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Back porch blues

Back porch blues

By Mark Purdy

Photo by Scotty Hall
Jorma Kaukonen ’64 plays and sings stuff hard won through a life in music. The rustic blues vibe of his latest album is crunchily satisfying.

Surely it is time for Jorma Kaukonen ’64 to receive an honorary Santa Clara degree, along with the one he earned in 1964 as an SCU sociology major. Subsequently, Kaukonen launched a music career that took him to Woodstock with Jefferson Airplane and further journeys across the decades with Hot Tuna. Lately he has settled on both the figurative and literal back porch of his Ohio ranch. There, he conducts guitar clinics and churns out crunchily satisfying collections of blues/roots/Americana music.

That most certainly describes Kaukonen’s latest release, Ain’t In No Hurry (available in stores or at redhouserecords.com). Playing with a band of old friends with in-the-pocket chops, Kaukonen begins the set with the 1923 chestnut, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” His trademark finger-picking skills have never been crisper or more soulful. And the tune’s message is hardly dated.

No one will ever confuse Kaukonen’s singing voice with that of crooner Michael Bublé’s, which turns out to be a good thing. Like others of Kaukonen’s maturing rock-legend tribe who have remained vital, he either writes songs to fit his timbre or selects cover tunes that fit his reedy tone like an esophageal glove. Take “In My Dreams,” a gentle reminiscence sung to a companion who’s shared years of friendship and love and never seems to age in nighttime reverie. There’s also “Suffer Little Children,” a Woody Guthrie song that’s been retooled with new music by Kaukonen and Larry Campbell.

In the CD liner notes, Kaukonen writes of his time at Santa Clara and relates how, during his first weekend on campus, he walked into a downtown San Jose folk club and joined a “hoot” with Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and future Airplane bandmate Paul Kantner (who also attended SCU 1959–61). Kaukonen credits that scene for “starting my train rolling” toward his life as “a decently rewarded folk musician.” Along the way, Kaukonen has not merely entertained his listeners but educated them while honoring a valued American tradition. Worth some honorary parchment, yes?

 

Read more: 

“Jorma’s Journey” by Mark Purdy from our Spring 2008 magazine, the art gallery of “The psylodelic era,” and a trip down Kaukonen’s 2009 River of Time. 

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