featured on Folk & Beyond with host: Aer Stephen
Thursday, August 20, 2009 6:00PM
and on Walkin' Blues with Bill Adams
Sunday, August 23, 2009 9:30PM
From their days playing together as teenagers to their current acoustic and electric blues, probably no one has more consistently led American music for the last 50 years -- yes! -- than Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, the founders and continuing core members of Hot Tuna. The pair began playing together while growing up in the Washington D.C. area, where Jack's father was a dentist and Jorma's father a State Department official. Four years younger, Jack continued in junior high, then high school -- while playing professional gigs as lead guitarist at night before he was old enough to drive -- while Jorma (who had played rhythm guitar to Jack's lead) started college in Ohio, accompanied his family overseas, then returned to college, this time in California.
While in The Jefferson Airplane, putting together the soundtrack of the 60s, the pair remained loyal to the blues, jazz, bluegrass, and folk influences of the small clubs and larger venues they had learned from years before. While in San Francisco and even in hotel rooms on the road, they would play together and worked up a set of songs that they would often play at clubs in the Bay Area and while on the road, often after having played a set with the Airplane. This led to a record contract; in fact, they had an album recorded before they decided to name their band Hot Tuna. With it they launched on an odyssey which has itself continued for more than 35 years, always finding new and interesting turns in its path forward.
Album followed album -- more than two dozen in all, not counting solo efforts, side projects, and appearances on the albums of other bands and performers -- and they continued to develop their interests and styles, both together and in individual pursuits. In an era in which old bands reunite for one last tour, Hot Tuna can't because Hot Tuna never broke up. Along the way, they have been joined by a succession of talented musicians: Drummers, harmonica players, keyboardists, backup singers, violinists, mandolinists, and more, all fitting in to Jorma and Jack's current place in the musical spectrum. And along the way there was no list of outstanding guitarists that didn't include Jorma, nor was there anyone who seriously thought there is a better bass player than Jack.
After two decades of acoustic and electric concerts and albums, the 1990s brought a new focus on acoustic music to Hot Tuna. More intimate venues with a more individual connection to the audience became increasingly frequent stops. Soon, the loud electric sound (and the semi trailer load of equipment) disappeared entirely from Hot Tuna tours. Maturity brought the desire to do things not instead of but in addition to being a touring band. Both had become interested in teaching, passing along what they had learned and what they had uniquely developed to a new generation of players. In 1998 Jorma and his wife Vanessa opened Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp, in the beautiful rolling Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio.
But the teaching doesn't replace Hot Tuna's busy tour schedule; it's in addition to the tours. Nor have they lightened up their individual schedules. Jack released his first solo CD, Dream Factor, on Eagle Records in 2003. He has a busy and elaborate website at jackcasady.com. Jorma has a website, too, and achieved enormous critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for his 2003 solo album, Blue Country Heart. (Both are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame due to their pioneering work in The Jefferson Airplane.) As 2006 began, they launched another exciting website, Hot Tuna Tunes, where fans may inexpensively download professionally made recordings of full Hot Tuna concerts in both MP3 and lossless encodings, suitable for portable player and home-burned CDs respectively. Hot Tuna Tunes is added to all the time, so it's almost as if Hot Tuna were releasing numerous live concert albums every year. Collect the entire set!
Jorma and Jack certainly could not have imagined, let alone predicted, where playing would take them. It's been a long and fascinating road to numerous exciting destinations. Two things have never changed: They still love to play as much as they did as kids in Washington D.C., and there are still many, many exciting miles yet to travel on their musical odyssey.