February 23: Hot Tuna @ Aladdin Theater | American Blues, Roots Music, Rock

From our sponsors:
Hot Tuna
February 23, 2017
Doors 7 p.m., Show 8 p.m. | $39.50 ADV, $42 Doors | All Ages
More info: aladdin-theater.com

Aladdin Theater
3017 SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland, OR 97202

A Musical Odyssey

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.

Along the way, Jorma became enamored of, then committed to, the finger-picking guitar style exemplified by the now-legendary Rev. Gary Davis. Jack, meanwhile, had taken an interest in the electric bass, at the time a controversial instrument in blues, jazz, and folk circles.

In the mid 1960s, Jorma was asked to audition to play guitar for a new band that was forming in San Francisco. Though an acoustic player at heart, he grew interested in the electronic gadgetry that was beginning to make an appearance in the popular music scene — particularly in a primitive processor brought to the audition by a fellow named Ken Kesey — and decided to join that band; soon thereafter he summoned his young friend from Washington, who now played the bass.

Thus was created the unique (then and now) sound that was The Jefferson Airplane. Jorma even contributed the band’s name, drawn from a nickname a friend had for the blues-playing Jorma. Jack’s experience as a lead guitarist led to a style of bass playing which took the instrument far beyond its traditional role.

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.

The first thing an early Hot Tuna fans discovered at their concerts of the early 1970s was that the band was growing louder and louder. In an era in which volume often overtrumped musicianship, Hot Tuna provided both. The second thing a fan would discover was that Jack and Jorma really loved to play. “Look around for another band that plays uninterrupted three- to six-hour sets,” wrote reviewer Jerry Moore. What Moore could not have known was that had there been no audience at all, they would have played just as long and just as well, so devoted were they to making music. Of course, the audience wasn’t superfluous by any means; it energized and continues to energize their performances. 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.