december 2011


‘Wasn’t That a Time?’

Jorma, Janis & The Typewriter Tape: The Facts

By David McGee

Several years ago a bootleg album surfaced featuring Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen scorching five venerable blues numbers--“Trouble In Mind,” “Long Black Train,” “Kansas City Blues,” “Hesitation Blues,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”--and a Joplin original titled “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” Those are the facts. Then came the mythology: that the recordings were made on either June 25 or June 30, 1964, at Jorma’s mother’s house (location never specified), and the constant pecking sound emanating from a typewriter in the room was in fact Jorma’s wife Margareta playing the machine as a percussion instrument. Still other accounts claimed Margareta was simply typing a letter to her parents in Sweden. As to why these recordings were even being made, no one has ventured to explain, as far as we’ve been able to determine. But The Typewriter Tape, as this Janis-Jorma session has come to be known, is a powerful document: Janis’s singing is more raw and searing than any she ever produced on her commercial recordings—truly stunning—and Jorma’s guitar work is so soulful and earthy you don’t even need Janis’s powerhouse vocals to be moved to your core by it.

In an effort to correct the record of The Typewriter Tape, I checked in with Jorma via email and asked but a few pertinent questions. Though under the weather a bit after returning from a tour, he responded immediately and thoughtfully. These, then, are the facts, courtesy the sole surviving witness to the session.

Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,’ from The Typewriter Tape, June 1964


Various websites list both June 25 and June 30, 1964 as the recording date. Does you have any recollection of which is correct, if either are?

I would be hard pressed to give you the exact day, but the end of June sounds right. I know it was 1964.

Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, ‘Hesitation Blues,’ from The Typewriter Tape, June 1964

Were these recordings in fact done at your mother's house? If so, where was she located? If not, do you remember where the recordings were made?

It was not recorded at my mother's house. They hadn't move back to California yet. Dad was still posted to the American Embassy in Sweden. It was recorded at a house my ex-wife (may she rest in peace) and I rented in Santa Clara, California. It was on Fremont St., not far from the University Of Santa Clara, where I was going to school at the time.

Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, ‘Trouble In Mind,’ from The Typewriter Tape, June 1964

Was your wife in fact typing a letter, whether to her mother or someone else, or was she really using the typewriter as a percussion instrument?

It was in fact Margareta typing a letter home to her parents in Sweden. I find the thought (which I have heard before) that the typewriter was a percussion instrument somewhat laughable considering the obvious lack of observable rhythm.

Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, ‘Long Black Train,’ from The Typewriter Tape, June 1964

What was the purpose of you and Janis doing the recordings in the first place?

Janis and I were rehearsing for a benefit in San Francisco at the Coffee Gallery, a beat/music joint on Grant Street. We're talking Beatniks here.... the Hippie thing hadn't happened yet.

Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, ‘Kansas City Blues,’ from The Typewriter Tape, June 1964

Do you agree that Janis's singing on 'The Typewriter Tape' is as stunning and emotionally searing as it sounds to me? (I won't ask you if you agree with my assessment of your guitar accompaniment, but do feel free to comment.)

I do agree, David. Janis was at her best. As for me, without being too self serving, when I hear tapes from those days, I say, “I was pretty good, for a young guitar player from Washington, D.C.”

I need to editorialize a little bit here. I have gotten to know Janis' sister Laura over the years. Laura tells me that Janis was constantly re-inventing herself. I only really knew her in the folky/blues days and frankly, that is my favorite Janis.

Thanks for being interested, David. Like they say in the song, “Wasn't that a time?” Final postscript: Ralph J. Gleason had something to do with this gig...I don't remember what. I do remember that he reviewed that show, and he liked me and Janis a lot.

Janis Joplin, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,’ a Joplin original recorded for The Typewriter Tape session. This, however, is an undated live version of the song, not the rendition she and Kaukonen recorded.

Jorma Kaukonon performs his classic ‘Embryonic Journey,’ from the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album, August 18, 2011, Fairfield, CT.

From his justly acclaimed 2009 album River of Time, Jorma performs the Rev. Gary Davis’s ‘There’s a Bright Side Somewhere’ at Fur Peace Ranch in Southeastern Ohio. The Folk Alliance honored this as its Song of the Year for being the most played tune on the Folk-DJ chart.

jorma river
Jorma Kaukonen’s River of Time is available at

For all the latest on Jorma’s activities, check his website

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