A legendary figure in rock and roll, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen has made a lasting impact on American music, first as a co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, and then by the acoustic-centered folk blues of Hot Tuna and his own solo recordings.
Despite being the lead guitarist for a band as impactful as 60’s psychedelic rock pioneers Jefferson Airplane, Kaukonen didn’t rest on any laurels for his second act. A fine fingerpicking folk blues guitarist as well as being a talented singer-songwriter, Kaukonen has forged a distinct identity in the last 25 years, developing an audience wholly independent of his Jefferson Airplane days.
Kaukonen grew up in the D.C. area where he fell in love with blues and bluegrass hanging around the folk clubs of the city. After attending Antioch College in Ohio and learning Piedmont style blues guitar, he moved to the Bay Area to soak up the burgeoning folk rock scene, playing solo gigs at cafes. Never having been in a rock band, he nonetheless took up his friend’s offer to join a new group as a lead guitarist- that group would turn into Jefferson Airplane. From 1967-1971, Jefferson Airplane was one of the most popular bands in the country with several hit singles (“White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”) and records. Their freewheeling psychedelic style epitomized the counter cultural rock movement of the late 60’s.
Even though he made his name in a rock band, Kaukonen never gave up his first love of acoustic blues. Starting as a side project with his fellow Airplane bandmate Jack Casady, Hot Tuna soon became Kaukonen’s main music vehicle when Jefferson Airplane called it quits. Hot Tuna was an Americana band before the term even existed, mixing blues, folk and country together for a rich rootsy stew. In between Hot Tuna projects, the prolific Kaukonen also put out recordings under his own name, beginning with 1974’s beloved Quah.
Throughout several Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna reunions, Kaukonen continued to return to his folk blues roots, releasing recordings that mixed originals with little-heard blues chestnuts. In the last decade, Kaukonen has been undergoing a recording renaissance, releasing several acclaimed back-to-basics albums on the boutique Red House label. In 2015 he released Ain’t in No Hurry which featured the skilled production of Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan).
“Jorma Kaukonen is a master of American music” – LA Weekly