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Redemption Song

Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming the sound of Jefferson Airplane, a band synonymous with the San Francisco revolution and the counterculture it established throughout the ’60s.

With Airplane, Kaukonen has been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and even designed his own signature guitar, but in his new biography, Been So Long: My Life and Music, the mythology of Jefferson Airplane and their importance in the evolution of rock, takes a backseat to the reflective nature of Kaukonen’s writing. Here, there are tales of Altamont, his first acid trip, meeting Bobby Kennedy, and playing alongside Janis Joplin before she took off, remembered with a refreshing lucidity that forgoes gossip or exaggeration. After all, as Kaukonen notes, “in memory everything is dimly seen across a smoke-filled room,” so trying to provide an accurate timeline is impossible. Instead the focus in on the guitarist’s journey as a “bystander,” trying to find a voice after leaving Airplane and starting the more blues-oriented Hot Tuna—all while battling addiction and financial instability through the ’80s.

The final third of Been So Long is the story of redemption. With the onset of fatherhood and sobriety, Kaukonen’s interspersed journal entries show a man who is modest about his legacy and incredibly humble about surviving it all intact. Having lived on his Fur Peace Ranch in Meigs County since 1991, we can officially call Kaukonen a true Buckeye. There, along with his wife Vanessa, he runs a compound that includes guitar clinics, live performances, and a café. It’s a place where the next chapter of Kaukonen’s life is being lovingly written as I found out in my conversation with him from the ranch last month. 

Have you read the other Jefferson Airplane books? Do they align with your memories?

I’ve read Grace’s (Slick) and I have read the others. Grace is my sister-in-arms and I love her dearly, but she’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of b.s. in her book. Jeff Tamarkin’s book was really well-researched, but was just a particular snapshot in time. For those of us who were there, you just have to honestly admit, even if you fact check a lot, it has to do with how we see things. If I read a book that’s written by someone who “was there” I don’t really want to read about historical information, I’d rather see an emotional track built by the writer.

In the book you say at one point, “My world should have been golden, but nothing seemed to give me a vision of a future in which I would find fulfillment.” I didn’t read this as a book of regrets, but if you had the chance to change a path in the ’60s, what would you have done?

You’re right. It’s kind of pointless to say “what if,” because I’m happy with who I am and I wouldn’t be here if all of that didn’t happen. However, I probably would have told my Airplane bandmates I was quitting so that we could have done a farewell tour and made some money. I made a lot of bad adult decisions that could’ve gone differently, but that was just how it was.

You also talk about being more of a “bystander” in those days. Why was it difficult for you to participate in the creative process with Jefferson Airplane?

Anytime you get around a bunch of artists, ego is a big part of it. That’s okay. But it wasn’t that I was being submerged by the egos around me, it’s just that I wasn’t a creative artist at that time. To me I was just a kid playing guitar and I didn’t see what I was doing as art. The good news is that I was surrounded by these really incredible artists, in Marty, Grace, and Paul, and even though they could fill every project and more with their stuff, they always left a space for me to do something. It was a real process to become that artist and make music that made people take notice.

You touch on the counterculture and politics of the time, but don’t really theorize on how or why society changed. What do you think is the greatest lesson learned from that generation?

Well, that high horse is a really dangerous horse to get on. A lot of my generation thinks they invented sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. We definitely changed rock-n-roll, but we didn’t invent sex and drugs. I think every generation, when they come of age, thinks they are the first ones to try anything. It’s interesting though—I took my 12-year old daughter to Bethel to see Woodstock, and I realized that the big difference is that the art, whether it was the literature, spoken-word, the music, was so intertwined with the social fabric of that era. I just don’t see that today. Now I’m not going to get on my high horse and tell my daughter that her generation sucks, because it doesn’t, but if there was one thing left from that time it is the idea of dreaming, and that if you’re able to follow that dream, amazing things will happen. Does that change the world? I doubt it—but individually, that concept is good for the soul.

The book doesn’t feel like an end for you, so what’s the next “adaptation” that you refer to in the epilogue?

Peter Wolverton, the editor who I worked with on this book, told me after a show once that he was glad that I could write so he didn’t have to lie to me. And then he asked if I had ever written fiction. Of course I hadn’t but I love to write. Will I write fiction? I’d like to try, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. When I finished the book I didn’t decide to pat myself on the belly with a shovel and be done with everything. The story is not over. •

Jorma Kaukonen will be celebrating the release of Been So Long on Sunday, October 7 with two special performances (sold out) and a book signing at Lost Weekend Records. Visit  jormakaukonen.com for music, tour dates, and more information.

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(614) Music Club: Joey Aich

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Photo by Zak Kolesar.

Every week, (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist consisting of songs that have inspired their sound, tracks they’re currently jamming out to, guilty pleasures, and favorite Columbus musicians. They also stop by to answer a few burning questions and plug any upcoming performances or releases.

