Casady, Kaukonen, and Mitterhoff, performing at The Somerville Theater near Boston, Mass. on June 18, 2013
|Origin||San Francisco, USA|
|Genres||Blues, blues rock, Americana|
|Years active||1969–1977, 1983, 1986–present|
|Labels||RCA/Grunt, Relix, Eagle, Red House|
|Associated acts||Jefferson Airplane|
|Past members||Will Scarlett
Papa John Creach
Hot Tuna is an American blues band formed in 1969 by guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. Although it has always been a fluid aggregation, with musicians coming and going over the years, the band's name has essentially become a metonym for Kaukonen and Casady's ongoing collaboration.
Hot Tuna began during a break in Jefferson Airplane's touring schedule in early 1969 while Grace Slick recovered from throat node surgery that left her unable to perform. Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Paul Kantner, and new drummer Joey Covington played several shows around San Francisco, including the Airplane's original club, The Matrix, before Jefferson Airplane resumed performing to support the album Volunteers. Although Covington had been hired by Jefferson Airplane to fill in for Spencer Dryden, Covington was only called when needed and Dryden continued to perform with the Airplane.
Their early repertoire derived mainly from Airplane material that Kaukonen played and covers of American country and blues artists such as Rev. Gary Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Bo Carter and Arthur Blake (Blind Blake). In addition, Casady and Kaukonen played as a duo with Kaukonen on acoustic guitar. Beginning in October 1969, Hot Tuna performed as the opening act to Jefferson Airplane with a combination of both electric and acoustic sets. The band's name came from someone Kaukonen refers to as a "witty wag" who called out, "hot tuna" after hearing the line 'What's that smell like fish, oh baby,' from the song "Keep On Truckin'."
In September 1969, Kaukonen and Casady employed the moniker for a week of acoustic-based concerts at the New Orleans House in Berkeley, California; recordings culled from this engagement were released as the band's eponymous debut album in 1970. This album has become affectionately known by the group's fans as the "breaking glass album", because of the sound of breaking beer glasses during the recording of "Uncle Sam Blues". Some tracks included Will Scarlett on harmonica. After the album was recorded, Jorma's brother Peter Kaukonen soon replaced Kantner on rhythm guitar and Jefferson Airplane co-lead vocalist Marty Balin joined on vocals for the electric songs. In 1970, the younger Kaukonen was replaced by Paul Ziegler.
That summer, RCA paid for the band to go to Jamaica to record their next album, but the album was never finished, in part due to a financial dispute between Balin (who left both bands shortly thereafter) and Kaukonen and Casady. Papa John Creach was brought in to the band in late 1970 – he also joined Jefferson Airplane at the same time – and Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna finished their co-tour in November 1970 with shows at the Fillmore East.
In September 1970, Kaukonen and Casady performed two acoustic shows as Hot Tuna without Jefferson Airplane at Pepperland (a capacious dance hall in San Rafael, California) and received good reviews, further signifying that Hot Tuna could survive without the other band to support it. As Jefferson Airplane wound down and stopped regularly touring for over eighteen months (save for a handful of concerts in the summer of 1971) after the Fillmore East shows, Hot Tuna – for whom live performance was always of prime importance – became an independent group consisting of Kaukonen, Casady, drummer Sammy Piazza, and Creach, moving fully to the electric band format. This line-up was first documented on the album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971), which was recorded live at the Chateau Liberte, an obscure club located near Los Gatos, California in the in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was favored by the band throughout the era. The group also appeared on three tracks from Papa John Creach's debut solo album, as well as "Walking the Tou Tou" from his second album Filthy!.
The studio albums Burgers (1972) and The Phosphorescent Rat (1974) followed, with Creach leaving before the latter was recorded. These two albums featured mostly Kaukonen composition. David Crosby sang supporting vocals on the Burgers track "Highway Song," and keyboard player Nick Buck made his first appearance as a regular guest in the studio and live with the band during the 1970s.
1974-77: "Rampage years"
As the band prepared for its 1974 tour in support of The Phosphorescent Rat, Kaukonen laid off Piazza after deciding to have the band return to its semi-acoustic repertoire. Kaukonen and Casady then proceeded to record Kaukonen's first solo album, Quah. However, July 1974 marked a departure from their primarily bluesy, acoustic style when Hot Tuna dropped their acoustic sets completely and morphed into a heavy rock band. In October 1974, the group performed on The Midnight Special.
The albums America's Choice (1975), Yellow Fever (1975), and Hoppkorv (1976) showcase a power trio with the addition of new drummer Bob Steeler. Jeff Tamarkin's liner notes on the RCA "Platinum Gold Hot Tuna Collection" characterize this trilogy as being emblematic of the band's "rampage years." Kaukonen is quoted as saying the change of focus was due to the fact that "it was just fun to be loud." During this period, Kaukonen's electric guitar playing was multi-layered, prominently showcasing such effects as the Roland Jet phaser. His "rampage" style is typified by the solos on "Funky #7" and "Serpent of Dreams" on America's Choice and "Song for the Fire Maiden," "Sunrise Dance with the Devil," and "Surphase Tension" on Yellow Fever. Live performances throughout the epoch were distinguished by free-flow improvisational jams and very long sets (up to six hours uninterrupted) with extended versions of their studio material; a November 1976 concert at the Palladium in New York City featured a 16-minute version of "Invitation." However, producer Harry Maslin did not appreciate the group's style and held them to a more traditional rock format (including several cover songs) for Hoppkorv. In 1977, Kaukonen began to perform solo sets before the band would perform. The trio stopped touring at the end of 1977 and performed its final concert (with guest "Buffalo" Bob Roberts on saxophone) at the Palladium on November 26.
