From their intense and infamous infancy as the acoustic blues project within the Jefferson Airplane to their ever-evolving experimental nature and rotating list of contributors, Hot Tuna remains the creative brainchild of Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen. Both are currently touring in support of "Dream Factor," and "Blue Country Heart," their recent respective solo albums, and are joined by mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff to form an acoustic roots trio. Bassist Jack Casady spoke with Maximum Ink about Tuna past and present, his first solo album, and designing his signature bass with Epiphone .
"We formed Hot Tuna basically because we were young and had endless energy," says Casady . 35 years and 27 albums later, what began as the bluesman's break from a rock & roll day job became a continuous outlet for musical exploration. Memorable albums include the glass-dropping acoustic "Hot Tuna" album in 1969, followed by "First Pull Up Then Pull Down" in 1970 and subsequently defining masterpiece "Burgers " in 1971.
The visionary earth-shattering stage presence of the Airplane gave Casady and Kaukonen a unique opportunity to actively pursue their interest in delta blues, country, and bluegrass in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Before the Airplane would officially take the stage, Casady and Kaukonen would break into a warm-up set of blues standards and their own fluid instrumentals. Hot Tuna's list of players in the early years included harmonica designer Will Scarlett, electric violinist Papa John Creech, and drummer Sammy Piazza.
Mitterhoff is the perfect condiment for the original acoustic Hot Tuna. Offering a blistering breadth of a bluegrass background, he had been touring with Kaukonen in support of 2002's "Blue Country Heart," and has previously worked with the Metropolitan Opera, Eugene Chadbourne of The Knitting Factory, the New York City Ballet, and singer/labor activist Hazel Dickens.
"This is the first bona-fide tour with all three of us," Casady says, enthusiastic of the new dimension Mitterhoff's mandolin adds to the group. "We've been having fun trading melodic work together, and when Barry plays with us it definitely raises the bar a couple of notches."
"Dream Factor ," Casady's first solo album was released June 17, 2003 on Eagle Records and features tracks with Box Set, Ian Neville, Paul Barerre of Little Feat, and Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule. He approaches the bass guitar very aggressively, carrying an equal contribution to the harmony and rhythm. "I still use a Versatone amplifier that I run through my semi-hollow bass to create a richer sound that goes very well with melodious lines," he says in regards to his particular tone. "The craftwork in really learning the subtleties of the instrument is a lifelong project."
Casady's signature hollow body Epiphone bass was came to fruition when he spoke with Epiphone president Jim Rosenburg about modifying a '72 Les Paul long-impedance hollow body with new pickups, hardware and equipment. "He was very interested, and we went back to the Gibson Factory and found the original pressing plates to mold the top and bottom. They made it to his specifications at the factory in Korea, adding custom pickups by J.T. Riboloff in Nashville, TN." The information is currently available through his website, and the instrument has already developed a loyal following amongst professional bassists and studio musicians.
Hot Tuna will be bringing some of that True Religion and maybe a Highway Song or two to the Cedarburg Cultural Center 12/12 & 12/13 in Minneapolis, MN, Luther's Blues 12/14 in Madison, WI, and 12/16 at Shank Hall in Milwaukee, WI.