Interview with a Rock Icon: Teamwork in the Music Industry–Part 2

You’re in for a treat in this interview with a true rock icon, as he provides his take on a number of teamwork  related issues.

Jorma Kaukonen is an icon in the music industry, from his time as lead guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane back in the 1960s, to when he later formed Hot Tuna with Airplane bassist, Jack Casady.  He and Hot Tuna have continued to tour since then.

Jorma also has had a very successful solo career, including his most recent album, Ain’t in No Hurry, which is a great CD.  If you haven’t got it, you ought to run out and get it, because every song on it is terrific.

For the past 18 years, Jorma and his wife, Vanessa, have run the Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio, where students of all ages and walks of life receive intensive (4 days at a time) instruction on guitar, bass guitar, drums, etc.

I thought it would be good to get Jorma’s perspective about teamwork in the music world.  In Part 2 of this 3-Part interview, Jorma talks about teamwork on the road, conflict in the Jefferson Airplane, and dealing with slackers.

Terry: When you’re on the road performing, how does teamwork affect the people you’ve got there?  Which consists of road crew, venue people.

Jorma:  My road manager and sometimes my son that travels with us and helps us with whatever needs to be done.  Before we get to a gig, Myron, my tech guy and Phil, my tour manager, have advanced this thing as best they possibly can so that we have as few supplies as is possible.

In terms of equipment, what they’re going to have, what the venue’s going to be like, etc., etc.  I’ve never been in the service but it’s like I imagine a battle plan would be.  You can make plans but you can’t plan the outcome.  You never know what you’re going to get but it’s nice to have a heads-up.  When we get there, Myron goes in.  He meets the sound guys.  If they’re people we’ve worked with, he already knows them.  He’s already talked to them about equipment.

He gets in there, they have a stage plot.  They set the stage.  They set the equipment.  They start tuning the rooms.  In any given room we try to adjust the sound in the room to match our specs.  Myron tunes.  He has a real-time analyzer and he knows the kind of a sound we’re looking for.

Then, Phil setting up the merchandise.  Talking about yes, getting paid before the evening’s over.  All that kind of stuff.  When we go in, we have a routine of things that we do.

For me, I don’t like stringing electric guitars because Myron does that for me.  I love stringing my acoustic guitars for whatever nutty reason.  I’ll make sure my acoustic guitars are strung and tuned.  The strings are stretched.

I’ll do my set-list.  I’ll print the set list in the bus.  I’ll maybe have some alternatives in case we have to do stuff on the fly.  We just have stuff that we do.  We’ve done it for a number of years together.  It really works very smoothly most of the time.

It’s a lot of stuff, but we’re all working together on it.

Terry:  For the song, Seasons in the Field, from your current CD, I noticed that you collaborated with Larry Campbell, on the music.  How does that work from a teamwork perspective?

Jorma:   I’d written most of the song and it needed to go somewhere in the chorus area.  I just couldn’t figure out how to get it nice enough.  I had it almost all done.  When I co-write with somebody, I don’t quibble about how we split things up.  Even if I went, “Well, I did 93.5%.  He only did 6.5.”

That’s not how I work.  If we’re going to split the writing, we just split the writing.  Anyway, I needed a way to get out of the bridge.  I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.  Larry figured it out.  I went, okay that’s it.

Terry:  Your teamwork with Jack Casady, one of your best friends, goes way back.  Why is that such a successful team?

Jorma:   I get asked that question a lot.  My answer is always this.  Even as kids, we’ve always respected each other as men and as artists.  We’re not joined at the hip.  We’re very, very different as people.  We’ve always been honest with each other.  We don’t BS each other.  Both of us are extremely opinionated and we allow each other to have opinions.

But, we have never had a Hot Tuna band meeting, ever.  We talk about stuff.  I mean, to me, we had them in Airplane, all the time.  What a nightmare.

Terry: What’s a band meeting?

Jorma:   I don’t know how other groups do it.  To me, a band meeting is where everybody had these problems with what’s going on in their personal and collective business lives.  They usually involve some sort of an ego problem.  We complain to each other about it.  It was all the time.  Nothing is ever resolved unless whoever is dissenting just can’t fight anymore.

Terry:  In the business world, we call them “bitch sessions.”  An important leadership skill is facilitation—the ability to run meetings so that they DON’T become bitch sessions.  Which brings up another important question:  How do you handle conflict?

