-production. Did he put the mic, like, fifteen feet away from you?
JK: The mic was probably pretty close to the guitar. I wish I could say I remember, but I don’t. But that’s something else, too: recording guys like Rick, these guys were masters of mic placement. RCA had two books out in the ‘50s about mic placement, more about recording classical music and orchestras, that are still kind of the Bibles for guys that are interested in that kind of stuff. And those guys, back in the old days, they had that stuff down.
THC: You’ve said that when you first joined Jefferson Airplane, you were asked to play a Rickenbacker twelve-string because Roger McGuinn [lead guitarist and singer of the Byrds] used one. When you were making “Pillow,” did you think about emulating your contemporaries, like “I’ll play a Hendrix-y lick here,” or avoiding sounding like them?
JK: The answer is no. First of all, I don’t think we’d heard Hendrix yet, although he went on to be so influential on so many levels. Second of all, I recognized early on that what McGuinn did with the Byrds was utterly alien. It was really cool, and he’d architected a guitar sound that was completely his own, but I just played like me; I wasn’t able to do what he did. I think Paul would have been happy if I’d been able to do that, but the twelve-string didn’t last long in the Airplane, because that just really wasn’t me.
THC: There’s a polyphonic approach to vocal arranging across the album there that I don’t really hear in any other ‘60s rock music. In the B section of “She Has Funny Cars,” for instance, Marty and Grace have dueling vocal lines, instead of harmonizing lines. Where did that come from? It seems like a classical idea.
JK: That call-and-answer thing, with Grace and Marty, it’s just the chemistry of these two people. Grace had some classical training, and she liked Erik Satie [fin-de-siècle French avant-garde composer] a lot, and I’m guessing that she was probably driving that. I mean, nobody would have told anybody what to do, ‘cause it didn’t work like that, but the vocal harmonies of the Jefferson Airplane were very idiosyncratic. From the beginning to the end of our thing as a band, there’s some really interesting stuff.
THC: Are there any bands around today that you think are doing the kind of work you were trying to do, carrying the torch?
JK: One of the bands that I’m extremely fond of for a number of reasons –– and I don’t think they’re influenced by us on any level, but they carry the same kind of spiritual torch — is [Lake Street Dive. I just love that band; they’re great. And no matter what Rachael Price [Lake Street Dive’s singer] and her pals are going for or how they see themselves, they’re not a typical rock and roll band. They’re not a typical jazz band. In my opinion, they really are their own thing, whatever that thing is. And if nothing else, in the era when the Airplane was young, the Airplane was absolutely its own thing.
—Staff writer Alasdair P. MacKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil Lesh Played The Cap With Jorma, Announces Halloween Shows
Phil Lesh’s Road to Mountain Jam kicked-off with a special night featuring Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen at Port Chester, NY’s The Capitol Theater. The Dead-friendly venue packed a sold-out crowd in to appreciate this legendary collaboration.
The five-piece band got things building with an intro jam that allowed Kaukonen to warm up his bright guitar tone before they jumped into a happy “Here Comes Sunshine”, led on vocals by Dark Star Orchestra keyboardist Rob Barraco. Phil Lesh then took over lead vocals on the Dead traditional staple “Cold Rain and Snow”. Kaukonen’s controlled, clean Hot Tuna style turned into some real Jefferson Airplane-esque shredding as he and Barraco soloed together to hit one of the best jams of the set.
Next, former Bruce Hornsby and the Range drummer and longtime “Friend” of Phil Lesh, John Molo, shined on a bouncy “Loose Lucy” before they slowed things back down on a “Bird Song” with Phil’s talented son Grahame Lesh showing off his slide guitar chops.
Hot Tuna’s Stop at Woodstock 50 Brings Jorma Kaukonen Full Circle: Exclusive Interview
In Been So Long: My Life & Music, Kaukonen’s candid and compulsively readable autobiography from last fall, the guitarist said the experience was like an an excursion into a parallel universe “whose portal opened unbidden and closed just as mysteriously, leaving a vivid memory.”
Billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music,” Woodstock is far from the only highlight in Kaukonen’s career. With Jefferson Airplane, he composed enduring songs like “Embryonic Journey,” his fingerstyle tribute to blues and gospel singer the Rev. Gary Davis. Kaukonen’s arrangement of the folk standard “Good Shepherd” combined acoustic picking, electric shredding and alternative tuning, and has influenced countless guitarists. Later, he formed the offshoot band Hot Tuna with childhood friend and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, prefiguring the Americana genre – and they are still touring today.
New Jim Marshall Documentary Show Me The Picture: The Story Of Jim Marshall, Features Jefferson Airplane And Interview With Jorma Kaukonen
Jim Marshall, the artist behind some of classic rock’s most legendary images, including Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire at Monterey in 1967 and Johnny Cash flipping the bird at San Quentin in 1969, is the subject of a new documentary film. “Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall,” directed by Alfred George Bailey (“Gregory Porter Don’t Forget Your Music”), holds its South By Southwest (SXSW) premiere on Friday, March 15.
The film features interviews with Peter Frampton, Graham Nash, John Carter Cash, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, actor Michael Douglas and Marshall’s longtime assistant, Amelia Davis, who worked with the photographer from 1998 until his death in 2010. Davis and her partner now carry on Marshall’s legacy and maintain his impressive archive.
Jefferson Airplane’s Kaukonen Is Still On Embryonic Journey
LOS ANGELES — Long before he wrote and recorded the Jefferson Airplane classic “Embryonic Journey,” Jorma Kaukonen was on a decades-long journey of discovery of his own.
From shy, sometimes bullied upper-class son of a globe-trotting U.S. diplomat in post-colonial Pakistan, Kaukonen would evolve into a hard-drinking, hell-raising teenager racing his motorcycle through the streets of the Philippines in the mid-1950s.
Q&A: Jorma Kaukonen’s New Book ‘Been So Long’ Recalls His Journey from Jefferson Airplane to Hot Tuna and Beyond
Jorma Kaukonen has been a force in rock music for more than a half-century. A founding member of two groundbreaking bands – Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna – the singer-guitarist has just released his new autobiography, Been So Long: My Life and Music. Read More