POMEROY — Longtime friends and fellow musicians at the Fur Peace Ranch in Meigs County, John Hurlbut and Jorma Kaukonen recently released their first album together as a salute to their enduring friendship and a living example of what it means to appreciate good company in challenging times.
“The project really came about as a surprise to me,” said Hurlbut. “Jorma and I have been playing together for a long time, especially in the last few years… When he called me on a day I was off and wanted to talk to me about something, he said he wanted to do this record. It was a wonderful thing that happened during some kind of gloomy times.”
Hurlbut said the album was centered around a simple and traditional concept with voice and guitar as the sole instruments. He said he hoped it gives locals “a sense of peace and joy” and a “boost up as music can be a very healing thing.”
“It touches on themes that are memorable for a lot of folks and has a nice Americana feel,” he said.
Culture Factory USA released the album, titled “The River Flows,” in red splatter translucent vinyl with a booklet featuring an interview with Hurlbut and Kaukonen led by Twist and Shout Records Owner Paul Epstein in a limited edition. The album was made available for purchase as a download or on CD as of Dec. 25. Kaukonen said they may consider producing more vinyl records in the future.
The album features songs from the American songbook as well as some originals. Hurlbut’s single “Someone’s Calling” is featured in “The River Flows” first volume. Hurlbut and Kaukonen also honor passed friend and fellow Fur Peace Ranch musician and teacher Spencer Bohren by covering his songs “The Old Homestead” and “Travelin’.” Hurlbut shares his love of tales as he sings musical stories and plays the part of rhythmic guitar while Kaukonen plays lead guitar.
“The River Flows” was mixed and engineered by Hot Tuna drummer and three-time Grammy winner Justin Guip. Kaukonen served as the album’s producer.
A second volume of the album is anticipated to be released in summer 2021.
“For me, it was a real bright spot in these times where a lot of things have been disappointing like where we had to cancel our year of music or not have our students,” said Hurlbut.
Fur Peace Ranch is a 126-acre property which often hosts guitar workshops and live concerts just outside of Pomeroy. It is owned by Kaukonen, a rock, blues and folk guitarist recognized for his definitive work in psychedelic rock. He is known for performing with Jefferson Airplane as a founding member, is a Grammy recipient and part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He still tours with Hot Tuna and colleague Jack Casady.
Hurlbut is a lifelong musician and serves as ranch manager. He has owned record stores and worked in music promotion for decades.
Kaukonen and Hurlbut’s friendship began when Hurlbut produced a solo show for Kaukonen in Columbus in 1983 after which the two quickly became friends due to shared musical interests.
“Doing a record with Jorma is something like a dream,” said Hurlbut. “I’ve just been really pleased with how it turned out and the flow of the songs.”
With the announcement of viral outbreaks as part of pandemic challenges surrounding COVID-19, Fur Peace Ranch had to reinvent how it was going to reach music lovers and so it started in April streaming online what Kaukonen called “quarantine concerts.” Some of the songs comprising “The River Flows” were played as part of those shows.
“This was a project I’d been thinking about for a while,” said Kaukonen. “John and I have been playing off and on for a lifetime and I’d got to thinking about what we’d been doing with our concert series on Saturday night and when we’d play dinners and things… I just thought this was something I wanted to do.”
“He is so consistent in his performances and such an amazing guy,” said Kaukonen of Hurlbut. “When we play together, it’s such an unintimidating and welcoming process. I knew putting an album together was going to be simple, but I didn’t know it was going to be that simple… I’ve been in this game a long time and I’ve never done something more quote-unquote comfortable and inviting than this project.”
Hurlbut, Kaukonen and Guip recorded 14 tracks over a period of two days in June with several of them being first takes.
“There is a foundation when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time,” said Kaukonen.
He credited that relationship in part as to why recording the album was a smooth process.
“John knows exactly who he is,” added Kaukonen, “and we just play.”
Kaukonen and Hurlbut said that during the recording process, equipment was used to isolate their sounds and it made eye contact difficult. Hurlbut said he was a bit uncertain playing with Kaukonen that way as he made a habit of often establishing eye contact with a fellow musician at key points in a song. Kaukonen said, despite this, he didn’t sense any trouble in the pair’s music making and that he felt it was a testament to Hurlbut’s skill as a musician that their recordings went as well as they did.
“For me to get inside John’s head and to just listen to his voice as he sings and to be able to play what I considered, and hopefully I was successful, musical lines that do not detract from what he has to say but rather enhance the sonic landscape, that’s serving the song,” said Kaukonen. “To be able to play songs (with Hurlbut) that are fun or that I hadn’t played every night for the last 20 years, it was like discovering a hidden room in your house. It was just full of treasures.”
For more information about “The River Flows” or Fur Peace Ranch, visit www.furpeaceranch.com.
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Dean Wright is a freelance writer and former reporter for Ohio Valley Publishing.