Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the legendary Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, talked with Gabe Friedman of the Jewish Journal about his life in music and his Jewish roots.
Kaukonen, who is Jewish on his mother’s side, bought his first guitar with the Israel bonds he cashed in from his bar mitzvah. He discussed his grandparents and an “interesting pair.” His grandmother was involved in Hadassah and was ardently secular, and his grandfather, whose father wrote Torah scrolls, “if he had not married my grandmother, would have been an Orthodox Jew, but that’s not how it played out.” There is a shul in Ellington, Connecticut his great uncle helped design.
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Although Kaukonen had long noticed that a lot of great blues guitar players, like Mike Bloomfield and Dave Bromberg, were Jewish, what really got him thinking about his roots was his wife’s conversion to Judaism. As a result of studying Hebrew and observance with his wife, Kaukonen says he is increasingly involved in the Jewish community, which is close to Ohio University.
When asked if Jefferson Airplane will get back together, Kaukonen said it won’t be like the old days since Grace Slick no longer sings, but the remaining members could play acoustic guitars and sit around talking.
Kaukonen added, “I felt very comfortable in the context of a Jewish milieu. I don’t live in a Jewish context most of the time, because that is not how the world works, but whenever it happens, I feel I’ve come home.”