" BluesWax Sittin' In Jorma Kaukonen†
By Bob Putignano
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Hi Jorma! I noticed on your latest Hot Tuna Steady As She Goes disc that you covered a tune ďGoodbye to the Blues,Ē is this true?
Jorma Kaukonen: Iíll never say goodbye to the blues Bob, never! Nothing makes me happier than the blues.
BW: I thought so.
BW:I saw your band about eighteen months ago when the latest Hot Tuna disc came out and was blown away by the show and your new drummer Skoota Warner.
JK: Oh yeah, Skoota is really something, weíve been lucky as we never play with bad musicians, but Warner is special.
BW: I thought Skoota gave the band a new shot in the arm.
BW: Around that same time I interviewed Jack Casady who also told me that this was the best version of Hot Tuna.
JK: Iím completely with Jack about this and even though itís hard to imagine, but it really gets better and better for us.
BW: Time has been kind to you and Jack, too.
JK: We have to keep moving, as the alternative isnít pretty.
BW: I recently interviewed Craig Chaquico, who had some very kind words about you.
JK: I havenít seen Craig for a while, heís a fine guitarist.
BW: He has a new blues album out.
JK: No kidding, I have to check that out. I know he was doing some New Age stuff for a while, but heís such a great musician that Iím sure he could not only play the blues, but can play just about any kind of music he wants.
BW: He told me about when he started hanging with you guys and the Starship and how his parents were worried.
JK: Iíll bet they were worried, and probably with some good reasons! Thatís pretty funny.
BW: I see Hot Tuna is coming to the Beacon in New York City this weekend for two shows. Will you be performing a lot from the new Steady as She Goes album?
JK: Yes, we are so proud of this new recording. In some ways and because of the diversity thatís on it, it kind of reminds me of Burgers. I donít typically like to compare records, but both recordings have a lot of different things on it. Though thereís no question that itís a rock Ďní roll record, too.
BW: It does cover a lot of ground for sure. How did you and Barry Mitterhoff hookup?
JK: First off, Barryís such a great guy and we immediately hit it off. But when I did Blue County Heart in 2002, I wanted to tour behind that record, but I couldnít get the big dogs like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and others to leave their regular gigs to go on the road with me. The great Dobro player Sally Van Meter recommended Barry as I wanted a mandolin player. Sally and Barry were old friends and told Barry that I might be interested to have him join my band. So Barry and I started to email and talk on the phone, and even before I physically met him I knew he was the right guy.
BW: In a different way I thought Barry was sort of like having Papa John Creach back in the band in that they both gave you a lead instrument to play off of.
JK: Totally! Let me share a Mitterhoff story with you and your listeners. About seven or eight years ago we were playing in Seattle at some weird museum. We played our show and had a great time and when we got off the stage and this guy walks up to Barry and says, ďPapa John you were great.Ē So I said to this guy that I was really glad you liked our show, but I have to tell you two things. One, Papa John was black, and two, he passed away.
BW: Oh my God! How about a good Papa John story?
JK: Okay, as you know when Papa John started playing with us he was probably in his fifties, and to us at the time he really seemed old. But now Iíd love to be fifty again. Anyway, he was such a great guy who had already done so much with his career, he was in jazz, he was in movies, he did all the stuff. So when Joey Covington and Marty Balin brought him on board, P.J. immediately embraced our music and jumped into it. He was also like a father to us all and would often tell us not to get too crazy before the shows and stuff like that. My dad couldnít relate to what I was doing, you know the deal. Papa John was just the best, for a guy who had such a varied background with multiple skills. He jumped into rock Ďní roll and gave it one hundred and fifty percent.
BW: First time I saw him was with Hot Tuna, but I didnít know he was going to be in the band, in fact I knew nothing about Papa John. At the time you only had that first acoustic album out and I thought thatís the show I would see. So I go to the gig and Mississippi Fred McDowell opens, then you guys jump on stage as an electrified four piece and blow the place apart, I was not expecting this at all, but I was thrilled.
JK: We sure had a good time, obviously. The first time we met P.J. was when Covington and Balin brought him up to play with the Airplane at Winterland, he was supposed to sit in with us for a few songs, but he never left!
BW: Itís always great for me finding out all these stories from so many decades ago.
JK: And speaking about Papa John, when we recorded Steady As She Goes we brought in the great Larry Campbell to produce it for us. As you probably know Larry plays all kinds of different instruments too, including the fiddle. So in a lot of respects I thought Larry was channeling Papa John. Larry and Teresa Williams will be on the show with us at the Beacon this weekend, so expect to see some early Hot Tuna tunes [from when Papa John was in the band] performed, along with a lot of other songs. So I expect to hear Papa John speak through Larry Campbell this week, for at least a couple of times.
