The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist showed off his fine finger-picking technique as live music returned to City Winery NYC.


Like all musicians, Jorma Kaukonen had to reinvent himself during the year-long pandemic shutdown. Following decades as the lead guitarist of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Hot Tuna, he found himself last year pondering his next move amidst his many guitars at his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. Before long, he began reconnecting with his fans by performing free live stream concerts every Saturday night. Going one step further, he led three virtual classes for guitarists in March. With the advent of relaxed regulations for public gatherings and touring musicians, he traveled to New York to perform four sold-out concerts at a reduced-capacity City Winery NY.

Much like his live streams, Kaukonen sat in a chair on the City Winery stage and barely moved beyond his chair except to reach for one of his two acoustic guitars. Pulling out old tunes from his catalogue, he played familiar favorites as well as rarely-heard deep cuts. Earthy vocals accented authenticity for the rural roots of his music. This was more than just a recreation of archival songs, however. Kaukonen reworked his songs to where they became guitar centered rather than anchoring on vocals or lyrics. Locking largely into the Piedmont blues era, Kaukonen displayed an uncanny ability to fingerpick melodies and harmonies like the long-gone blues masters that early in his life inspired his musical path. Foregoing electronic effects, Kaukonen captured the purity of what a simple acoustic guitar can be in the right hands.

Now an 80-year-old who has been perfecting his guitar playing since his teens, Kaukonen also can be revered as a master guitarist. There are but a handful of guitarists who specialize in this particular brand of folk blues, such that it may not be heard much after Kaukonen is no longer with us. The music-loving public deserves to treasure this Americana icon live while it can.

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