A CONVERSATION WITH JORMA KAUKONEN (cont.)
JK: It's funny when I look back on my history in the music business. It's been many years since I've been with a major label that gave a shit about what I did. But back in the days of the Airplane recordings, it was very fashionable to constantly complain about your label. "The record company is screwing me, they won't give us artistic freedom" and all that. Maybe that was valid, it's hard to remember. But the guys I've been working with down here, everybody's on the one together, and happy just to be playing. Hell, you oughta be thanking Jesus you got a gig. Anyhow, so Yves and I talked about doing this, we were interested in doing some period stuff, but not Delta Blues.
PM: There's plenty of that going around.
JK: All the guys we're doing are white Old Timey Country guys, with the exception of Washington Phillips. He's the guy that plays the dulceola, an odd instrument. He had an album out on Yazoo that I think was reissued on Shanachie called I Was Born to Preach the Gospel, you gotta check it out. It's beautiful stuff. The dulceola, I don't know how to describe it, it's like a gigantic zither. He's probably one of the only guys in the world that ever learned to play it. We do his song "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?"
PM: Is it fretted, or...?
JK: No, it's more like a big autoharp. So, anyhow, we're up to stuff like that on this record. And over the last year and a half, Yves has been searching out and selecting material. He's been very active. It's so much fun to work with someone who likes the same stuff as you do. He sent me hundreds of cool CDs that he compiled to listen to things. As recently as three months ago, we'd boiled it down to 60 songs, and I just couldn't pick between them. So I asked him to pick and I'd tell him if there was something I was less than comfortable with including. But I liked everything he picked, and off we went.
PM: I listened to Too Many Years [Jorma's last album] yesterday. As cool a guitar player as you are, I'd forgotten what a distinctive singing voice you have.
JK: You know, I get roasted for my voice a lot. But David Crosby told me years ago, "Listen, you have character." I don't sing well loud, but if I can hear myself [on stage] okay, I sing in tune. Although I truly wanted to be, I got over the fact a long time ago that I wasn't Ray Charles, and wasn't gonna be.
PM: For the first time yesterday it occurred to me that there are similarities between your voice and Leon Russell's, especially in this time of your life. You're both character singers, a compliment of the highest order, I think.
JK: Well, you can't be much of a backup singer when you're a character singer, but I agree. Michael Falzarano and I were doing a gig with Arlo Guthrie at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, and Arlo had his son, Gabe, in his band. One of the guys hit a chord backstage and they struck this four part harmony version of "Nowhere Man" that was amazing. I said, "I must have been cutting school the day they taught that..." It's like that in Nashville, everybody knows how to sing good harmony down here.
PM: Oh yeah. I love living in this town.
JK: It's the greatest. I love living where I do, but I like that it's only eight hours away at a reasonable pace. It's nothin.
PM: Really? Nothin to me, for sure. I'll have to pay a call up there once Spring comes.
JK: Absolutely. Spring and Fall are so nice up there.
PM: Because I want to do a separate story on the Fur Peace Guitar Ranch.
JK: Oh, you'd love it up there, we have a ball. continue