The son of a career foreign service officer, Jorma Kaukonen, who grew up in Northwest Washington, was influenced deeply by jazz and blues, so it was ironic that in the mid-'60s he became synonymous (along with Jerry Garcia) with the San Fransisco Sound as lead guitarist for that seminal Bay band, the Jefferson Airplane; Kaukonen's superb finger-picking skill were often lost under the shower of feedback and fuzzy that marked much of the Airplane sound.
Throughout his career, the former Woodrow Wilson High School Tiger seemed torn between acoustic and electric guitar, between acid rock and blues basics. To give voice to his blues interests, Kaukonen founded Hot Tuna in 1969 with another Washington schoolboy chum and Airplane partner, bassist Jack Casady; he also cut several excellent solo acoustic albums. Kaukonen left the Airplane in 1974, Tuna disbanded in 1978, and earlier this year the guitarist recorded an album with a Bay-area band called Vital Parts. Apparently, the Art wasn't Vital enough: "They got a little 'teen'-ie for me," the 41-year-old Kaukonen says. "I've played long enough so that I felt I didn't need that." The guitarist will appear tonight at the University of Maryland's Grand Ballroom in a program of solo acoustic performances ("I do have a few electronic gizmos," he admits) that will encompass "old Tuna and Airplane stuff, some jazz and three or four new tunes."