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Ex-Jefferson Airplane guitarist still flies high

Jorma Kaukonen, 68, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with Jefferson Airplane but a self-described “old folkie at heart,” has a new CD, “River of Time.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even though his guitar helped Jefferson Airplane soar with the San Francisco Sound on hits such as “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” Jorma Kaukonen is not sentimental about the psychedelic ’60s.

“The ’60s were a long time ago,” Kaukonen says. “You just can’t go backward. The arrow of time only goes in one direction.”

Kaukonen, 68, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with Jefferson Airplane but a self-described “old folkie at heart,” has a new CD, “River of Time.” Recorded at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., “River of Time” features Kaukonen’s fine guitar work and comfy, lived-in vocals on songs by Merle Haggard, The Grateful Dead and the Rev. Gary Davis.

The next few months will be busy for Kaukonen. Besides a string of touring dates, he and wife Vanessa are opening their Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp in southeastern Ohio for its 12th year.

AP: You have a lot of folk roots. Can you tell me about the heyday in the ’60s, before Jefferson Airplane?

Kaukonen: In that era, there was just a lot of ... sociable music interaction going on. This is pre-hippie, pre-psychedelic. And the cast of characters that we’ve come to know as the San Francisco Scene were just a bunch of folkies like me. And people just hung out and played.

AP: What are your plans for the coming year at Fur Peace?

Kaukonen: We’ve got some really great artists coming in this year to teach and give concerts. I don’t think we’re physically going to grow any larger, because I really like the size. We can actually remember everybody’s names in the course of a session. But we’ve been so fortunate. The economy — which has troubled so many people — really doesn’t seem to be affecting us that much right now. And we’re certainly blessed by that.

AP: You’ve been sober for about a dozen years or so. How have you been able to maintain your sobriety?

Kaukonen: I just do what I need to do. I think if it hadn’t happened, I’d be dead. I realize that everybody in the world is not a drunk, but I certainly was, and I’m glad I’m not drinking today.

AP: Is your playing better?

Kaukonen: I think my playing is better. I think I’m much more in touch with who I am and what I do. And as an artist, to me, that’s become really important.

AP: You are a fan of gospel music. What attracts you to it?

Kaukonen: I wasn’t raised Jewish but I am Jewish — because my mom was a Jew — and my wife and I are members of a shul at home. Why do so many middle-class Jewish guys like gospel music? And I’m not sure what it is. First of all, there’s just something extremely inviting about it. ... I love the chord changes. I like the uplifted attitudes of the words. I just like everything about it, I really do. It’s great, great music.