Peter Kaukonen‘s new CD Crazy Quilt will have a CD Release Party on Saturday, February 3rd. Crazy Quilt by Peter Kaukonen, on the Floating Records label, presents new songs by Peter, a guitarist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has played, recorded and toured with Johnny Winter, Link Wray and his own band, the Black Kangaroos. He has also played, recorded and toured in Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship with older brother Jorma Kaukonen, whose band the Jefferson Airplane covered some of Black Kangaroo’s songs. The Release Party, to be held at the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center in Berkeley, CA, will feature a performance by Peter Kaukonen and the Curios, along with special guest artists Lee Parvin and Nancy Hall.
Crazy Quilt presents thirteen original tracks covering a multitude of styles and themes. Driven by Peter’s sensitive acoustic guitar and tasteful electric guitar playing, the album covers themes that are like the well-known style of crazy quilting that was popular in the late 1800’s. As Peter Kaukonen said, “A crazy quilt can be an existential time capsule, chronicling the quilter’s passage through time with milestones and markers made up of memories accumulated along the way. Crazy Quilt is my musical journey and existential justification”. Peter’s music has attracted legions of fans for years and this album will only increase the number of fans attracted to his intense, personal music.
(Drifting) Cozumel evokes Peter’s drift diving trips South of the Border, with its interesting instrumentation and style. Paqui was originally written by Peter in the 70’s and is another instrumental. The acoustic guitar slowly builds the theme, creating a wonderfully listenable tune that is at once relaxing and also thought-provoking.
Peter is not afraid to tackle political and social themes in such songs as Maria Full of Grace, which tackles our ongoing immigration issues. He gets the point across, weaving a story that chronicles one of the major issues of our day, yet doesn’t lose sight of one of the major points of social protest songs from the 60s and early 70s—-it has to draw you in musically to really get the whole point across. His cheekier side of political commentary comes out with the rocker The Ballad of Sarah Palin, a down and dirty, astute commentary on one of politics most….colorful…..characters.
Lullaby is a beautiful tune, written for his twin boys. It shows the depth of Peter’s acoustic guitar work, weaving through his singing to create a song that is both relaxing and poignant. It is one of several songs throughout the CD that make it easy to understand how much love he has for his family. Sleep Deprived gives a mostly instrumental counterpart to Lullaby, as Peter says of it, “What happens when twins are on different feeding and shrieking schedules”.
Ghost Music channels the 60’s feeling of Carlos Castenada’s books like The Teachings of Don Juan and the sounds of the Grateful Dead’s psychedelia. It is an interesting composition that tells a unbelieveable story……or is it? As Peter said, “Yes, this is a true story about one of the children in my house”.
In songs like Twilight Revisited and Bobby Gets Old, Peter deals with the passage of years and what it’s really like. In Twilight Revisited, “It don’t seem to matter, my children are scattered, oh so far from the fold” really summarizes the realization that your kids are no longer kids and that your present life and expectations might be bleak; certainly not as happy as it once was.
The Nature of the Beast is one of the few songs on the CD with a stronger beat. At that it is certainly one of the best, showcasing not only Peter’s skill as a songwriter but his ability to update the sound of the music he grew up playing in Mill Valley, CA (one of the prime areas of the 60’s San Francisco Sound) as he performed with friends who would later form groups such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead.
That’s A Good Question is an updated and streamlined version of Peter’s song off of his 1972 Black Kangaroo album. Peter said about this track, “Written in 1954, this one’s another old favorite. I’m thrilled with the arrangement, production and performances on this one”. The final tune on the album, it’s one of those songs you wish would never end.
Peter sat down with The Boise Beat to talk a little about his music, his life and the show.
Q: Maria Full of Grace tells a story that is very timely now. Did the problem speak to you?
A: Yes, I think the problem speaks to me and it’s a very relevant song and a song that has great meaning to me. I am, as you yourself may be, the descendant of people who came to this country because they were being fucking killed. My mother’s parents escaped pogroms in Russia where they were going to be killed. My father’s parents escaped economic hardship and came to this country and made lives for themselves. I’d like to point out that all my parent’s parents were either anarchists or socialists or radicals. My father’s parents were Wobblys, Industrial Workers of the World, so intellectuals and free-thinkers to say the least.