This week’s playlist is brought to you by hip-hop artist Joey Aich. Originally from Woodmere, Ohio, Aich has called Columbus home since 2017. Since then, Aich has observed a city going through growing pains. His thoughts are present in his original work and even more poignant in his June 2020 release, Open Treehouse. The retro, introspective nature of the album shines through on his playlist selection and through his answers, both of which you can find below.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0HAmWoTgLUo3hhsGh8QKjj?si=CZoCOG1STyi3_qSefVLKJA

Can you talk a little bit about some of the songs you selected for your playlist and how they may have shaped your music career?

The way I crafted the playlist is into three sections: current, Columbus, and classics. 

The current section (consists of) songs that describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have dealt with amidst the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery due to police brutality and racism. One moment I’m crying in bed listening to Marvin Gaye hoping the violence stops, and the next moment I’m full of rage, and proud, scrolling through social media and seeing peaceful protests along with protests that include people burning cars and looting stores to make sure their voices are heard. Music has helped me during this time and these songs reflect where my head has been. 

The Columbus section includes songs from the Columbus-based artists that are featured on my upcoming album, Open Treehouse. Outside of them being featured on the album, they are incredible friends and amazing talents who push me to be better. Dom Deshawn, Trek Manifest, and Sarob are my “carried by 6 brothers,” and I’m glad we were able to make more music together. 

Classics! These are a few songs that will forever be in rotation for me. Believe it or not, I wrote a book for a class assignment in elementary school, and the title was “Living my Life Like it’s Golden,” because I loved (“Golden” by Jill Scott) when I was a kid. I have a personal attachment to these songs and each artist has had an impact on my genre choice, rapping style, and approach to music. 

During the past few months, how have you been able to stay creatively busy? Did you pick up any new skills or hobbies?

It’s been tough but I’ve enjoyed it. Since I’m in the middle of an album rollout I’ve had to scrap a lot of plans and figure out new ways to make it happen. I told myself I don’t want to come out of quarantine without testing my creative abilities or learning a new skill. Quarantining has stopped a lot of my writing process because I write off of experiences, and being in the house with roommates isn’t that exciting, to be honest. But I’ve found other ways to fuel and channel my creativity. 

I’ve been sipping wine and painting as a way to free my mind and put thoughts to canvas. I was inspired by my friend and Columbus legend, Hakim Callwood, to start painting a while ago, and I challenged myself to take this time to get better and keep myself at peace because I find it to be very therapeutic. 

With a lot of my plans, including music videos, being axed, I’ve been filming music videos on my phone and editing them in iMovie. The process is hard and a bit of a headache, but I’m proud of what I made and my progress with it. I’m glad I stuck with it because now when I work with a videographer I can bring some new ideas to the table. 

Overall, I think I’ve been having a good time with my creative process. I love the challenge of having to work with the situations at hand and make the best of it. 

What do you think separates the Columbus music scene from major industry hot spots like New York and Nashville?

Definitely not the talent. I believe the talent is here, but the infrastructure isn’t as solid as the other big cities. Oftentimes artists here in Columbus and even Ohio as a whole have to go somewhere else and get some type of name recognition before being accepted here in Ohio. I also don’t think that’s technically a bad thing as long as Ohio gets its respect as a place that breeds talent. 

How do you think the Columbus hip-hop scene can carry the momentum it had going into 2020 and turn a positive spin on the latter half of this year?

Continuing to do what we have been doing, but amplified and more polished. Again, I believe the talent is here, but we just have to take the next steps...I subscribe to the “trial and error” method of attempting to do things and learning how to do it better the next time.

To turn a positive spin on the latter half of the year, I think we should continue to be creative and adapt to the new normal because we don’t know how long quarantining will last and what normal looks like after. Maybe we don’t have shows until mid-2021, (so) let’s figure out how to still be effective whether it be live streams or create a novel way to bring the experience to the audience. I like where Columbus hip-hop is headed. I think we have a good group of artists that are right there and at any moment lives can be changed. 

Aich’s latest album, the June 18 release Open Treehouse, is available to listen to on all streaming platforms and available to purchase on Bandcamp here.

Here is where you can find Aich on the Internet:

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Rockin’ in a F-150

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Truckbound concert series reaches the city’s most vulnerable with music

The chances are, you’ve seen live music performed in venues of all sorts. From the historic Pabst Theater, to outdoors on the shore of Lake Michigan, to a sweaty mosphit in your second cousin’s basement.

Somewhere most of us have likely never seen live music though, is in the bed of a pickup truck while it’s parked outside your front door. But the Curbside Concert Series is trying to change that.

Organized by Can’t Stop CBUS —a group that formed this March with a viral tweet and aims to connect and better the city of Columbus through a series of community projects— the series brings 10-15 minutes performances to the homes of elderly Columbus residents in order to foster community spirit and unity in those who may need it most.

According to a statement from Can’t Stop CBUS, the goal of the series is “To create much much-needed moments of levity and connection for our elder neighbors,” for older Columbus residents “Who might not connect with others online through video chats or live events the same way that the digital natives of younger generations do.”

