Alumni Arts

Let me lay it on you

Let me lay it on you
by Mark Purdy |
Hot Tuna is back with their first studio recording in 20 years. Jorma Kaukonen '64 has tunes and hard-earned wisdom to share, writes Mark Purdy.

Jorma Kaukonen ’64, the only Santa Clara grad from that year who joined Jefferson Airplane and played at Woodstock, is still picking out precious gems on his guitar at age 70. While with the Airplane, Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna as a side project. It’s now lasted four times as long as the Airplane, touring irregularly and producing far too few albums—as Steady As She Goes (Red House Records, 2011) proves.

Steady is Hot Tuna’s first studio recording in 20 years and a reminder of how rock elders can gracefully fold their age-earned perspective into new material, if properly chosen. Kaukonen, who wrote six of the new songs, has chosen well. So has Larry Campbell, the erstwhile Bob Dylan sideman who produced the album and plays on most of the cuts.

Lay it on me: Listen to "Angel of Darkness," from Hot Tuna's Steady As She Goes.

Kaukonen’s reedy voice, mindful of Leon Russell’s and just as evocative, is a perfect fit for “Things That Might Have Been,” a wistful look at his family relationships over the decades. The other songs are your basic Smithsonian-type journey through America’s musical culture of the last 50 years. You can imagine the chugging “A Little Faster” being played by the old Airplane inside a ballroom, right down to the rolling bass solo by Casady. The funky “Mourning Interrupted” is straight out of Memphis, while “Vicksburg Stomp” is a friendly handshake of bluegrass swing, and “If This Is Love (I Want My Money Back)” is a rowdy, hilarious roadhouse rocker.

But the set’s signature piece is Kaukonen’s own “Second Chances.” With his voice riding a soft and lovely melody, he reflects on life and mortality and looking in the mirror at your wrinkles. Kaukonen has said that back in the 1960s on the Mission Campus, he worked out the fingerwork for several eventual Jefferson Airplane songs while noodling on his guitar in the old Nobili Hall cafeteria. Today, I could well see him sitting outside on the building’s steps, singing “Second Chances” to current students and imparting lyrical wisdom that seems right at home there in the garden: “Our purpose turns from self to all. Our mission is to teach.”

Dennis Maguire said on Feb 1, 2012

I have been a fan of Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy for decades. It's one of the reasons that I produced an outdoor concert of Hot Tuna on Ryan Field while Student Body Vice President my Junior year at SCU. The field was packed with students and non-students. The weather was amazing that day and the music was even better—just ask the mayor of Santa Clara that year, he rode his bike to campus to ask me to lower the volume.

I was saddened to read in Jorma's previous SCU Magazine article that he did not remember coming to SCU that spring day in '78 [in the Spring 2008 issue —ed.]. But, to all those that attended Ryan Field Concert, he was there and most appreciated by all.

Dennis Maguire '79, Student Body Vice-President

Pat Dowdle class of "77 said on Feb 1, 2012
Hot Tuna (with Jorma, Jack and Papa John Creach) also played just outside left field at Buck Shaw Stadium in the spring of 1976. Not a huge crowd that day, but great music.
J.T. Gregory '70 said on Feb 23, 2012

During the summer of '70, when Jefferson Airplane was at its peak, they gave a "private" concert at Buck Shaw for the seniors, thanks to Jorma's SCU connection. Watching Grace Slick from 50 yards away belt out "White Rabbit" in a hooded, mini-length faux-fur dress, on a warm summer day was electrifying. But, ever since, Kaukonen's "Embryonic Journey" has been an all time favorite.

Summer 2014

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