For over a half century, Jorma Kaukonen has mastered the art of acting one’s age.
As a roots music enthusiast in his early 20s, he absorbed the songs and fingerstyle guitar inspirations of the Rev. Gary Davis as the country awakened to a’60s folk boom.
When that generation plugged their music in as the decade progressed, Kaukonen joined in as co-founder of San Francisco’s cornerstone psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane and, eventually, its still-active blues-based offshoot, Hot Tuna.
In recent decades, though, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer refocused on his initial folk and blues influences through more elemental lineups of Hot Tuna, his own expansive solo career and the guitar classes he oversees at his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio.
Having turned 74 two days before Christmas, Kaukonen is openly embracing his elder musical persona with a new solo record called Ain’t in No Hurry. Due out Feb. 17, the album is a collection of new and old songs cut with new and old friends. But the end result is a musical portrait the guitarist views as being very up-to-the-minute.
“Everything I do tends to be reflected in terms of what is going on, more or less, in my life and where I am at that moment,” said Kaukonen, who will perform for the first 2015 taping of the WoodSong Old Time Radio Hour on Monday. “So for me, this record is the project of a 74 year old guy.”
Ain’t in No Hurry was produced by Larry Campbell, guitarist and collaborator for such greats as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm and many others, as well as a participant on many of Kaukonen’s most recent recordings.
“I’ve worked with Larry on a number of projects – both my solo records and with Hot Tuna as well as some stuff of his, too. Larry is a multi-instrumentalist, but he is also an adept and creative producer. As a producer, he goes inside the artist – in this case, me – and it’s like he’s known you all your artistic life. He doesn’t try to change you. He tries to make you sound like you. It’s like we’ve always been in a band together.”
Ain’t in No Hurry sports several new original songs that poetically hint at mortality (In My Dreams, Seasons in the Field) along with folk-blues staples that have been part of Kaukonen’s performance repertoire for as much as 50 years but are just now finding a place on one of his records (Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out).
The big surprise, though, is a reworking of a vintage Kaukonen tune, Bar Room Crystal Ball, that first appeared on the 1975 Hot Tuna album Yellow Fever. But unlike the heavy electric cast of the original version, the tune now takes on a lighter country air colored by Campbell’s pedel steel playing and Kaukonen’s scholarly fingerpicking. It also enlists help from Kaukonen’s longtime running buddy in Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, bassist Jack Casady.
“A lot of people listen to our stuff, whether it was with Jefferson Airplane or Hot Tuna, and they tend to interpret things through an interesting filter,” Kaukonen said. “Sometimes they come up with meanings to lyrics I’ve written that just have me going, ‘What planet are these people from?’ And that’s not a criticism. I find, as an artist, if somebody likes your song, it doesn’t matter what they hear. As long as they like it, that’s okay. But Bar Room Crystal Ball was a very personal song done in a very bombastic way on Yellow Fever. As such, it was one song I always wanted to do so you could actually hear all the lyrics.
“You know, at some point, you just can’t avoid the phrase ‘at my age.’ Well, at my age, people ask me, ‘Do you ever think about retiring?’ And I always say, ‘So I can do what? Play the guitar more?’ The thing is I’m so fortunate that I’m still healthy enough to do this kind of stuff. The traveling isn’t fun. The glamour years of air travel are long gone. But whether it’s me and Jack or me with any of my buddies, when we hit the stage and start playing, it’s still as magical as it ever was.”
WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour featuring Jorma Kaukonen and Lowell “Banana” Levinger. 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third. Tickets: $10 public, $5 students. Call (859) 252-8888.