Interview with a Rock Icon: Teamwork in the Music Industry

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 touring 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 1 of this 3-Part Interview, Jorma talks about teamwork, the impact of new team members, and the importance of practice.

Terry:  I define teamwork as people coming together effectively to achieve a common goal.  With that definition, how important is teamwork to what you do, Jorma, in the music industry?

Jorma:  That was certainly a great definition of teamwork.  The answer is, there’s no I in team.  You can’t do stuff by yourself.  Maybe you thought you could when you were young or something like that.  Everything we do, whether it’s a recording, whether it’s performing on stage, whether it’s teaching at the Fur Peace Ranch, everything that I do in my world requires an infrastructure of trusted team members. And trust is absolutely essential.

Terry:  In the business world we talk a lot about Tuckman’s model of group or team development.  It says that all teams go through 4 stages.  Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.  Tuckman later added another stage which he called ReForming—any time you get new people in the team, you go back through those stages again.

Jorma:  I like that paradigm, or model, because that makes perfect sense.

Terry:  A couple years ago, you added Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams to Hot Tuna.  How did the addition of Larry and Teresa affect the team dynamic of Hot Tuna?

Jorma:  Well, that’s a really great question.  We could probably spend hours talking about this.  When you add people to the group, there’s a complex dynamic that evolves.  Especially in music, it’s really important that everybody be on the same page with what needs to be done.  We’re artists, but we all have egos.  I mean, it would be silly to deny that.

The thing that makes our egos shine is when we work together.  If we’re working with Larry, for example, we add another guitar, or maybe another instrument, because Larry plays so many instruments.  That means we need to incorporate the way Larry plays into how we as a band play.

My role, as the guitar player in the band, devolves in some way.  Now, with Larry playing guitar, it’s what I don’t do that’s more important than what I do.

Or take adding Teresa.  I cut school when they were teaching “backup singing” so I don’t know anything about the “theory” or “mechanics” of that.  But I do know that when I sing by myself, I can do anything I want.  But now when I’ve got Teresa singing backup, I know I have to conform to the arrangement so that Teresa can do what she needs to do with me in that song.

It’s just an interesting, different dynamic.

Terry:  How is Ain’t in No Hurry, your latest solo cd, different from your previous solo albums?

Jorma:  With Ain’t in No Hurry, in a way this is the most relaxed recording that I’ve ever done for a number of reasons.

Maybe it’s just where I am in my life right now.  I had written some songs.  I had the Ain’t in No Hurry song, I got from a friend of ours, Jim Eagen who lives up in Connecticut.  We recorded this in my little theater at the Fur Peace Ranch.  Larry and Justin and Teresa brought the studio in a van down.  We set up in my own little theater.  I was so un-self-conscious about stuff that I was doing.

Recording for me, in any respect makes me very self-conscious because you’re under the microscope. But for this one, I was really, for whatever reason, un-self-conscious about taking vocal risks.

Because Larry and Teresa push me when I sing and I record to do stuff that I might not otherwise do. The playing because we had to set up on the stage and load. The basics were all cut wide. Just played together.  It’s a great place for me to be in my professional life right now and creative life.

Terry:  I’ve always considered you to be one of the greatest lead guitarists, in history. Yet, when I saw you and Hot Tuna last year, there were times Larry Campbell was playing lead guitar.  In the business world, the last thing some leaders would do, is let that other person shine.

And yet, you were there letting Larry play lead guitar.  You were playing rhythm guitar, nodding your head at him, almost encouraging his lead solos.  When you talked about letting your ego go, there must be some of that in letting someone else take over the lead guitar role.

Jorma:   Thanks for the compliment.  Maybe in the business world it’s more about letting the ego go.  But, in any musical thing, the rhythm section is what drives the sound.  If I’m finger-picking on my own, I’m doing a solo guitar thing, and what I do with my thumbs provides the rhythm section.  And that rhythm is really what drives the sound of what I’m doing.

In a band, the lead guitar player will shine if he has a killer rhythm section behind them.  But it can go the other way, too:  The best lead player in the world will be mediocre with a mediocre rhythm section behind him.

A lot of the sound of what Hot Tuna puts out there is the rhythm section.  In the old days, when Jack and I would record, electric things back in the 70′s, we would do the basic rhythm and base tracks, and then I would overdub the lead guitar.  The real sound of that is the rhythm section.

People listen to Jefferson Airplane stuff and go, “Wow, what a great lead guitar player.”  Maybe.  But what made it great was I had Spencer Dryden [drums], Jack Casady [bass], and Paul Kantner [rhythm guitar].  Paul doesn’t get a lot of credit for the guitar playing that he does because he’s not a shredder lead guitar type.  What he did on the guitar playing rhythm, absolutely helped define the sound of the Airplane.  Allowed me to paint my sonic landscape.

It’s exciting for me to play with a guy like Larry.  Remember, Larry will back me when I get the solo too.  To be able to play with somebody like Larry, whose playing excites me, it’s a conversation that can’t be missed.

Terry:  You could have named the album after other songs on the CD, like In My Dreams or Seasons in the Field. Why did you decide to call the album Ain’t in No Hurry?

Jorma: That song just really set it for where I felt that I was in my life.  Lot of stuff going on.  I’m busier in a lot of respects than I’ve ever been.  In a normal world, I’d be a great-grandfather.  In this one, I have a 9-year-old daughter that lives with my wife and myself.  An 18-year-old son that lives with his mom, in Virginia.  I’m involved with my children.  Most of the people I hang with tend to be younger than me.  I’m almost 75 years old.  I ain’t in no hurry.

Sometimes I’m in a hurry to get things done. If it’s a project, I’m deadline-driven.  Whatever I need to do to get the project done.

But overall, I don’t need to accelerate the pace of my life, I’m good.

Terry:  I teach people about public speaking, since I do professional speaking in addition to the consulting.  And, I emphasize the importance of practice, rehearsal.  What’s your approach to rehearsal?

Jorma:   Rehearsal makes things happen.  Sure you need to rehearse.  I mean, in some way you need to prepare.  We’re doing rehearsal stuff because we’re adding Larry and Teresa, and turning Hot Tuna into a bigger band, so you have to rehearse more, especially with the harmony Teresa provides on vocals.  We’ve done so much that we no longer need to put quite as much rehearsal time in as we did originally.

They do so much different stuff that goes into preparation for a live show.  Teresa’s got her notes written down for songs.  We always try to give them a little bit of time so we can get back and into the comfort zone again.  Like they say, proper preparation prevents poor performance.

One of the things that I thought about when you were talking about public speaking, it’s really funny.  I’ve spent my life doing things in front of people, but speaking is a different thing.  It’s tough for me.  When I’m speaking in front of a group, my wife, Vanessa, is always going, “Don’t talk too fast.  Don’t look down.  Relax.  Just say what you have to say.”  That’s hard to do for me.  So it gets back to, “Be prepared.”


Questions for you:  How does your role change when you add new members to your team?  How do the roles of other team members change?  How much practice/rehearsal do you do for public speaking?

Note:  Watch your inbox for Part 2, where Jorma talks about teamwork on the road, conflict in the Jefferson Airplane, and how he deals with slackers.

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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