“Embryonic Journey” . . . : Three Guitar Instrumentals By Jorma Kaukonen

My previous post talked about John Fahey, Leo Kottke and the “school” of acoustic fingerstyle guitarists who created an amalgam of folk, blues and country guitar styles, sometimes mixed with jazz, Indian raga and other world music elements. Wikipedia referred to this as “American Primitive Guitar”, a term I remember being used by Guitar Player magazine in the seventies. It occurred to me that if someone listened to the Jefferson Airplane album “Surrealistic Pillow” or if they watched the final episode of tv show Friends, they already heard an example of this guitar genre. They were hearing Embryonic Journey by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen.

It was a song that almost never saw the light of day. Kaukonen composed the tune in 1962 as part of a guitar workshop in Santa Clara and included it on Surrealistic Pillow at the band’s behest when they heard him playing it during some studio recording downtime. Yet for a tune that it’s composer considered album filler at the time, it became important enough to the band’s legacy that it was part of the short set that the band performed when it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

“Embryonic Journey” 1996 Induction Ceremony Performance Jefferson Airplane

For the guitar geeks out there, the video below is a excellent tutorial on how to play the tune with a link to a transcription, courtesy of an excellent You Tube channel, Six String Fingerpicking, definetly worth checking out (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwlVsO07aW_I_L50zRo_sjQ/featured)

Embryonic Journey by Jefferson Airplane – Guitar Lesson (TABS)

Tab for Embryonic Journey –


The second instrumental tune of Jorma Kaukonen I want to feature is Mann’s Fate, the closing tune off of the first Hot Tuna album, itself a cornucopia of fingerpicking delights. The clip below, comes from a show that was on the San Francisco NET station KQED called “Folk Guitar”.  Like Embryonic Journey, it comes from the folk guitar tradition but goes beyond it, with a Bolero sounding middle section that takes it a world away from the campfire songs that were the staple of acoustic guitar songs you heard up until then.

Mann’s Fate – Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady (Hot Tuna) 1969


The video below concentrates on the turnaround riff of Mann’s Fate but also gives a quick run through of most of the song in general.

“Mann’s Fate” guitar turn around Hot Tuna tutorial


The third Jorma instrumental tune I want to cover is their classic Water Song from Hot Tuna’s third album, Burgers. Water Song is possibly the most beautiful and fully realized instrumental that Jorma ever wrote. It strikes a perfect balance between the acoustic and electric sides of Jorma and Hot Tuna, featuring Jorma’s outstanding finger picking guitar work alongside Jack Casady’s contrapuntal bass playing.

Hot Tuna – Water Song – 3/22/1973 – 46th Street Rock Palace (Official)

The video below unfortunately is a bit of a tease, it is an excerpt from an instructional video of Jorma teaching Water Song. At least you get to learn that the tune is in open G tuning and see a bit of how to play the intro. Still better than nothing.

Jorma Kaukonen teaches “Water Song”

The wikipedia entry for the song Embryonic Journey has as it’s genre Psychedelic Folk. I think that ‘s a very apt description for this music. Acoustic in nature, definitely drawing on the folk, blues and country guitar styles but not being bound to them.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis
One comment on ““Embryonic Journey” . . . : Three Guitar Instrumentals By Jorma Kaukonen
  1. […] hand was doing. As I became interested in acoustic blues and folk via artists like Jorma Kaukonen (https://roymusicusa.com/2019/11/29/embryonic-journey-three-guitar-instrumentals-by-jorma-kaukonen/), I began to get into fingerpicking guitar styles and gradually developed some facility with my […]

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