Jorma:   Well, to be honest with you, I really don’t have conflict with my team members.  We really don’t.  Without naming any names, sometimes people move a little slower than I would like them to move.  That’s a control issue for me because the job always gets done.  I’ve learned to stay out of people’s way that are doing their job.  Micro-management is the kiss of death for me.

I trust the people I work with.  Sometimes someone’s taking longer than I would like at the end of the evening.  I want to go back to the hotel.  I don’t need to complain to him because I’ve got a guy that’s honest.  I don’t have to look over his shoulder.  I know he’d take a bullet for us.  If he’s a little slower sometimes than I’d like, I’ve learned to let go of that.  I can take a cab back to the hotel, instead of waiting and going back with everyone on the bus.

Terry:  Getting back to the album, my favorite song is In My Dreams.  How did that come about?

Jorma:  You’re going to love this.  Some songs you work on and some songs are just gifts from whatever higher power you consider you have.  I was in Stroudsburg, PA.  I guess it was maybe 2, maybe 2 and a half years ago.  We were working at the Sherman Theater, up there.  It was a Hot Tuna day though.

I woke around 6 in the morning.  I had a dream.  I don’t remember the dream because I don’t remember dreams often.  This line, I remember this line, “We never seem to age in my dream.”

Now, if I’m going to do something creative, if I have writing to do of any sort, I have to just do it right away.  Whether it’s blogging.  Whether it’s working on what might someday be a Jorma book, I may be working on a song, whatever.  If I’m going to do anything creative, and instead of doing it, I open a cellphone, or look at a computer screen, to me, that’s a spirit killer.

So at that moment, nothing is going to happen to me.  I like writing songs with pencil and paper.  Then, I will put them on a word processor.

Anyway, that line hit me and I got up and out of bed.  I went over to the desk.  I keep a legal pad around.  I wrote that line down.  Then, I was piddling around with these chord changes because usually the music comes hand in hand.  The old set of chord changes that goes with the song.

I’d been messing with that.  I don’t know where it came from.  I was just fooling around.  As a guitar player, if it’s in a C-chord position.  A lot of stuff comes out of that.  I went, “This is going to be a song.” I sat down, started playing those chord changes.  Started thinking about the lyrics.  I wrote that song in about 20 minutes, although I still had some editing to work with the music.

But if I had turned on the TV to look at the news, if I looked at an email message, nothing would’ve happened.  Just that one line, “We never seem to age in our dreams,” one thing led to another.

Terry:  How do you deal with slackers, people who aren’t performing up to your standard?

Jorma:   Well, there’s always slackers.  I don’t have any slackers in my organization.  Neither does Vanessa, at the ranch.  Of course, everybody that we work with at venues, they work for the venue.  You bet they’re slackers sometimes.  I extremely infrequently get involved unless they disrespect me in some way.  I don’t need to have my ass kissed, but I will not tolerate being disrespected.

If I get some guy that’s a jerk, the sound guy or a house guy or something like that, I’m not afraid to get in his face.  That happens extremely infrequently but there’s always those slackers.  The loaders aren’t working fast enough, etc.  I have people on my team who can handle it.

My guy, Myron, my tech, my sort of go-to guy, he’s unflappable.  When we went to France for a month and a half, it was a frustrating experience because most of the French people that we deal with in the country didn’t speak English.  Myron just took his time learning the French words.

I mean, he is unflappable.  He rolls with the punches.  He knows how to take people to task without calling them out on the carpet, or making it confrontational.  It doesn’t work all the time but it does most of the time.  Myron gets these slackers to work without making it like they’re being whipped.

Right now, at the ranch, we’ve got a gang in the kitchen that’s just tops.  It’s men and women, working together.  We’ve had some guys there who were great cooks, but they didn’t like to work with women.  Guess what?  There’s a lot of women in this world, get over it, or work someplace else.

You just have to deal with slackers, or any kind of conflict, right away, and be forceful about it.


Questions for you:  How do you handle conflict within your team?  How often do team meetings degenerate into non-productive “bitch sessions” (what Jorma calls “band meetings”)?  How effective are you at dealing with slackers?

Note:  Watch your inbox for Part 3, where Jorma talks about creativity, the power of purpose, and the importance of passion.

Buy Jorma’s Ain’t in No Hurry:
Ain’t in No Hurry CD
Ain’t in No Hurry iTunes download
Ain’t in No Hurry Amazon.com

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