We are in a country that is schizophrenogenic to say the least. One the one hand we pretend to be egalitarian and we have the Lady Liberty, we all know the Bring me your tired, your hungry……yak yak yak, fuck that shit! Not true! Nor do we acknowledge our history of genocide and the deliberate extermination of an indigenous population in this country. Not part of our history! So against the background of this, I think that certainly Maria Full of Grace preceded our current administration and their blatant—-you can fill in the blanks. I’d be very curious to see this State of the Union speech. But yes, I understand our racist heritage and the predominance of racist and et al in this country. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I thought; and still think, that it would be an incredibly powerful video. Just an astonishingly powerful video.
Q: Did you have some interesting times writing songs and playing on occasion with your brother Jorma’s bands, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship?
A: Jefferson Airplane did record a number of my songs and I certainly performed on Jefferson Starship’s early albums and toured with them.
Q: Ghost Music sounds like it was plunked out of the 60’s, both thematically and musically. Was it your intent from the beginning to write a song that was rooted in the San Francisco psychedelic sound?
A: The answer to that is, when I—-I’ve been a long-time Mill Valley California resident and I’ve been in my house now longer than anyplace I’ve lived in my life, having grown up overseas and been on the road forever. Both of my parents died in my house and I now have a third generation, my twin boys are here now. I took care of them at their time of dying; and when I assembled my digital studio I had all kinds of problems with it. By actual count, there were over 30 techs that came through. One would fix something and leave and something else would go wrong. Finally it was suggested that I call a shaman. So I did; I called in a shaman who just happened to be a woman who rolled up in a beat-up Cherokee, she was wearing a Led Zeppelin tour jacket and she sat down and she had this case; this kind of elongated leather case, and she opened it and inside of it were these L-shaped rods; she used them as dowser rods. I called them L-rods because they were shaped like “L”s and asked if they were shaped like nims would you call then Nimrods, but she was incapable of humor.
Anyway, she dowsed the house, did a very thorough walking around the house looking for I know not what; and she was very interested in electricity and power, especially in the studio. Finally she said, “Well everything seems to be OK but I’m walking into the corner right now—-there’s something in this corner but I don’t know what it is, something very strange”. She left and it continued to malfunction, so I called another shaman, a very handsome well put- together gentleman who pulled up in a new Porsche convertible, had a Rolex on his wrist; and came out with this huge bag which he had rolled and it was about four or five feet long and he said, “You know, one of the things about being a shaman is that you get to carry all kinds of neat stuff”.
So he starts running around and he’s burning sage. He’s scraping salt in the corners and he’s running up and down the fucking halls chanting. I had Hispanics working on the deck in the back and they looked at this shit, they know what is going on and they leave. Because he’s clearly—I know, I swear to God, you could feel—it’s just like in a seance—-you could feel stuff moving up and down, it’s insane! Finally he’s finished with whatever he’s doing and he says, “Well, there was a dead child in the corner of your studio. I don’t know if it was a boy or a girl when it died but it was very unhappy. But I called those who looked after such things and they came and took it away; and it won’t bother you any more”. That was very strange.
And then I asked him, “How does a shaman get paid?”…….anyways, he left and I turned on the studio and it started to play itself. It’s a digital MIDI studio and everything is automated, cross-communicating and there are four synths and keyboards and stuff in racks and yak yak yak, And it just started going off! And it went on and on and on and I started recording and that’s the sound that’s behind Ghost Music. He had me wondering if my parents might still be here, but—-you know I was with them when they died—and they were clearly glad to go. And long gone. Kent looked at a collection of knives and swords that I’d gotten when I lived in Pakistan that I’d gotten up in the Khyber Pass from a police station; and they’d been used for blood feuds and vendettas and in tribal wars. So they were all blooded, but they were clean too. So there was a dead child in the corner of my studio!
