Joplin guitarist Jorma Kaukonen at Rock Hall

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The Rock Hall’s American Music Masters series: Kosmik Blues: The Life and Music of Janis Joplin, is in full swing. At 7 p.m. tomorrow night, the Rock Hall will welcome to its 4th-floor Foster Theater one of Joplin’s early music-making colleagues, Jorma Kaukonen. He’ll be speaking and playing music.

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Kaukonen is best known as the lead guitarist with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He arrived in San Francisco in 1962 and met Joplin shortly after that when she was newly arrived from Texas. He played guitar on one of her earliest known recordings, a homemade effort known as The Typewriter Tapes. Currently, he lives in southeast Ohio where he owns Fur Peace Ranch, a music camp, to pass along his musical legacy.

“I first met Janis in the Fall of 1962 at a hootenanny in San Jose, California,” he recalls. “I had just come to California that week to go to school at the University of Santa Clara. There was a note of some sort on a telephone pole that said, 'Hootenanny this weekend.' How could I miss that?”

Like Joplin, Kaukonen was already a serious blues aficionado, who had no intention of getting into rock ’n’ roll. He recognized in her a fellow traveler. “She was a traditional blues singer of uncommon ability and was definitely an old soul … extremely sophisticated,” he says, belying the popular notion that Joplin’s art welled up from an unschooled vat of anguish.

He also feels that she had an enormous role in shaping the San Francisco scene that became legendary as a hub for new musical expression in the mid-late ’60s.

“I think she helped define the environment of San Francisco rather than the other way around,” he says. “There was nothing vaguely like her there, then or later. Hippies didn't exist yet ... we’re still talking beatniks. That said, the San Francisco of the time was the place to be for a free spirit. The music ... the art ... the creativity was the thing. I don’t think she had to fit into the scene … the scene had to accommodate her.

“One must remember Janis was a blues singer, not a folk singer,” he says. “Her voice and presence was her passport to the world. Now, you must also remember that I knew Janis three years before the ‘scene’ exploded. The psychedelic era issued its own stereotypes and had its own fashion police. None of this stuff existed in 1962 and 1963.”

Hear his stories about being part of one of the most vibrant scenes in rock ’n’ roll history and the woman who left her stamp on it tomorrow. The program is free; RSVP at 216.515.8426 or education@rockhall.org. — Anastasia Pantsios

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