It’s always neat to be able to follow an artist throughout the decades of their career. Such is the case with this week’s column as I was on the phone calling legendary singer-songwriter/guitarist Jorma Kaukonen to discover more about his autobiography and the show that he and fellow legend and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer bassist Jack Casady will present Nov. 23 at the Waterville Opera House.

Both Kaukonen and Casady were founding members of Jefferson Airplane back in the mid ’60s and formed Hot Tuna in 1970 and have been going strong with that duo ever since. The last time they came to Maine I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Casady for the first time.

The guitarist and I began by talking about the weather in our respective homes in Sweden, Maine, and Southeast Ohio (”where Kentucky and West Virginia come together”). It was cold and rainy on Oct. 24, and he was also rainy and a mere 23 degrees.

Q: It probably won’t be too much warmer when you get up here for the concert in Waterville.

Kaukonen: Well, it is Maine. My wife’s family’s from Maine so we’re talking to the Mainers all the time and I keep tabs on what’s going on up there. It’s chilly, it’s Maine, for God’s sake!

Q: You’re coming up to the Waterville Opera House, correct?

Kaukonen: I am, yes. This is an acoustic show. We’ll be doing electric shows at Beacon the day before Thanksgiving. After the show we’re driving to Saco to spend Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law then heading up the next day to Waterville.

Q: Have you ever played the opera house before?

Kaukonen: You know, I should know this kind of stuff but the answer is, “I think so,” but if I have it’s been a while.

Q: It’s been renovated recently and has some wonderful acoustics.

Kaukonen: Oh, man, well, we look forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. You guys that have a theater like that in the area are so fortunate, because one of the old theaters that they had in a little town near where I live turned into a Taco Bell and was then torn down. And, I mean, what a loss.

Q: There are several things to talk about. I understand you have an autobiography out now?

Kaukonen: I do, I do. I’ve been a busy beaver. You know at my age I’m so fortunate that I’m healthy enough to do all this stuff and that I have the passion to do it. Now a lot of it has to do with the fact that my wife is younger than me and I have a 12-year-old daughter, but I’m just really having a great time being able to do all this stuff. Every now and then somebody goes, “Do you ever think about retiring?” and my stock answer is, “Why, so I can have more time playing guitar?”

Q: Good point. And you have me beat: my first and only child came along when I was 50 and she’s 20 now.

Kaukonen: One of the things I got, and I’m sure you did too, when people talk about (how) having a kid keeps you young, I go, “No, it doesn’t, it keeps you tired …”

Q: Right on!

Kaukonen: “… but it does keep you involved.”

Q: So true. Now back to the musical part of our chat, are you working on a solo project or maybe a new one with Hot Tuna?

Kaukonen: Well, right now I’m really just concentrating on doing the stuff I need to do to keep the book in play. However, Hot Tuna has been with Red House Records which was bought by Compass Records in Nashville, so Hot Tuna’s going to do a Compass Records project. Jack and I are going to do a project, and I’m thinking that it will probably be an electric one. But this time, I’m going to do something that I haven’t done for years and that’s to actually have all the songs written before I go into the studio, what a concept!

Q: Oh, wow!

Kaukonen: Yeah, I know (chuckle), so I’ve a little bit of homework to do. We’re not rushing it, but I’m hoping within the next year or so, yes, we’ll have another project.

Q: Now, would this take the place of a solo album for you, or do you work on solo stuff as well while you’re doing Hot Tuna?

Kaukonen: I do work on solo stuff as well, but right now Jorma the solo doesn’t have a deal. I did my last solo record for Red House before they got sold. But the thing is I can literally do one thing at a time so right now I’m taking Hot Tuna and not Jorma. Now people sometimes wonder what’s the difference between a Jorma project and a Hot Tuna project because I sound the way I sound, and the answer is: Hot Tuna projects are almost always predicated on the interaction between me and Jack, and the Jorma project is really pretty much about the song and it’s just produced in that way.

Q: Cool, thanks for the insight. Now, how is the book going over?

Kaukonen: Oh, the book seems to be going over great. Now I have nothing to gauge this on because I’ve never done anything like it before, but when it first came out it actually was on the Amazon “Best Seller” list for a minute or two. And people seemed to be buying it. I, believe it or not, actually had a really good time writing. I wrote it myself, I mean I’ve been journaling and writing stuff for years, but never a book. And there’s a big difference.

Q: I would imagine, but back to what’s bringing you to Maine, what can folks expect from your show there at the Opera House?

Kaukonen: Okay, so Jack and I are coming up acoustically and we’ll do old stuff, sometimes we’ll do new stuff that we’re working on. One of the things I’ve noticed happening to myself as a player — having been in this game for a long time — is, in a way, you become a classical recitalist. Especially in the acoustic format, so it’s important for me to be able to nail these little songs in a precise way without being mechanical or losing passion. The great news about having Jack on board is because when I’m playing solo it almost really is like being a classical recitalist. With Jack on board he injects a lot of wiggle room for me. There’s always, for me, wonderful improvisatory — if that’s a real word or not — events that make it exciting for me to play with him every single night. It’s unbelievable Jack and I have been playing together for a long time and he never ceases to amaze me with what he comes up with, and he never loses the groove. It’s amazing, it truly is.

Q: Is there anything, Jorma, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Kaukonen: Okay, well, me and Jack we’ve been around since rocks and water so people wonder what they’re gonna get. You’re gonna get an evening of good musical entertainment. Jack and I, sometimes, we’re really funny guys, sometimes we talk a lot, sometimes we don’t but we always do our best with the music.

Lucky Clark has spent 49 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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