Rock Band Hot Tuna Returns to Recording For ‘Steady As She Goes’

BY JEFFREY BROWN  June 14, 2011 at 3:25 PM EDT

'Steady As She Goes,' Hot Tuna (2011)

For the first time in 20 years, the band Hot Tuna is out with a new album.  It’s titled “Steady as She Goes.” Band member Jorma Kaukonen discusses the record, as well as the Fur Peace Ranch, his music camp in Ohio. 




JEFFREY BROWN: Joining me on the phone from his home in Ohio is Jorma Kaukonen, founding member of Hot Tuna, founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, legendary guitar player et cetera, et cetera. Welcome to you.

JORMA KAUKONEN: Thank you very much.  And small time land baron in southeast Ohio.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. [Laughing] Most important of all, perhaps, huh?  Now, the obvious question is, 20-year gap between studio albums — why and why now?

JORMA KAUKONEN: OK, well, I mean, that’s certainly a valid question. I guess we did an album for Epic in 1990 or thereabouts, and, you know, after that Jack [Casady] and I have never really quit playing together, but just nothing really came together, you know. The record business changed and–


JORMA KAUKONEN: –and we didn’t have a company, and, of course, it’s still changing. But what happened was: We always talked about doing it again, or maybe doing like the kids are doing, something online. But I’ve done two solo albums for Red House Records. And when I finished my second one, “River of Time,” a couple years ago, I was talking with one of the guys and I went, ‘Well, how would you guys like to do a Hot Tuna record?’ And they went, ‘Well yeah, why not?’ And so I got to do it at Levon Helms’ place. We got Larry Campbell to produce it for us again, and to play it. And it was sort of– in a way it was a perfect storm of creativity. I guess we just weren’t ready before.  I got off my lazy butt and wrote a bunch of songs, and co-wrote some, and we wound up cutting the whole project in 11 days.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how did that feel to come back together? I mean, besides the difference of being a little bit older, do you just fall back into the familiar?

JORMA KAUKONEN: Well, you know, Jack and I — as I said — Hot Tuna has never really quit playing. So I didn’t have to worry about that. And we have a great, you know– we change our lineup periodically. But we had a great line up. But yeah, to come together in a studio as adults, and to be able to focus on the important creative aspects, and not to get caught up the nonsense that you do when you are younger, was absolutely fantastic.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I know you started off with a real love of the blues and roots music, and that’s certainly still with you in a lot of these new songs.

JORMA KAUKONEN: Absolutely, no question about it.  I am not a blues musician in the most, you know, hardcore sense of the word, but there is no question that blues and gospel are strong muses for me.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s some in this album that’s a favored or favorites?

JORMA KAUKONEN: We are doing a radio show the other day and somebody says, ‘What’s your favorite?’ and I went, ‘Gosh, you know, I really– I guess it would depend if I was looking at if somebody was asking me if I wanted a rocker, or a ballad?’ And I guess if we are looking at the ballad side, I would be thinking about “Second Chances,” and if I was thinking about a rocker, probably “Morning Interrupted.”

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I was thinking as I was listening: “Second Chances,” “Things That Might Have Been.” There are a couple of songs here where you are sort of looking back, a little bit nostalgic mode, I suppose.

JORMA KAUKONEN: Yeah, sure. I’m 70 years old. It’s hard not to look back, you know, from time to time. And I am sort of a nostalgic kind of guy, which is not to say that I live in the past, because I really don’t. But I like to look at where I’ve been, and every now and then I get a good insight into writing a song like, “Things That Might Have Been” is a song about dysfunctional families. Most of us have them, you know, and that just sort of wrote itself.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned the business has changed. It’s changed a lot, right? I mean, the album as a concept is barely with us anymore, the way young people listen to music. So who do you think of as the audience now?

JORMA KAUKONEN: Ooh, well, that’s a good question. Well, obviously we have a lot of folks that have been with us, that have been with us for many years. And God bless them. But the good news is, that as we travel around — because most band money these days is made on the road, and I’m very fortunate, I work on the road all the time in addition to having my teaching thing at Fur Peace Ranch — And in my audiences when we play live, we see the long in the tooth, you know, the gentle bearded folk that we started out with. But we also see their kids, and their grandkids, and that’s cool. And most of the time, in the case of the younger kids, it’s kids that play themselves that are interested in the music, and so, you know, we have something to talk to, to talk about, beyond them relating to my words, which might be tough for them, because I write for the period of an older man. But we can talk guitar stuff. I mean, we’re all guitar geeks, so that’s always a happy place to go.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned the Fur Peace Ranch. Tell our audience, what’s the idea there?

JORMA KAUKONEN: Well, I’ve always enjoyed teaching. I’ve done a lot of it over the years. And when my wife and I bought this piece of property in Southeast Ohio, we just kind of had this vision about somehow having this guitar camp thing. And of course, if it had been up to me, we’d be sitting on a bale of hay around a campfire. But my wife, who had real life before she married me, was a civil engineer, so she knew how do all that kind of stuff. So we built a little world. We have like– we have 20 double occupancy cabins, we have a local NPR show, we have a 200-seat theater, we have a little library, a kitchen, all that stuff.  And our weekends run, when we’re doing camp, they run from Friday morning till Monday morning. I teach there much of the time, not all of the time. But we have great teachers who usually give a show on Saturday night that we put on the radio. And even though we all do things differently, our prime directive is to make learning music and make learning an instrument unintimidating.

JEFFREY BROWN: And it’s caught on with people.

JORMA KAUKONEN: It has. You know, we’re taking a hit because of the economy like everybody else, but we’re still here and I haven’t had to take money out of my own pocket recently to make up the deficit, so that’s good.  You know, I think music is something we all need. And if you are lucky enough to be able to want to learn to play an instrument, we’ve got a place for you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright Jorma Kaukonen is founding member and still with Hot Tuna, and Hot Tuna has a new album, “Steady as She Goes.”  Thanks for talking with us.

JORMA KAUKONEN:  Thanks for talking to me.  Thanks so much.