It's Jorma Time!

Jorma Kaukonen

Old Town School - Chicago

January 30, 1999 / Early Show

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 1999, Volume 6, #3

Written by John Metzger


On January 30, the recently relocated Old Town School of Folk Music played host to a pair of solo acoustic performances from the legendary Jorma Kaukonen. The intimate venue, which holds 425 people and features a stunningly flawless sound system, was perfectly suited for Kaukonen's 75-minute country-blues extravaganza.

There were no real surprises contained in the early show's song selection, which spanned Kaukonen's long and productive career while paying tribute to his heroes. He has long been including songs from Rev. Gary Davis, Robert Johnson, and Jesse Fuller in both his solo acoustic and Hot Tuna sets, and this evening was no exception. Davis' Death Don't Have No Mercy was given a bone-chilling workout, Walkin' Blues reached deep into the soul of Robert Johnson, and Fuller's San Francisco Bay Blues provided a rousing conclusion to the evening.

As good a band as Hot Tuna is, Kaukonen in a solo acoustic setting is even better. He is truly a master guitarist, and with no other instruments to complicate the mix, his ornate finger-picking style was truly able to shine. It's no surprise that he is an extremely sought-after guitar tutor who has graced his emulators with video lessons available through Homespun Tapes. In addition, he now provides group lessons via his own Fur Peace Ranch in southeastern Ohio.

On each song, Kaukonen consistently delivered simultaneous bass, rhythm, and lead patterns that delicately flavored and enhanced each selection, while breathing life into old standbys, like his most famous composition Embryonic Journey. Perhaps the two songs that best represented the evening's contrasts were back-to-back renditions of Julius Daniels' 99 Year Blues and another Rev. Gary Davis-penned tune I am the Light of This World. On the former, Kaukonen spewed bile and rage, giving the song a mood of intense urgency. On the latter, he changed direction completely, allowing his vocals to float over the delicately sweet sound of his guitar.

Robert Jones, who has taught guitar seminars at Kaukonen's Fur Peach Ranch, opened the show with a 30-minute history lesson of his own. His set perfectly complemented Kaukonen's and established the tone for the evening. Jones combined compelling stories on the origins of blues and gospel music with songs by Brownie McGee, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Son House. However, Jones' best performance was saved for the final song of his set the hauntingly beautiful original composition Arnecia of Evergreen, which was written for his daughter.

Too Many Years is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright 1999 The Music Box