Q: That’s a Good Question has been recorded before, on your 1972 album Black Kangaroo. What makes this tune so special?
A: I can play it! In a time of trying to create an assemblage of my musical works, when I didn’t have a repertoire of new songs to do; and my hands still worked fairly well, I rerecorded this. It’s a lovely piece of music; I love playing it. People enjoy it very much, it still strikes people—the song was first released in 1965, so it’s been around for a while and it wears well. And I think this is a spectacular recording and production of this piece of music. It does wear well; and I think that’s a wonderful performance and a wonderful production. The violist on it is world-class, just amazing, a wonderful player, just a brilliant player.
Q: Do you have a favorite story to tell?
A: I do have a favorite story! Playing years ago, as a solo acoustic performer and touring, playing electronic acoustic guitar, acoustic guitar through all kinds of signal processing called acous-tech, and I was playing somewhere on Bleeker Street in New York City in the dead of winter, cold rainy miserable, pretty much an empty house; and near the end of my set a young couple came up to me and they said that when they had walked in things had been very difficult for them and they were very stressed and pressured, but my music had taken them away and they felt very much better and they wanted to thank me for that. And that, I thought, is why I play music.
Q: You’e been writing songs like Twilight Revisited and Bobby Gets Old to deal with mortality and aging. Is it personal with you?
A: I have the song on the Crazy Quilt, Twilight Revisted, that I have the line I still have my memories, I stroll through them daily, vast fields of silver and gold. I guess the tangental commentary there is better perception, meaning, we are a culture that does not acknowledge the difficulties or the grace of aging, or being aged.
Q: Who were your musical influences?
A: I was thinking about this upcoming show and when I started to put it together I had asked Lee and Nancy to play with me because I’m not inspired by material that I’ve been playing for umpteen years. Then I realized that there was material that I started playing when I started playing guitar that still had great emotional integrity and emotional relevance to me; and so the set list that I’ve constructed from my repertoire combined with Lee’s and Nancy’s is a musical timeline of some of the songs that I started playing when I first started playing guitar.
When I started playing it was the blues, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Big Bill Broonzy, Reverend Gary Davis—–ooh, there’s Lightnin’ Hopkins; oh my God Robert Johnson! But before that, the first LP’s I ever bought were The Best of Muddy Waters on Chess, The Best of Little Walter; I was in 7th grade when I got those albums. I still have them, they’re still playable; John Lee Hooker, so this was telling me what was important in music and that was emotion.
But in terms of who has really been my biggest influence, it would not be a guitarist, but Bill Evans the pianist, who I had the great good fortune to see a number of times and meet and actually play with. What can you say about what he did? Just effortless beauty and spectacular time, just wonderful elastic time; and always touching your heart and your soul. That what I kind of wanted to do and that’s a good question I think, it kind of rings well. I’m not saying that I have the training, education or ability to do what he did and I never will, but that certainly set the guidelines of what I felt music should be. You know by the same token that having an emotional impact is quite flexible because if you listen to a song like Sarah Palin that it has an emotional impact too but of a completely different sort. The Ballad of Sarah Palin is an interesting song……it’s an interesting political offering that’s only gotten worse.
Q: Thank you, Peter. It’s a wonderful album!
Crazy Quilt, on Floating Records, the Sausalito, CA (and recently relocated to Hailey, ID) label with a growing roster of over 20 artists, is one of those rare albums that really allows insight to a musician’s visions and the random musings that define life. Peter Kaukonen new album is one of those that is new and yet hauntingly familiar. Peter Kaukonen has put life, and his impressions of its existential, personal and challenging twists and turns, into a musical Crazy Quilt that is sewn together in ways that will entrance you and draw you in.
Crazy Quilt by Peter Kaukonen
Available on CD and download
from Floating Records
Crazy Quilt CD Release Party
Featuring Peter and The Curios
Special Guest Artists, Lee Parvin and Nancy Hall
Saturday, February 3, 2018; 7:30PM
2905 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94703
Phone Info: (510) 472-3170 Web Info: https://berkeleyarthouse.wordpress.com/