Although live performances from all iterations of the group enjoyed a notable cult following for much of the 1970s, Hot Tuna failed to rival or eclipse Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship from a commercial standpoint; while all but two of their albums from the era reached the Billboard Top 100, America's Choice was their most successful post-Airplane album (peaking at #75) and their only post-1972 album to chart for more than ten weeks.
1978-1985: hiatus and brief reunion
Due to emergent tensions between Kaukonen and Casady, a planned 1978 tour was cancelled, with Kaukonen filling these dates by performing solo. A double live album, Double Dose, was released that year as a document of the previous year's tour. Casady and Kaukonen went their separate ways and pursued short-lived careers in the new wave bands SVT and Vital Parts, respectively. In 1979, Kaukonen released his second solo album and Grunt Records released the Hot Tuna compilation Final Vinyl.
Rhythm guitarist Michael Falzarano and drummer Shigemi Komiyama joined Kaukonen and Casady for a Hot Tuna reunion tour in 1983. The group played a mix of new material alongside the classic Hot Tuna songs. This, combined with the group's hard rock and heavy metal approach, were not well received, with reports of fans walking out of shows.
Hot Tuna was reformed again as an acoustic band in 1986 performing classic material, with producer Joey Balin joining on rhythm guitar until 1987. Kantner joined the band in 1987 and 1988 adding some old Jefferson Airplane songs to the setlist. Grace Slick showed up on stage as well for one show at The Fillmore in March 1988. The band continued into 1989 and Kaukonen and Casady joined the 1989 Jefferson Airplane reunion album and tour, performing acoustic Hot Tuna sets in the middle of each show.
At the end of the Airplane tour, Hot Tuna resumed their electric performances, adding Falzarano and drummer Joey Stefko. Shortly thereafter, New Yorker Harvey Sorgen replaced Stefko on drums and Galen Underwood joined on keyboards for their first album of all new material in almost 14 years, 1990's Pair a Dice Found. Kaukonen and Falzarano both contributed original songs.
Throughout the 1990s, Hot Tuna again alternated between acoustic and electric styles. The two Sweetwater albums were predominantly acoustic sets with guests such as Bob Weir, Maria Muldaur and former Jefferson Starship bassist-keyboardist Pete Sears; the latter was to join the group on a permanent basis on the latter instrument during the decade. The 1997 release Live in Japan was in many ways reminiscent of the very first Hot Tuna album, having a minimalistic sound and being recorded live at a tiny venue (Stove's in Yokohama). Falzarano stayed with the band until 2002 when he left to release and promote his solo album The King James Sessions, which also featured Pete Sears.
In 2004, Casady and Kaukonen were joined by guitarist Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Erik Diaz. In April 2006, Hot Tuna appeared at Merlefest, America's largest folk music festival. In 2007, they played at Bonnaroo. In August 2009, following the departure of Diaz, Skoota Warner officially joined the band as drummer.
Throughout their history, Hot Tuna garnered much fan support based on their pro-taping policy, allowing fans to record their live shows. In July 2006, the band changed their stance and no longer permit taping.
In November 2010, Hot Tuna performed as a semi-acoustic trio: Casady, Kaukonen, and Mitterhoff at a Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm's Barn studio in Woodstock, New York. In the same month, Kaukonen announced on his blog that Hot Tuna had begun recording its first studio album in 20 years. The album Steady as She Goes was released by Red House Records on April 5, 2011. For the first half of 2011, guitarist Jim Lauderdale and harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite toured with them; later in the year they were joined by Musselwhite, guitarists David Bromberg, Larry Campbell, Steve Kimock, and G. E. Smith, and vocalist Teresa Williams. Both Campbell and Williams, who guested on the Steady as She Goes album, have remained with the band in a touring capacity, and since 2014; following the departure of Warner, the band has been augmented on tour by drummer Justin Guip.
- Jack Casady – bass (1969–1977, 1983, 1986–present)
- Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar, vocals (1969-1977, 1983, 1986–present)
- Touring musicians
- Larry Campbell – rhythm guitar, vocals (2011–present)
- Teresa Williams – vocals (2011–present)
- Justin Guip – drums (2014–present)
- Touring musicians
- Will Scarlett – harmonica (1969–1971)
- Nick Buck – keyboards (1971-1977)
- Jim Lauderdale – rhythm guitar (2011)
- Charlie Musselwhite – harmonica (2011)
- David Bromberg – rhythm guitar (2011)
- Steve Kimock – rhythm guitar (2011)
- G. E. Smith – rhythm guitar (2011)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hot Tuna.|
- Prown, Pete; Newquist, Harvey P. (1997). Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock's Greatest Guitarists (4th ed.). Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 55. ISBN 0-7935-4042-9.
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- Tamarakin, Jeff (2003). Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-03403-0.
- Wilson, Dave (2004). Rock formations: Categorical answers to how band names were formed. Cidermill Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-9748483-5-8.
Jorma Kaukonen has been quoted as saying that the name is an answer to a question posed in their song “Keep on Truckin'”, as adapted from Blind Boy Fuller's 1938 song “What's That Smell Like Fish?”
- Hot Tuna (Remaster CD booklet). Hot Tuna. New York City: RCA. 1970. LSP-3864.
- "About" Will Scarlett website
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