“We had this idea that we’d grow good guitar players.” Vanessa Kaukonen, wife of Jorma Kaukonen, checks in by phone to talk about the Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp she started with her husband in 1989 in the nether lands of Ohio. “We are a music school,” she says. “And in the winter, we head out to warmer climates. Fur Peace will visit San Diego three times next year: twice in January and once in February.
“Jorma and I designed and developed the camp, and then we recruited national artists that have a knack for teaching to join us.” The short list of guitar instructors includes Tommy Emmanuel and Warren Haynes. “Jorma has a knack for picking out great instructors.” He also has a knack for being an instructor himself, having taught music since he was 22.
Jorma Kaukonen, from Washington, D.C., is 72 but still plays 180 shows a year. He first came to fame as a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane in the 1960s. Later, he started a side project with Airplane bassist Jack Casady called Hot Tuna that, unlike the Airplane, survives to this day. Ranked at number 54 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists, Kaukonen’s finger-style guitar still has hippie nation written all over it; Stone critic David Fricke described Kaukonen’s playing as raga-infected. His shining moments on vinyl may well be “Spare Chaynge” and “Embryonic Journey.”
Fur Peace hosts 17 such road camps a year. Each consists of 12 to 14 hours of lessons over a three-day period. “We have a 97 percent return rate.” Vanessa Kaukonen explains that while Fur Peace is not an accredited school, potential students must qualify before they are admitted. “We have a heavy concentration of students in California and in New York. A lot of them live in San Francisco or in Los Angeles, and San Diego is an easy commute for them.”
In January, Kaukonen will host a songwriting and level-three finger-style workshop here with Hot Tuna alum Barry Mitterhoff. “And David Crosby, too, I hope,” Vanessa Kaukonen says. If schedules can be worked out, Crosby will be here. When she passes the phone to Jorma, I ask what he likes most about San Diego when he’s here.
“Anthology,” he says. “We discovered it recently when we were here on vacation and went to a concert by Tommy Emmanuel. There’s this Mexican restaurant not far from the Grant Hotel,” he says. He describes it as “very funky and inexpensive, with these murals all over the place.” He thinks for a minute, and then comes up with the name. “Pokez. And the [USS] Midway,” he says. “I can spend hours roaming around on the Midway.”