At 74 years old, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen shows no signs of letting up. One might think that founding two legendary bands (Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) and being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as one of Rolling Stone‘s “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time,” would be enough for a guy, but Kaukonen is about to release his 15th solo album and embark on a tour to go with it. This year — the year in which he’ll turn 75 — also marks the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane’s founding, so why not celebrate by doing what he does best and loves best… play music.
So, 50 years in, what is it about this thing called music that keeps you going after all this time?
I’m guessing it’s the same thing that gives us a reason to have this conversation. I believe music is in the DNA of our souls. No matter what kind of music one likes, one has to have it. You might have a favorite period, a favorite genre, but it never gets old and there is always something new to set you on fire.
The songs on the new album cover a wide swath of time and topics. What’s your philosophy on balancing preservation of old forms and innovation of new ones?
For better or worse, the landscape of this album simply reflects the way I think. I guess, for me, it’s alway about the ‘tell.’ I never have a surplus of material when I do a project. Even though some of the songs here are from another time, the subject matter reflects aspects of the human condition that never seem to get old. To put it more simply… it’s just part of the story I would tell if we were having a conversation rather than listening to music.
Do you have a preference for either playing solo or with a band? Or do they fulfill different parts of your artistry?
Good question. I love both, obviously. There is something deeply satisfying about being able to perform as a solo… I learned to do it a long time ago. That said, when a band configuration works, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. You just can’t beat that experience, so yeah… in the last analysis, they fulfill different parts of my artistry.
If you could jam with anyone — living or dead — who would it be and what would you play?
I have gotten to a point in my life when the process of jamming reflects a deep, personal conversation. With that in mind, this is a hard question to answer and probably not a great response for an interview, but the truth is that I am jamming with the people I would like to in reality and they are all alive. Jack Casady, Larry Cambell, G.E.Smith… My door is always open, but right now the living room is full.
Will there come a time when you’ll hop off the road and just focus on Fur Peace? Or will you just keep on keeping on?
Obviously, a time will come for all of us when we will no longer be able to do what we love to do. I look to Segovia… Pablo Casals… great artists who performed well into their later years. I am reminded of a question a friend asked me at the Fur Peace Ranch last year. “Do you ever think about retiring?” he asked. “Why?” I said. “So I can spend more time playing the guitar?”
I’m in it for the long haul… so far, so good!
This article originally appeared on Folk Alley.