Friends or loved ones of elderly Columbus residents can request a concert online for a couple or individual they believe would benefit, and if selected their home (or assisted living facility) will be included as a stop on the four hour concert shifts musicians undertake Friday through Sunday every week. Those requesting a concert are even able to request a specific style of music and add a personal message that’s delivered from the performer

And for Curbside Concert musician Amber Knicole those moments of levity are very real indeed. “There’s a moment where you can actually see people light up. They’re so grateful,” she said. “There’s so much going on in our lives right now, and to see people let some of that go for even a few minutes is amazing.”

Knicole — who also serves as the vocalist for Columbus neo-funk group Mojoflo—actually began her tenure with the concert series as a driver before taking on performances as well. “I’ve always been familiar with larger vehicles, so I was able to step right in.” 

Musicians are carted throughout the city on the flatbed of a glossy, slate-gray Ford F-150 donated by Ricart Automotive and fully equipped with a battery-powered speaker system. And while this allows the music to quite literally show up at your door, according to Columbus artist Steven Paxton, it presents a unique set of challenges as well.

“You’re always trying to find the right spot to park, because that matters,” Paxton said. “And last week it didn’t rain so everyone was outside mowing their lawn. That kind of stuff can get in the way.”

He ultimately sees the truckbound performances as being able to reach Columbus citizens in a unique and compelling fashion. “One elderly lady was confined to her bed and she wasn’t able to come outside, so we pulled up right beside her window.” And it’s moments like this where he says the spirit of the series shines through at its brightest.

“The response we get is great, people just light up. They’ll often come out of their houses or the houses nearby, or out into the parking lot. It seems like everyone is just glad to have the interaction.”

Last weekend, Paxton even got to put a show for one of his biggest fans: his own Dad. “It was nice, this last week we ended our set earlier and was close to where my Dad lived, so we stopped by and did an extra show for him in Groveport,” he said. 

And while there’s not much you can do in the bed of an F-150, the series has been able to show off a nice cross-section of musical talent. While Paxton sings and plays keyboard as accompaniment, others will bring a guitar. Fisher only performs vocally, but she finds a way to make things interesting by singing over pre-recorded backing tracks to songs. “I try to find the ones that are the least amount of cheesy,” she says laughing. “But sometimes with covers you can find a track that really presents the song in a different way, which people appreciate.”

And the Curbside Concert Series benefits more than just those who hear the shows. One of the sponsors of the concert series, the Great Columbus Arts Council, pays artists for their performances.

“Being a full time musician means you need to have about six part time music jobs. Now, most of the venues are closed, so anything like this we can find  is even more important,” Paxton said. “It really is a blessing.” 

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Community

Celebrate Juneteenth by patronizing these local black artists on Bandcamp

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, Bandcamp took things into its own hands to elevate the voices of artists struggling without gigs. 

The #BandcampFriday campaign waived the company’s revenue share so that 100 percent of music and merchandise sales went directly to the musicians. On March 20, fans spent $4.3 million on Bandcamp, 15 times more than a typical Friday. On May 1, people showed up even more, spending $7.1 million.

This #BandcampFriday is a little different, however, with the rise of protests fighting for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement popping up all over the country the last two months. With Juneteenth—an American holiday celebrating the end of slavery—being celebrated today, Bandcamp is changing its mission slightly this month and for every Juneteenth moving forward.

From midnight to midnight Pacific time, Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Bandcamp will also be allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

To double up on Bandcamp’s promotion today and in honor of Juneteenth, check out the list of Columbus-based black musicians below that you can patronize for Bandcamp’s Juneteenth celebration.

Paisha Thomas

One of the most powerful voices in Columbus, Paisha Thomas weaves passion, politics, and history into her potent R&B style. Purchase her track “I Am Here” below.


Mistar Anderson

One of the smoothest, in-the-pocket Columbus bands to pop up over the past five years, Mistar Anderson blends jazz and hip-hop while also bringing in influences such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. You can purchase its EP below.

T.Wong

One of the most fierce musicians and entrepreneurs in Columbus—as well as one of the top-rated business and corporate attorneys in the capital city—T.Wong is at the intersection of soulful R&B and provocative rock. His album, The Upside Down, is a perfect mixture of those sounds and can be purchased below.

Counterfeit Madison

Counterfeit Madison (vocals, piano), along with Adam Hardy on bass and Seth Dailly on drums and percussion, has been delivering show-stopping performances for almost a decade now. The group’s music has a sense of urgency to it, a reflection of the tumultuous 2010s. You can stream a re-created performance of Sade covers below.

Joey Aich

Joey Aich, originally from the Cleveland area, started making an impact on the Columbus music scene as soon as he started calling Columbus home. His introspective hip-hop is a creative lens into the makeup of our community. And what perfect timing! Aich’s latest project was released on Thursday. You can purchase the fresh album below.

MojoFlo

Amber Knicole, the lead singer and show leader behind, has the energy to get the room moving and the vocal power to leave the same room speechless. MojoFlo has long been one of Columbus’ cherished musical treasures. With plans to release an album this year, show some support by purchasing the group’s 2014 EP below.

Learn more about Bandcamp and its efforts here.


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