To be continuedÖ
"In Part Two of his interview with Robert Putignano, Hot Tunaís Jorma Kaukonen talks about all kinds of things, including the lottery, Jimmy Vivino, and Robben Ford.".Chip Eagle for BluesRevue.com & Blueswax
In Part One of his interview with Robert Putignano, Jorma Kaukonen talked about the latest Hot Tuna record, Jefferson Airplane, and shared some stories of friends like Papa John Creach. Enjoy Part Two!
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Works for me, Iím looking forward to being at the show.
Jorma Kaukonen: I know youíll appreciate this. Jack [Casady] and I have been on the scene and in this business for so many years, and we are very aware about how blessed we are for having this kind of longevity, we donít know what to attribute this to, but if we could weíd bottle it up, weíd sell it! But the mere fact that guys like you who are in the communications business still want to talk to us means a lot to us, we donít take that for granted.
BW: Well, thanks, but I have to tell you that Iíve only been doing this radio gig for twelve years, but whatís better than this? Talking to my teen heroes and listening to you and others tell stories that I might have never had known, and getting the opportunity to share your thoughts with the listeners at WFDU, over the Internet, and with the loyal readers at BluesWax, too. I always get jazzed to find out whatís kicking in your heads.
JK: Well, you know something? I get a similar vibe as Iím thrilled to get to play with so many of my heroes!
BW: And deservingly so, good for you! Will there be a follow up to Steady As She Goes?
JK: Absolutely, thereís no question about it. I have two projects waiting in the wings, one is another solo Jorma record, and the other is another Hot Tuna album. Iím going to leave the next Hot Tuna album in Jack Casadyís hands, so if heís fired up to do another Tuna project, I will put my solo album on hold. If I had to put money on something thereís a better chance of a Hot Tuna project coming out next year than us hitting the Powerball lottery, I can tell you that for sure. [Laughs]
BW: I see youíve been affected with the lottery madness, too?
JK: How could anyone not? But at this point in my age, just getting out of bed is enough of a gamble. I know we have a better chance with having an alien land on your house than winning this lottery, but you never know, someoneís got to win. As they say, all you need is a dollar and a dream.
BW: Good luck!
JK: Let me leave you with this thought, one song I wrote for the new album, ďMourning Interrupted,Ē comes from a TV series called Memphis Beat, Iím not a Memphis-styled musician, but I loved that show. The theme from the show had this beat to it that I couldnít get out of my head, so I sat down and started to write the lyrics to my song, itís a downbeat song lyrically. So I am on the road and emailed the lyrics to my wife, who asks if Iím feeling depressed and starts asking me if Iím okay? So I said, ďVanessa itís a song, sometimes when you write a song you have to follow the rabbit down the hole,Ē and told her Iím alright, it turns out that I think itís a funny song, too.
BW: There we have it, thanks Jorma!
JK: Thanks Bob. You know Iíve been late for most of my life, so thanks for being punctual, these things now mean a lot to me. I am on my way to Woodstock at Levon [Helm]ís barn for rehearsals with the band for the Beacon, so Iím looking forward to seeing a lot of your listeners at the two Beacon shows.
BW: Jimmy Vivino and his Black Italians are performing at Levonís this weekend too, and they are recording a new CD, you might run into them.
JK: Speaking of great guitar players, Vivino is also such a nice guy. Okay, another quick story. Jimmy wanted me to go on with him on the Conan OíBrien Show and he wanted to do some Airplane songs. And I told him, ďLook Jimmy, I havenít played that stuff in about forty years. So Jimmy tells me you donít have to know anything, we know the songs and all you need to do is just play solo guitar. I told him to count me in.
BW: Jimmy is such a great support player, when he used to do the Ramble shows with Levon, everyone in the band looked towards him to see where he wanted to go with the music.
JK: Jimmy Vivino is the man. Last but not least, you know the Rambles are still going on?
BW: Yes I do, we just gave away tickets to Vivinoís shows this weekend.
JK: The spirit continues!
BW: It sure does. Iím not sure if you know that Don Imus was and still is a big Levon fan and he does all he can to keep the Levon barn announcements rolling with TV and radio announcements. He still reaches a lot of people.
My last question: the tour you did with Ruthie Foster and Robben Ford was excellent. I loved the way Robben supported your segment and rolled into his session player role, and did not try to compete with you, to me that was very special to observe. I thought he brought out different shades of Jorma and really catered to you as opposed to cutting heads. This had to be because of Robbenís long list of studio work as a sideman?
JK: Oh my God, yes! Robben exemplifies exactly what you just said. When he does his own thing, he does his thing. But when he contributes, as music is a great way to talk with friends, so having a musical conversation with Robben is always an enlightening experience.
BW: All of that session work [now mostly long gone] still pays off.
JK: Robbenís the man too; itís always an honor to work with him.
BW: I wasnít sure how you two would mesh, but it sure did work well.
JK: Absolutely! Anyway, good talking to you, I am off to Levonís barn to practice with the band.
BW: See you this weekend, have fun jamming with the band in Woodstock and at the Beacon.
JK: Rock on brother!
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com