A Grammy-winning American guitar player and rock & roll Hall of Famer, Jorma Kaukonen may be best known as a founding member of psychedelic rock legends Jefferson Airplane and cult blues-rockers, and one of my personal favorites, Hot Tuna. His fingerstyle guitar method, which is rooted in blues, folk, and Americana, has made him an influential figure and in-demand instructor — he operates his own guitar camp [see Fur Peace Ranch]. In addition to his work with Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna, Jorma is a prolific collaborator and successful solo artist who has released albums at a steady pace since the late 1970s. Jorma was born and grew up in Washington, D.C., where he first turned to the guitar. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early ’60s, playing backup to singer Janis Joplin in local clubs. In 1965, he became a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, which soared to fame in 1967. Though his songs and vocals were not prominently featured in the band, his distinctive guitar-playing was crucial to its sound. With bassist Jack Casady, he formed a spinoff duo from the group in 1970 called Hot Tuna, and this became his primary musical vehicle after Jefferson Airplane split in 1973. Hot Tuna recorded a series of albums on which Jorma sang and played guitar until 1978. After that, he worked as a soloist and with such groups as Vital Parts (1980). Jorma reunited with Casady in Hot Tuna during the ’80s, and both participated in the 1989 reunion of Jefferson Airplane. A Hot Tuna reunion album appeared the following year. Jorma has remained active as the 20th century ended and the 21st began, regularly touring and recording in different configurations before finding a home with Red House Records, which released acclaimed efforts like Stars in My Crown, (2007), River of Time (2009), Ain’t in No Hurry (2015), and The River Flows (2021).
It is not fair to try and put forth a ‘here’s what Jorma has done’ bio, he has been such an inspirational force in both his own career, and the careers of others. I had the complete pleasure of catching back up with our pal as he heads to the Mineral Point Opera House on March 5th. We paint a picture for any first timers, get deep into the Hot Tuna scene and there is even something really super cool in the works for Jefferson Airplane for this coming October. Jorma is not shy to talk about what’s been going on, as you can tell from his blog and his oft-updated website – so it is easy to know what is going on. We get into the Burgers/birthday celebration slated for April 22nd at Carnegie Hall with friends of the proGram, Teresa Williams and Larry Campbell, and how influential that album still feels today. The conversation is as smooth as many of his lyrics and pickin’- oh, there is even a mention of a new guitar that will make an appearance here in Wisconsin. While it sounds ike two pals getting together and talkin’ shop, there is a lot happening in this chat to keep you looped in, and turned on.