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Jorma Kaukonen Interview: Jefferson Airplane and the Psychedelic 1960s


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I’ve just transcribed one of my interviews with guitar great Jorma Kaukonen, of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame. Jorma not only played a major role in the creation of San Francisco-style psychedelic music back in the 1960s, but also inspired a generation of acoustic fingerpickers with his beautiful dropped-D instrumental “Embryonic Journey” on Surrealistic Pillow, which he played with a Gibson acoustic. He was also one of the few psychedelic rockers to rely heavily on a Gibson ES-345.


In this 1996 interview, we focused on the birth of psychedelic guitar playing and the early years of Jefferson Airplane. Jorma provided a lot of interesting information. For instance, outside of “Somebody to Love,” he didn’t consider Surrealistic Pillow to be that psychedelic of an album, pointing instead to After Bathing at Baxter’s as the band’s truest psychedelic work. Asked about the change in volume (when he began using four Fender twins onstage), Jorma said, “We escalated quickly. Well, of course now with the technology of electric guitars being the way it is, you can get all that overdriven stuff at acoustic volumes. But in those days, it was before all the master volumes and fuzz boxes and all that stuff. Well, they had fuzz boxes, but they really sucked. And in order to do it, you had to use volume. And also, if you’ll recall back then, the P.A.’s in venues were slim to none, so they could barely handle the vocal and some of the drums. Everything else was pretty much up to the instrumentalists. So it was just a necessity.”


His guitar of choice on Surrealistic Pillow – the one heard on the “Somebody to Love” solo – was a Guild Thunderbird. He then switched to a Gibson ES-345 for his subsequent J.A. albums, running the guitar’s neck pickup through a fuzztone and the other through a wah-wah. His favorite fuzz box? The Ampeg Scrambler.


If you’d like to see more of Jorma’s insider views on the psychedelic 1960s, I’ve posted the whole conversation here: Jas Obrecht Music Archive

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