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Brotherhood of strings: Hot Tuna’s bassist Jack Casady (left) and Jorma Kaukonen. Photo by Barry Bereson
Hot Tuna is pretty good on rye toast, but even better as the acoustic-electric love child of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, who got their start in the San Francisco psychedelic pioneer band Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna though, has stood the test of time due to the charismatic energy of Casady’s trademark bass style and Kaukonen’s finger-picking goodness.
Hot Tuna will play an intimate acoustic duo performance Thu, July 26 at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $39 for reserved seating and $29 for general admission. For more info, see www.hottuna.com or call 556-1580.
Jack Casady: Well here’s the thing: There was a lot of downtime with Jefferson Airplane, and we would just work on material in hotel rooms until we hashed out our sound with acoustic guitar and bass. Jorma and I love music—we’re always playing and we were always playing then too. That was our very first identity just Jorma and I playing—acoustic Hot Tuna.
Now, what you have to remember is Jorma isn’t just strumming guitar, he’s playing with his fingers—its’ very intricate—kind of like two hands on a piano, as opposed to one. So it allows the rhythm and the note placement on the low end of the chords to be a complete sound unto itself. When you put it with a bass it allows me as a bass player to go into certain ranges because the bottom falls out of the song. It lent itself to a sound and an approach to writing of our own that sounded different.
There are a lot of bands that play unplugged band, but we really developed the style as an approach to music unto itself. And actually, it’s sometimes more difficult to put that approach into an electric format. So back in the day Jorma used to string a lot of his guitars differently and he used his Fenders for the finger-picking style and his Gibsons for the more rock stuff. We wanted to go between the two styles and be able to keep the flavor and the direction of the song that it had originally as an acoustic piece.
Well, I think the key to long-term enjoyment is the fact that we both know we love to do this more than anything in the world. There’s very little bulls***. As Jorma will say from time to time, “our success is a result of never having a band meeting.”
I met Jorma through my older brother Charles Cassady, who was known as “Chick.” We were living in Washington, D.C., and we would go over to my older brother’s house and just listen to records because he collected them. This was around 1957.
I started guitar at age 12 and Jorma played acoustic too, but he didn’t have his finger picking down yet. We played a lot because I had a Fender Telecaster and we started a band in high school when I was 15 and he was 17.
Probably when I was 16 years old. We were playing a lot in the D.C. area and back in those days you just sort of knew everyone in the scene. A friend of mine was looking for a bassist. I said I’ve never played bass and he said, “How difficult could it be? It’s only four strings.” The next day I went out and bought my first Fender Jazz Bass in 1960.
Jorma, at this time, was out in California and he had just put a band together called Jefferson Airplane. He didn’t even know I was playing bass and he said, “You know, I’d really like to get a different bass player in this band. Would you come out and join the band?” And so I did. It was one fateful phone call.
Isn’t that just terrific? They gave me an award last October. Jorma and Anthony Jackson came out and did my introduction and said some wonderful things. Anthony is a phenomenal player and Jorma came out and played too. It was really something. I’m really humbled by that.
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Additional photos for this story:
Photo by Scotty Hall
Photo courtesy of Hot Tuna