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Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen (from The Legendary Typewriter Tape -6/25/64 Jorma’s House on Blackbird Production Partners/Rounder Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
It’s an odd artifact, this precursor to the greater glories that would fall on two fabled musicians in the infancy of their careers. Recorded during a rehearsal for a benefit at San Francisco’s Coffee Gallery, these informal, stripped-down sessions offer barely a hint of what was to come — Janis Joplin’s singular stardom with Big Brother and The Holding Company and later, the Kozmic Blues Band and Full Tilt Boogie Band, and Jorma Kaukonen’s prime role as guitarist of the Jefferson Airplane and, following that, Hot Tuna. Nevertheless, The Legendary Typewriter Tape, once confined to myth and legend, offers a curious glimpse at the workings of two young artists, bound by tradition and unsure of what the future would hold.
It’s a curiosity of course, so named because Kaukonen’s wife Margareta buys herself on a typewriter while the two musicians rehearse. It’s a bit obtrusive, but hardly enough to disrupt the discourse. It’s also a brief set as well, one that comprises a scant six songs and occasional bits of dialogue.
Likewise, the music is hardly spectacular, mostly well-worn covers that include such standards as “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out”, “Hesitation Blues”, and “Trouble in Mind”. Devotees will likely find greater interest in a pair of early Joplin originals, “Kansas City Blues” and “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”, the latter of which sounds like it was improvised on the spot. Jorma Kaukonen also contributes one of his own, “Long Black Train”, a song that hints at the basic Blues he’d later purvey with Hot Tuna.
Not surprisingly, Joplin’s vocals are especially striking, although the obvious influences of Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace, and Big Mama Thornton define her delivery, while offering only a bare hint of the powerhouse performances that would ignite the crowds at Monterrey and Woodstock. Kaukonen’s fretwork is fluid, confident and credible, affirming the fact that he was already well in command of his powers and prowess.
Ultimately though, The Legendary Typewriter Tape is little more than a curiosity and a mere keepsake for completists. It’s neither revelatory nor remarkable, simply a piece of the past that provides a footnote to legend and legacy in equal measure. In that regard, this tale of the tape is still worth retrieving. (By Lee Zimmerman)
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