My Winter’s Tale
Jorma Kaukonen
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sitting home for a bit over the holidays gives me a moment to reflect, and indeed take time to do a little writing. It is not yet winter here at Hillside Farm in Southeast Ohio… but the winter of life is beginning to swirl around me and the confluence of seasons and time leaves me in a thoughtful mood. I have just returned from an extremely fulfilling two week tour with Jack and my friends, Larry, Teresa, Barry and Justin and as the heady brouhaha of Jack’s fete at the Beacon in New York City fades into the past, I find myself at home with family where I belong.

Almost all of the journaling that I do when I am on the road tends to fall into the category of, ‘I was here… and we did such and such.’ Interesting for me to write about when nothing else is in my head, but I am always reminded that while music is a large part of who I am, it is by no means everything. Home here on the farm, I truly feel that my place in the universe is secure.

I had been corresponding with my old friend Gerry Henkel who lives up there in the far north in Duluth, Minnesota recently. I got to know Gerry a little bit in 1994 when my Dad and I went on a roots trip to his birthplace in Ironwood… in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We flew out to Minneapolis and then started driving north. Past Duluth… across the Dick Bong bridge into Superior, Wisconsin. Dad told me about Dick Bong… America’s Ace Of Aces in WWII. With forty kills in his P-38 Lightning and a recipient of the Medal Of Honor, he was truly, quite a man. Upon his return to the States towards the end of the war, he is reputed to have flown his Lightning down the main street of Superior on a wing. Those were the days!

As Superior dwindled in my rear view mirror, we passed Hurley, Wisconsin and then over the border into Michigan and before I knew it, we were in Gogebic County and Ironwood, where Dad was born in a house on Garfield Street in 1910. To be able to be a silent observer over the landscape of my Father’s memories was an honor!

That said, my Father and I had a contentious relationship for most of our lives. This was just the way it was and I think in a way we grudgingly accepted that reality. Both of us were so fortunate that towards the end of his life he and I became friends. It is not always thus, but that’s how it was for us. Anyway, back in the early 90’s, some of his childhood friends were still alive and as I sat and listened to them talk, the flash of youth was still in their eyes. A lifetime had passed since Dad left the iron and copper country of the UP… but I could see that the ancient bond of friendship and shared experience transcended age and infirmity.

A lot happened on that trip… I saw the house where my father was born… the Old Finn Hall where he played mandolin… the Carnegie Library where he learned to speak English… the building where my late grandfather once had a tailor shop. Good times? Hard to say, but times nonetheless.

Driving back to Minneapolis, we stopped in Duluth which is where I met Gerry Henkel. Gerry was with the Finnish American Reporter at the time and Dad was really active in Finnish/American stuff. Gerry and I sort of became pals in early days of email and I kept in touch after I took Dad back to Mill Valley, California. My Father always loved to write, and I always looked forward to getting his little mini editorials. The notes he would send me were nothing compared to the deluge of philosophizing Gerry was treated to. Recently Gerry was cleaning out stuff he had saved for years (I can relate) and he came across emails that he and my Dad, Jorma Sr. had written back then. He had printed them all out… and when I came home from this last road trip they were waiting for me.

I looked at the dates… they were from the last year of my Father’s life. As I read and reread these bits of correspondence, I was transported back the early 90’s when Dad was still alive. The words brushed my face with memory, as soft as angel’s wings. He was there as big as life for a while… and then on that last page, he was gone. In those entries up to that final day, in spite of his strokes and TIA’s, his mind was vital and he was always thinking of things he was going to do. And then, at 0530, January 7, 1997… his work was done, and his dreams would always be dreams.

It is unfortunate that my children will never know this delightfully idiosyncratic man. The best I can do is to tell them stories. We still have pictures and letters from the old ones, Ida and Jaako… but I can’t read Finnish and no one is still alive I know who could tell us about the pictures… and that is how it goes.

What does this all mean? It was just a door opening for a moment on a bygone time… almost a dream of another life. I miss my Father. This never goes away… but at least he did not outlive his children. I do not know my brother at all. That is sad to say, but that’s just how it is. I hope he and his family are well. I just took Izze to her last piano lesson of 2014, Vanessa is shopping for dinner and my son Zach is coming to spend the holidays with us the evening of the 23rd… my birthday. Maverick, the big dog, is sleeping on the back porch and life is good on this chilly December evening.

As for Gerry, my friend… thanks for sending me those letters. I got to hear Dad’s voice again… many thanks. And for those who might wonder where Mom is in my house of memories, she fills the rooms with her light, but that is a story for another time.

And… that’s about it. I think I’ll have a cup of coffee.


  1. Comment made on June 25, 2015 by Eric Peltoniemi

    Hi Jorma

    Don’t know how I missed this one. Kaunis!

  2. Comment made on December 24, 2014 by Rick in DC

    Happy birthday! Very nice blog post, very poignant and something that I can identify with to some degree with my own family’s immigrant past (not being able to read great grandparents letters written in the old country language too!). My own father has been gone now for 22 years—and it all seems like yesterday when we said goodbye and sent him on his next journey. All I’m left with now are memories and the ghost of his smile and laughter.

