Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals; Denny DeGorio - bass, vocals; Bob Steeler - drums; Guest: Leslie West - guitar, vocals; Guest: Stephen Stills - guitar, vocals
There have been quite a few high profile events to commemorate the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival, but one of the most interesting occurred when many of the original musicians converged in Long Island's Parr Meadows in Brookhaven, NY to celebrate the 10th anniversary. Unlike later events, this was a true 10-year reunion for many of the musicians who played the 1969 festival. Among others, the audience heard performances by the likes of Richie Havens, John Sebastian, Stephen Stills, Leslie West, Jorma Kaukonen, Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, and the Rick Danko/Paul Butterfield Band. Although much had changed in the previous decade and this was a considerably smaller event, the audience was treated to a wealth of memorable music. The King Biscuit Flower Hour crew was on hand to record it all and several KBFH programs were devoted to highlights from this memorable event.
The most unusual set of the entire event came at the tail end of the concert, when ex-Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen took to the stage to close the show. Accompanied by Denny DeGorio on bass and Hot Tuna drummer Bob Steeler in the drum seat, one might expect a sound similar to the 1977 phase of Electric Hot Tuna, but that was not the case. He was now embracing a raw punk-rock esthetic and a radically different approach with his electric music. Sporting bright orange hair that had been cut short, Kaukonen not only abandoned his hippie look but he simultaneously abandoned the repertoire that had cultivated such a devoted fan base. Kaukonen had clearly moved on with this trio (known as the Hidden Klitz and later White Gland and then Vital Parts when additional personnel changes occurred). He was now performing all new songs and when he did perform covers, they were practically unrecognizable. Having recorded his second solo album, Jorma, earlier in the year, this set focuses heavily on songs from that album revamped to this new electric trio format. A cover song that would be featured on his next album, Barbecue King, also surfaces, as does one strangely titled instrumental. None of the material from this set was ever featured in the KBFH broadcasts and is heard here for the first time in its entirety.
The set kicks off with a relatively straightforward hard rock approach applied to the Jorma album track "Too Long Out/Too Long In," with more focus on vocals and much less soloing than his electric Hot Tuna work. At the time, this seemed like a radical departure, but in retrospect still has the bluesy edge that typified Kaukonen's sound. The punk-like energy seriously kicks in on "Wanna Rock n' Roll," a song of rather frantic simplicity. Another new album track follows, with "Valley Of Tears." Like the set opener, this too has some of Kaukonen's trademark guitar quirkiness, but his soloing is kept to a minimum.
Bass player Denny DeGorio takes over on lead vocals for an unusual take on "Milk Cow Blues," which is a relatively straightforward blues number. In fact, the music is essentially Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man" with the lyrics of "Milk Cow Blues" applied. Played here with an abrasive bone-crunching tone on the guitar, this features Kaukonen's first full-fledged guitar solo, and it is a plenty demented one at that. This song would turn up on Kaukonen's 1980 album, Barbeque King the following year.
Taking this demented approach even further, they next pummel their way through the unreleased instrumental "Happy Go-Lucky Space Rats On Parade." This vacillates between a driving punk-rock sound and more intricate instrumental interplay. The tempo continuously increases until it becomes a searing mass of compressed nervous energy, exemplified by Kaukonen's heavily flanged and wah-wah driven guitar.
One more song from the Jorma album drives the point of this new music home. "Straight Ahead" also has Kaukonen's distinct quirkiness but with Steeler's relentlessly busy drumming, this too has that punk-rock edge to it. Kaukonen does take a solo that gets cooking for a minute or so, but any correlation to his past is difficult to perceive here. After introducing his band members, Kaukonen makes his attitude perfectly clear by stating to the audience, "I don't want anybody shedding tears for nostalgia, because let's face it, that's for the birds, if ya know what I mean."
At this point, perhaps the most surprisingly shocking sequence of the set occurs as Kaukonen invites Stephen Stills and Mountain guitarist, Leslie West, to the stage for a show-ending jam. With these two rock guitar heroes in tow, Kaukonen launches his band into a radically different arrangement of the classic Jefferson Airplane anthem "Volunteers." This nearly 13-minute exercise features DeGorio singing the lead vocals in a sarcastic manner and with Steeler forcing everyone to play the song in a frantic punked-out tempo! Although this was sure to annoy fans of the song, it actually works perfectly well as a punk-anthem, both lyrically and musically. Although Stills and West sound notably confused at the start, by the five-minute mark, all three guitarists throw caution to the wind. Playing whatever they feel like, regardless of not being able to hear each other, this becomes totally reckless jamming played with total abandon.
Having gone way past the curfew time, this unusual entourage closes the concert with one final blowout. Lasting nearly 18 minutes, Leslie West leads the way into another jam on the T-Bone Walker classic "Stormy Monday," which eventually culminates in another jam on "Roll Over Beethoven." Despite feedback issues and plenty of flailing about, this actually has a few moments of inspired jamming. Leslie West takes the first verse vocals with Stills (sounding wasted at this point) taking the second verse. Approximately seven minutes in, Stills starts improvising vocals while Kaukonen and West trade guitar licks. Around the 10-minute mark, Jorma forces an end to this meandering jam, but West wants to keep going and he rips into the opening Chuck Berry riff of "Roll Over Beethoven." This actually gets cooking for several minutes until Stills makes another attempt at vocals. Unfortunately, he's unable to recall the lyrics, but this triggers Leslie West to again blaze off with Kaukonen for another few minutes before bringing this ragged Grande Finale jam to a crashing close.
Whether you love it or hate it, this highly unusual Jorma Kaukonen set does capture the most controversial phase of his career. It is fitting that he was the final performer on this monumental day. Unlike all the other musicians who played this 10th Anniversary of Woodstock concert, Kaukonen was clearly determined to break away from his past. It is a safe bet to say that many among this audience were puzzled by this set. Jorma was clearly forging ahead in a way that few of his fans or contemporaries could relate to or understand. Although this approach would turn out to be a relatively short-lived phase, on this day he was clearly embracing the punk-rock esthetic without any hesitation.
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