Jorma and Jack Give a Lesson in Collaboration

Okay, so you’ve been playing a song one way for a couple of generations, and then someone suggests, “How about adding a sousaphone solo?”

If you are Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady – two legendary rock stars performing together since the early 1960s – you go for it. The duo was performing what had become a standard tune for them, “Good Shepherd” After each had soloed and riffed a bit, a horn player stepped up to a side stage microphone and soloed. The effect was magical, giving the Biblical-themed song a jazz-themed twist.

Good Shepherd,” recorded by Jimmy Strothers — a blind convict in Virginia imprisoned for accidentally shooting his wife, who had been abusing him. The traditional hymn focuses on salvation by caring for one another. Strothers’ version includes references to the marauding savagery of the Ku Klux Klan. The effect of the horn — with Kaukonen on guitar and Casady on bass in accompaniment — underscores the beauty and poignancy of the melody.

Power of friendship

Watching this performance on YouTube, something else struck me: friendship. Kaukonnen is in his early eighties, and Casady is nearing eighty, but watching them perform, you could see the same spark of collaboration that bound them together as teens. Kaukonnen invited Casady to join The Jefferson Airplane, a group that achieved superstardom in the late Sixties. Together with the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin – and so many other bands – the Airplane defined that era’s San Francisco rock scene.

Kaukonen and Casady formed Hot Tuna as a blues band concurrently with their years in the Airplane. It became their avenue for exploring the blues, country, and folk. Call it a passion project. And its passion burns brightly because it is still touring now – albeit on their final electric tour. 

Lessons to keep in mind

What we can learn from the band are a few lessons.

Remember the mission. Know what you stand for and build upon that as a foundation. 

Evolve when necessary. Times change, as do situations. Adapt when necessary in ways that complement your mission.

Keep experimenting. Try something new. Use the newness as a challenge and a way to invigorate yourself and the mission.

Joy of collaboration

And finally, what strikes me most when watching Jorma and Jack perform together is their respect for each other. Jorma on vocals and lead (or solo) guitar, and Jack on an often oversized bass of his creation. They complement one another in ways that harmonize their sound into something that demonstrates their deep connection. They are true collaborators.

And so it is fitting to close by citing the lyrics of the Strothers’ version of “Good Shepherd” – a plea for all of us to watch out for one another – as good colleagues do. 

If you want to get to heaven

… Over on, the other shore

Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit —

Oh, good shepherd,

Feed my sheep.

One for Paul, one for Silas …

One for to make, my heart rejoice.

Can’t you hear, my lambs, a callin’?

Oh, good shepherd,

Feed my sheep.

First posted on on 00.00.2023