On Friday, December 9, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jorma Kaukonen performs at Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater. Born in Washington, D.C., Kaukonen played in a high school rock band with his future bandmate Jack Casady. Along with Marty Balin, Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner, Kaukonen helped to form the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane, which recorded some of the best-known psychedelic tracks of the ’60s and ’70s, such as “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.”
Shortly after leaving the Airplane, Kaukonen co-founded Hot Tuna and also began a solo career. He has continued to perform and record nonstop. Before his upcoming show in Riverhead, Kaukonen talked with us about his “rootless” upbringing, early musical influences and his initial move to the West Coast. He also briefly looks back on some of rock and roll’s most famous festivals and lets concertgoers on the East End know what to expect from his show next month.
Was the household you grew up in musical?
It was. Both my parents played piano. We had a Steinway upright. My dad also played violin and the recorder, and my mom sang.
Your father’s career in the State Department allowed you to travel to many different places at a young age. How did this affect you?
One thing it does is make you rootless—compared to your friends at home who would be in high school with the kids they went to kindergarten with. It also allows you to reinvent yourself often. Whether or not that’s a good thing is open to debate. It did make me open to accepting different cultures, and I learned what it was like to be an outsider, or a minority.
What artists do you credit with influencing your guitar style?
Before I started to finger pick, it would’ve been The Carter Family, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Reverend Gary Davis, and most importantly, Ian Buchanan.
You met Jack Casady as a teenager. What was your relationship early on?
He was my buddy Chick’s younger brother. When we both realized we shared the love of music, we became best pals.
What was it like to move from Washington, D.C. to the San Francisco Bay area?
The year and a half before I moved to Santa Clara, I was in school in the Philippines. After that, I was back in D.C. for three months working in a service station and then out to the West Coast. California was Technicolor compared to the monochromatic atmosphere of D.C.
What did you consider to be Jefferson Airplane’s breakthrough?
The first serious review by Ralph J. Gleason.
Do you have any reflections that you’d like to share about your gigs at Woodstock and Monterey?
We were only at Woodstock for the time it took for us to perform, which was 20 hours or so. It was so huge, though. It was impossible for me to grasp its significance at the time. As for Monterey, yes, it was a breakthrough festival, but it was small compared to the festivals we take for granted today.
Do you still listen to music the way you did when your career started?
Yes. I’m impulsive, but single-minded. When I’m into something, that’s all I listen to.
What can you tell us about the show you’re bringing to Suffolk Theater?
This will be a true solo Jorma show. Just me and my guitar. I love being able to do this.
Jorma Kaukonen performs at Suffolk Theater Friday, December 9 at 8 p.m. 118 East Main Street, Riverhead. For more information, call 631-727-4343 or visit suffolktheater.com.