|Born||June 13, 1947|
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Origin||Beverly Hills, California|
|Died||May 30, 1996 (aged 48)|
Mill Valley, California, U.S.
|Instruments||Bass guitar, Double bass|
|Years active||Late 1960s – 1996|
|Associated acts||Jerry Garcia, Old & In the Way, Legion of Mary, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield|
John Kahn was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Adopted at birth by Hollywood talent agents, he grew up in Beverly Hills, California and was babysat by Marilyn Monroe, who was represented by his father in the early stages of her career. According to spouse Linda Kahn in a 2017 Reddit Ask Me Anything prompt, he began to take piano and music theory classes at 4 and 5, respectively. Following the death of his father at a young age, he was mentored by Mischa Elman, a cousin of his father.
At Beverly Hills High School, he earned a reputation as a precocious jazz guitarist. He also composed a symphonic piece, "Western Impressions," the first orchestral work by a student to be publicly performed by the school's orchestra (under the direction of Robert Holmes). In his junior year, Kahn switched to double bass and formed a jazz duo with a pianist, Peter Isackson, who encouraged him to study with Monty Budwig, a member of the house rhythm section at notable Hollywood jazz club Shelly's Manne-hole.
After attending the University of Southern California for a semester, he transferred to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1965. During this period, he lived in nearby Sausalito, California and began to gravitate toward the incipient rock culture of the Haight-Ashbury district. In 1967, he began working as a session musician, specializing in electric bass, with a litany of notable blues, folk, and rock performers, including Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Lee Hooker, Brewer & Shipley (a longstanding collaboration that encompassed their 1971 Top Ten hit "One Toke Over the Line"), Tom Fogerty, Maria Muldaur (who was in a relationship with Kahn for several years in the 1970s), Al Kooper, Jackie DeShannon and Otis Rush.
Kahn first played with Garcia in May 1970 as the bassist of a jazz rock group that coalesced around Garcia and organist Howard Wales (who facilitated their introduction) during Monday night jam sessions at The Matrix, a San Francisco nightclub of the era; this ensemble would go on to record Hooteroll? (1971; credited to Garcia and Wales). He also played acoustic bass in Old & In the Way, a bluegrass supergroup that toured in 1973 and 1974. Along with Kahn, the band featured Garcia on banjo and vocals, future progressive bluegrass luminary David Grisman on mandolin and vocals, songwriter Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals, and Vassar Clements on fiddle.
From 1970 to 1975, Kahn played in the Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia Band and was an integral part of later iterations of the Garcia/Saunders collaboration, including Legion of Mary (1974–1975) and Reconstruction (1978–1979); the latter group was initially intended to serve as a musical outlet for Kahn during Garcia's tours with the Grateful Dead. Kahn was the only founding member of the Jerry Garcia Band (1975–1978; 1980-1995) besides Garcia to remain with the group until its dissolution following the guitarist's death in 1995. In addition to serving as the band's nominal manager (these responsibilities were delegated to Grateful Dead employees Rock Scully and Steve Parish), he selected the group's repertoire in consultation with Garcia. During this period, he also played alongside Garcia in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (1987–1988) and served as the guitarist's only accompanist in the Garcia & Kahn acoustic duo that toured intermittently from 1982 to 1986.
Offstage, Kahn and Garcia maintained a close friendship. Although several figures in Garcia's life (including brother Tiff Garcia and Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick) characterized him as a deleterious influence, daughter Annabelle Garcia was more equanimous: "Yeah, Dad did drugs with John and Linda, but that was just the way it was. They offered my dad a safe haven—a place he could come to get some drugs if he wanted it, and a place to sleep if he needed it, and the company that he needed. [...] John and Linda were very sweet people and I know at least they made my dad feel comfortable."
Despite underlying acrimony stemming from his relationship with Garcia, Kahn did occasional work for the Grateful Dead, serving as a recording engineer alongside Betty Cantor-Jackson and Bob Matthews for the band's aborted Egypt '78 live album documenting performances at the Giza Plateau in September 1978. Selections from these concerts were eventually released as Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 (2008). He also contributed horn arrangements and uncredited organ and additional production to Shakedown Street (1978) following the departure of nominal producer Lowell George.
- John Kahn Biography, AllMusic.com; retrieved April 14, 2015.
- "I am Linda Kahn, wife of late John Kahn. AMA! • r/jgb". reddit.
- John Kahn Discography, Grateful Dead Family Discography. Retrieved April 14, 2105.
- "John Kahn Live Performance History 1969", Lost Live Dead, December 4, 2010. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books. p. 470. ISBN 0-14-02-9199-7.
As had happened with Garcia, Kahn's heart simply gave out. Though there were drugs in his system at the time of his death, it was not ruled an overdose.