Written by James Killen
Seldom does Jorma come close to town with Hot Tuna or solo that I don’t find a way to be in the audience. Having been in the middle of the San Francisco psychedelic scene in the sixties as Jefferson Airplane’s lead guitar and then splintering off with Jack Casady to form the power blues combo of Hot Tuna, and leaving the rest of the band to form the pop rocking Jefferson Starship, Mr. Kaukonen was a major character in my music appreciation development.
The songs of Jorma are split between the gritty blues style inspired by the likes of Reverend Gary Davis and the spacy folk love songs like “Genesis” and “The Water Song.” All of them played with complex chord sequences and a clear true tone that make him one of the most sought after guitar gurus in the country.
Mr. Kaukonen most certainly filled the house in Tomball this particular Thursday night with die-hard fans that kept the listening room atmosphere so disciplined that you could hear a pin drop, such was the respect commanded there.
The show began with the gritty blues, Jorma putting down “Ain’t in No Hurry” and continued with an extended “Hesitation Blues”, Jimmy Rogers’ “Waiting for a Train”, and “Barbecue King” exhibiting a thinly guised double entendre in the true blues tradition. The blues continued with Reverend Gary Davis’ “Let’s Get Together Right Down Here” and “Candyman”. Kaukonen shifted gears into the psychedelic folk of a new arrangement on “The Sleep Song”, followed by another folky tune, “Watch the North Wind Rise”. The first set ended with two more blues tunes, “How Long Blues” and “San Francisco Bay Blues”.
The intermission commenced with the refilling of drinks and lively talk of the show so far. I had been impressed with the performer’s lively witty banter and polite demeanor. The ease with which he moved, and talked and above all played that guitar belied his seventy-seven years’ age that had included some pretty active partying.
The second set began with an acoustic version of the psychedelic rocker “Serpent of Dreams”. He followed that up with more Jimmy Rogers (“Prohibition Blues”) and Walter Davis’s 1940 composition, “Come Here Baby, Let’s Talk It Over”. Jorma got pulled into some back and forth with the audience, talking about Jack (Casady) and Grace (Slick) and Jorma’s upcoming autobiography.
The music started again with “River of Time”, “In My Dream” and “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Kaukonen left the gritty blues for a bit with a beautiful rendition of “Sea Child”, following that with a couple of Airplane classics, “Trial by Fire” and “Good Shepherd”. Then, it was back to the blues for “Whining Boy Blues” and “Barroom Crystal Ball Blues” before lighting into his most popular instrumental, “The Water Song”. As the set wound down and the clock approached eleven (a late show for a Thursday at this venue), Jorma closed out with “I Know You Rider” and an encore of “Genesis”, which Kaukonen has called his favorite composition.
It was so good to see this road warrior in such fine shape physically and musically. His guitar school, Fur Peace Ranch in southern Ohio, must agree with him. Toward the end of his set Jorma had stated, “I’ve never been to this place before, but I’d sure come back”, which I believe most of us took for a compliment and many of us hoped was a promise. Maybe next time he’ll bring Jack Casady and a drummer and we can get a good old fashioned electric rocking Hot Tuna show.