Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen

Jorma Kaukonen's guitar playing was a key part of Jefferson Airplane's sound.

Jorma Kaukonen became famous for his distinctive guitar playing in Jefferson Airplane and then earned a cult following with Hot Tuna, the group he spun off from the Airplane with bassist Jack Casady.

Jorma Kaukonen was born Dec. 23, 1940, in Washington, D.C., where he also was raised and learned to play guitar. After high school, Kaukonen went to the Philippines to join his parents, who relocated there as government-service workers. After visiting the Orient, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early '60s and backed Janis Joplin in local clubs.

He had been planning to move to Europe in 1965 when he met fellow guitarist Paul Kantner at Santa Clara University. Kantner convinced Kaukonen to join a new Bay Area rock group started by singer Marty Balin. The band named itself Jefferson Airplane after blues musician Steve Talbot joked to Kaukonen that there was a blues singer named Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane.

Later that year, Casady, who had grown up with Kaukonen in Washington, D.C., was tapped to join the Airplane, replacing original bassist Bob Harvey. The Airplane, at first a folk-rock outfit, also included drummer Skip Spence and singer Signe Anderson. After playing in San Francisco bars and clubs, the Airplane issued their debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966).

Just before the album's release, Anderson left the band to concentrate on raising her child. Former model Grace Slick stepped in and quickly brought the Airplane to national attention. Slick gave them two songs that she sang in her first band, the Great Society: the majestic "White Rabbit" (RealAudio excerpt) and the folk-rocker "Somebody to Love," written by her then-brother-in-law.

Airplane's first album with Slick, Surrealistic Pillow (1967), was their second (and far more electric) LP and included these two signature tracks. The album went to #3 in the U.S., and both songs became top-10 hits. With their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the group soon established itself as one of psychedelic rock's most popular bands.

Following the 1968 top-10 Crown of Creation, Jefferson Airplane played the epochal Woodstock festival in 1969. Also that year, they released the political Volunteers and joined the Rolling Stones for their infamous concert at Altamont Speedway in Northern California, during which a fan was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angels security guard.

When Slick became pregnant by Kantner, the Airplane halted touring. Kaukonen and Casady were tired of waiting to gig, so they officially established a side band they had been flirting with for years. They initially named the group Hot Shit but then decided on the more innocuous Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna always featured Kaukonen and Casady, and in their earliest days included various other Airplane members. The group's eponymous, mostly acoustic 1970 debut was recorded live in Berkeley, Calif. With subsequent releases, Hot Tuna's music became electric and much louder.

Violinist Papa John Creach (who later played with both the Airplane and Jefferson Starship) joined Hot Tuna on First Pull Up — Then Pull Down (1971). The LP featured "Been So Long" and "Want You to Know." After the Airplane morphed into the Starship, Kaukonen and Casady elected to make Tuna their principal recording outfit, releasing The Phosphorescent Rat (1974). That same year, Kaukonen issued the solo Quah. Though Tuna never sold many records, they insisted on playing two hours, often necessitating headliner status.

In 1978 Tuna split and Kaukonen made his second solo effort, Jorma (1979). He began to develop a cult following by touring solo and playing briefly in a San Francisco-based new-wave band called Vital Parts.

During the '80s, Kaukonen revisited folk and acoustic blues on such albums as Too Hot to Handle (1985). In 1983 Hot Tuna re-formed to tour clubs. Three years later, they came together again, adding multi-instrumentalist/singer Michael Falzarano in 1990. The new lineup issued that year's Pair a Dice Found. In the early '90s, Tuna released two live albums.

When Casady rejoined Kantner in Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation, Kaukonen toured with Falzarano as Kaukarano.

Both Kaukonen and Casady were part of the 1989 reunion of Jefferson Airplane and both were included when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Hot Tuna issued a live LP, And Furthurmore, on Grateful Dead Records this year. RCA Records released The Best of Hot Tuna, including "Hesitation Blues" and "Candy Man," in 1998. In June, Hot Tuna played a few gigs with the Allman Brothers Band.

Other birthdays Thursday: Eugene Record (Chi-Lites), 59; Adrian Belew (King Crimson), 50; Luther Grosvenor (Spooky Tooth, Mott the Hoople), 50; Dave Murray (Iron Maiden), 41; Victoria Williams, 40; John Moore (Jesus and Mary Chain), 35; Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), 33; Tim Hardin, 1941–1980; Johnny Kidd, 1939–1966; and Esther Phillips, 1935–1984.

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