The last time rock legend Jorma Kaukonen performed on the Vineyard — more than 30 years ago — the space now occupied by Nectar’s was the Hot Tin Roof and patrons could be found dining during sets.
“I remember it was sort of a quasi-acoustic show,” Mr. Kaukonen recalls. “I guess I was playing pretty loud and I was not as amenable then as I am now. The front manager said, ‘The people can’t hear to eat.’ And I said something like, ‘If they can hear to eat I’m not playing loud enough.'”
Well, although Mr. Kaukonen has promised to behave this time around as he returns to the Vineyard next Wednesday for a solo show at Nectar’s, it’s hard to imagine that anyone in attendance will be focused on anything besides the music.
And despite the fact that the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is now 70 years old, it’s also unlikely that the show will be any tamer than his legendary marathon concerts of the past.
The tireless performer was interviewed by The Times via telephone while on the road. He comments that he plays between 150 and 200 dates a year. He and his wife Vanessa own and operate the Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp in the hills of southeast Ohio. When not on tour, the musician, whom Rolling Stone Magazine named the 54th greatest rock guitarist of all time and the 16th greatest acoustic guitarist, teaches guitar along with a staff of music luminaries at the camp.
Mr. Kaukonen has been recording and performing for over half a decade. He was a founding member of two bands that were responsible for immortalizing the late Sixties early Seventies San Francisco music scene — Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. With the latter band, a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane, Mr. Kaukonen and his longtime friend and bandmate Jack Casady have recorded 25 albums over the course of 40 years. Mr. Kaukonen has pursued a concurrent solo career, which has produced 14 albums, including his most recent, 2009’s “River of Time.”
Mr. Kaukonen’s Piedmont-style acoustic blues fingerpicking style has made him a standout among guitar legends. While playing with Jefferson Airplane, he was a pioneer of fingerstyle electronic guitar work that was soon emulated by other Bay Area guitarists.
Though he may have earned his chops as a member of that highly influential band, he returned to his true love — blues and roots music — when he and Mr. Casady joined forces in Hot Tuna. With his solo career, Mr. Kaukonen, as a strictly acoustic artist, has cemented his reputation as a blues purist. Says Ted Drozdowski of the Boston Phoenix, “Jorma Kaukonen’s transition from psychedelic guitar innovator to acoustic folk-blues virtuoso seems complete…Kaukonen’s voice is a ticket to the rural past.”
Although his longtime collaborator and bandmate Mr. Casady will not be on hand for the Nectar’s show, Mr. Kaukonen will be performing with Hot Tuna’s other touring member, mandolin virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff. Mr. Kaukonen has been on the road for the last few months, in support of Hot Tuna’s April release “Steady as She Goes” — sometimes playing an electric set as Hot Tuna with Casady and Mitterhoff — and sometimes doing a solo performance either with or without Mitterhoff.
For Wednesday’s show he will be primarily performing material from his solo career since, as he says, “A lot of the stuff on the Hot Tuna CD really requires the electric band.” He adds, modestly, “But I’m pretty entertaining just by myself.”
“Steady as She Goes” marks Hot Tuna’s first studio release in 20 years. “While the stars were aligning to allow Hot Tuna the grace of ‘Steady As She Goes,’ we were all doing our homework to prepare for it,” Mr. Kauknonen says in a recent press release. “The moment wasn’t right; now it is, and we have a great project to show for it.”
Mr. Kaukonen’s solo album, “River of Time,” released in 2009, is a mix of originals and tunes by some of the early, less-recognized, blues greats known for their fingerpicking guitar style. The opportunity to watch one of the masters of this distinctive style is one that doesn’t come around often — only every 30 years or so — on the Vineyard at least.
Music: Jorma Kaukonen, 9 pm, Wednesday, June 15, Nectar’s, airport. $30; $25 in advance. nectarsmv.com.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a regular contributor to The Times.