    I’ve lost touch with you and the Tuna over the years but I am very glad to get back to you and Jack when you played the 6th and I St synagogue gig in DC. What a great re-discovery and re-awakening! I attended with my older brother and older cousin (I think we were the only Asian American guys in the place); through them I discovered Hot Tuna when I was a shy and awkward out-of-place teen and your music inspired me to learn how to play the guitar. Almost none of my teen peers knew of the glorious Tuna and the acoustic blues back in the mid 70’s and I didn’t give a damn! To me it was the coolest and I thought it was the real deal! So thank you for the wonderful music of my youth.

    Have a great holiday with you and yours!

    PS, you knew Hugh Frost from the DC area?, right? I know a friend of Hugh’s and she wanted me to pass on some information to you about Hugh. if you didn’t know already, he passed on a few years back. Sorry to relay that bit of sadness if you weren’t aware, but she thought you would want to know. Again, sorry for that downer.

  3. Comment made on December 24, 2014 by Mark D

    A belated happy birthday and hope for many more!

    I always enjoy your writings on your life experiences whether they are in blog or song format. One of my constant hopes is that you will someday soon collect these thoughts and experiences in book form that we can learn more about you and the life you have created for yourself, family and friends.

    Happy Holidays, take care and be well
    Mark D

  4. Comment made on December 23, 2014 by Wayne

    Happy Birthday Jorma and many many more!

  5. Comment made on December 23, 2014 by Mitch Spector

    Dear Jorma ,
    Loved the story about you and your dad .
    God bless you and your family .
    And may you stay forever young ♫

  6. Comment made on December 23, 2014 by Jack Meehan

    Happy Birthday Jorma, Keep on Truckin
    and your thought re. your dad’s emails and photos, the photos, I have some of my dad, haven’t a clue who he’s with, but he’s having a dam good time. nice to be aware that we are a little bit like our parents. Best Wishes to you and your family. Hope you New Year is festive, active and satisfying, as only you can make it.

  7. Comment made on December 23, 2014 by cyndy consentino

    Dear Jorma,

    Happy birthday!

    Thanks for your wonderfulness!!


  8. Comment made on December 22, 2014 by Steve Nelson

    Jorma: I read your blog all the time, 1st time I have posted. All of my people come from Superior, WI, and I was told that story of Major Bong’s flight down Tower Avenue (Superior’s main drag) by my grandparents (Norwegian immigrants) who witnessed it. You and I have talked about that part of the country a time or two during some of my visits to FPR. It is hearty country indeed, spawning hearty people. Stand down in Canal Park in Duluth on a November day when a nor’easter blows in an it will cut lines deep in your face. I moved away long ago from there but return every summer. I guess it is no small coincidence that two of my favorite artists have deep roots in that part of the world, you and Mr. Zimmerman. Thanks for the great blog post, I always enjoy them.

  9. Comment made on December 20, 2014 by Jody Salino

    Jorma: another great performance at the beacon. Every year I make the journey. I’m planning on making the next 30 as well. Some observations to share. Jack. Where does he get that incredible energy? Thank you jack. Justin. That was my favorite hot tuna drum performance in decades. That is not meant to take away from any of the other wonderful musicians that have sat behind the kit with tuna. But I must say that from my perspective Justin was simply the most sympathetic to the hot tuna feel I have heard in years. It particularly came thru (for me) during water song. Thank you Justin.

    Larry Barry Theresa GE thank you all so much as well.

    Jorma. Let’s hear the story behind that new electric guitar. I don’t know if it was the festive mood or the Marty add or the confluence of them all but you had that thing singing those classic licks.

    Finally, I met your Dad several times and I got the impression he was very proud of you. Have a wonderful birthday and happy holidays and enjoy the family! Every day is a gift and thanks for the gift of the beacon show.

  10. Comment made on December 20, 2014 by eaglesteve

    That’ll do Captain, that’ll do. Thanks.

  11. Comment made on December 20, 2014 by Joey Hudoklin

    The mind is an amazing organ. It reproduces experiences, sounds, emotions, calculates, etc; etc. It amazes me when I can hear someone’s voice in my head. It’s really a gift to revisit the dead. That was NOT meant to sound morbid.
    When you say your relationship with your father was contentious Jorma, I have one memory to share. The Fillmore in SF, I think ’86 or ’87, you & Jack. Somehow, I got backstage between sets, as at that time I was in the mix, so to speak, I was kinda self medicated. But I remember you saying to Jorma Sr. “That one wasn’t so bad, was it Dad”? It was asked with such respect & reverence. I don’t recall him responding.
    And, of course the infamous line from the closing of the Academy recording ’75, musta been about 5am. “Even my own Father claims we play too long, but what the f–k does he know”?
    I love reading your heartfelt recollections Jorma.
    God bless.

  12. Comment made on December 19, 2014 by jim hitchcock

    With an accompanying electric show at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium 🙂

  13. Comment made on December 19, 2014 by doug mlyn

    Always appreciate that you speak from the heart. Got a chance to visit my Dad’s grave-site during this last trip to NY. (He passed away March of 2013). We did a lot of things together when I was younger (we worked together and had a lot of interests in common). I always remember those times as good times. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to spend that much time with him after I moved to Calif in 1980, although we remained fairly close and talked every couple of weeks. Happy Preemptive birthday and looking forward to seeing you guys out in Calif at Mccabes next year.

  14. Comment made on December 19, 2014 by Andy K

    Jorma, this is a great piece of writing, straight from the heart. Family is such an essential part of our lives. Enjoy the holidays with those that you love.

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