Veteran blues rockers Hot Tuna returns to McCabe’s Guitar Shop this weekend
By Michael Aushenker
Intended as a musical side project by Jefferson Airplane members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, who would have guessed that Hot Tuna — playing four shows this weekend at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica — would long outlast Jefferson Airplane and even its follow-up incarnations, Jefferson Starship and Starship?
Guitarist Kaukonen and bassist Casady launched Hot Tuna in 1969, during a Jefferson Airplane hiatus while Grace Slick recovered from throat node surgery, as Jeff Tamarakin’s 2003 book “Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane” recounts. A pair of live albums —1970’s eponymous “Hot Tuna” and 1971’s “First Pull Up, Then Pull Down” — and the band’s first studio album, “Burgers,” soon followed in 1972.
Originally a bi-polar act shifting between soft and hard numbers, Hot Tuna dropped any pretense of playing acoustic numbers and embraced its hard rock side in 1974, according to a March 1987 interview with Casady in the Syracuse Herald Journal. The band has since embraced acoustic music again.
What’s fascinating about Kaukonen and Casady’s musical partnership is that their union long precedes Jefferson Airplane. According to an anecdote posted on Hot Tuna’s website (hottuna.com), the lifelong friends started performing together during junior high school in Washington, D.C., where Kaukonen’s father was a U.S. State Department official and Casady’s dad worked as a dentist. When college took Kaukonen out to California, Casady eventually followed. Kaukonen roped Casady into Jefferson Airplane after joining the ‘60s rock group.
But it hasn’t been a completely smooth journey. The San Francisco quartet broke up in 1977, reuniting briefly in 1983 before resuming activity in 1986. These days, to paraphrase the title of their greatest hits collection, Hot Tuna “keeps on truckin.’” While members have come and gone, Kaukonen and Casady remain the group’s core, currently blues-traveling with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and drummer Skoota Warner.
In Nov. 2010, Kaukonen revealed in an online post that he and Casady had entered the studio to record a new Hot Tuna album. “Steady As She Goes,” Hot Tuna’s first disc in 21 years, hit shelves in April 2011. Expect the ever-reliable band to play cuts from “Steady” and chestnuts such as “Hesitation Blues,” “Sunrise Dance With the Devil,” “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and “Funky #7” this weekend.
Hot Tuna performs at 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $42.50. McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit mccabesguitarshop.com.