- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

When the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia sang "What a long strange trip it's been," he could have been singing about Jorma Kaukonen's musical career. During the late 1960s, Mr. Kaukonen and the late Mr. Garcia were fellow denizens of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, from which the youth hippie movement sprang.
A native of the D.C. area, Mr. Kaukonen grew up listening to and learning to play American roots blues music before providence took him to San Francisco to be a founding member of the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane.
Tomorrow night, Mr. Kaukonen comes to the Birchmere in Alexandria to play music from, and celebrate, his first Grammy-nominated album, "Blue Country Heart" (Columbia Records).
"The CD is a lot of this singer-songwriter stuff from the Depression era that has stuck with us over time," says the 62-year-old from his eastern Ohio home.
"There was something there that attracted us as white, middle-class, moderately educated guys, that we wanted to play. It's not really blues in the traditional blues sense."
The songs on "Blue Country Heart" were written during the 1920s and 30s by mostly white composers. Tunesmiths such as Jimmie Rodgers, The Delmore Brothers, Slim Smith, Washington Phillips, Cliff Carlisle and Jimmy "The Singing Governor" Davis created songs that today offer a look at the positive relationship between black and white people, especially the musicians who often ignored rigid racial segregation of that era in order to play together.
The album was completed with the help of some of Nashville's finest players, including Sam Bush on mandolin and Jerry Douglas on dobro, along with Byron House on upright bass. Bela Fleck provided banjo on two songs, "Bread Line" and "Just Because."
"It is funny, but I sent the CD to my Aunt Audrey, who is in her late 70s or 80s, and she e-mailed me and said, 'I was listening to the songs and while I can't remember what I had for breakfast, I remember all the words to "Just Because,"'" Mr. Kaukonen says. "She told me she listened to that song on the radio out of West 'Virginny' when she was a girl."
Jorma Kaukonen's musical journey began with Jefferson Airplane. With that group he wrote and performed the gentle instrumental "Embryonic Journey," which appeared on the Airplane's first album, "Surrealistic Pillow," in 1967.
As the first San Francisco band to play large venues, sign a major label contract (with RCA Records) and embark on world tours, Jefferson Airplane became the defining band of the 1960s, and along with The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, recast the blues and rock 'n' roll music of the 1950s and 1960s into a psychedelic rock juggernaut.
Mr. Kaukonen, along with fellow Jefferson Airplane members Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Following Jefferson Airplane, Mr. Kaukonen and Mr. Casady launched the band Hot Tuna, and spent the next few decades producing music full of electrical and acoustic folk and blues.,
"Blue Country Heart" represents the artist's first studio release since Hot Tuna's 1990 "Pair of Dice Found" (Epic Records).
"My friend Roy Bookbinder said, 'You finally made the album you wanted to make when you were 20,'" Mr. Kaukonen says. "The Lord works in mysterious ways, and nothing is more remarkable than that I made this album."

It should be a warm and comfortable evening when Patty Griffin, with guest Warren Zanes, appears at the Birchmere on Tuesday, supporting her "1000 Kisses" CD. This may well be one of the last times you'll get to see this rapidly rising songstress perform within an intimate club atmosphere.
Miss Griffin is widely praised by critics and fans for her folk-inspired, straightforward storytelling and bluesy-alto vocals. Her third commercially released album's title comes from one of its songs, "Mil Besos." "I lost my heart on the thousand kisses that I left on your lips," the artist sings in Spanish.
The singer-songwriter is touring with material that consists of simple, clean arrangements that highlight both her warm, folk-hued voice and her guitar-storytelling.
Her concert appearance, like the music on "1000 Kisses," promises to be devoid of over-orchestration, featuring mostly acoustic guitar and bass, allowing Miss Griffin's vocal talents and lyrics to take center stage.

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