Volume #10, Issue #6 -- October 1983
By Toni A. Brown
During a time when the Jefferson Airplane was inactive, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady began getting together to play music that they couldn't play in the Airplane. So, in late 1969, Hot Tuna was spawned as an outlet for their different musical tastes which were only partially fulfilled in the Jefferson Airplane. Through changing personnel and musical styles, Hot Tuna has evolved around Jorma's guitar and Jack's bass. For the first few years, Jack and Jorma continued to work simultaneously with Hot Tuna and the Airplane, sometimes even on the same bill. In recent years, Hot Tuna had become the dominant interest for both of them.
Hot Tuna actually had its roots years before the Jefferson Airplane was formed. Both Jack and Jorma were friends while growing up in Washington, D.C. Jorma, of Finnish and Russian parents, is the son of a diplomat. Jack's father was a dentist. Both began playing together in neighborhood clubs while still in high school. Their paths separated when Jorma and his family moved to the Philippines. By the early sixties, Jorma was going to school in California and playing folk guitar with other striving musicians, including Janis Joplin. Through his friend Paul Kantner, Jorma was asked to play guitar with a new type of band being started in San Francisco--the Jefferson Airplane. When the band lost their first bass player, Jorma suggested the band fly Jack Casady out from Washington D.C. Jack passed his audition with the Airplane.
At one time, when Hot Tuna was just forming, it was a quintet with Jack, Jorma, Marty Zbalin, and Joey Covington from the Airplane plus guitarist Peter Kaukonen. By the time Hot Tuna recorded their first album, called Hot Tuna, they were an acoustic trio, with Will Scarlett on harmonica. That first album, released in 1970, was recorded live at the New Orleans House, the site of many of their early performances. Shortly after the release of their first album, Hot Tuna became electric again, adding Sammy Piazza on drums, and Papa John Creach, the violinist from the Airplane. Their next album, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, was released in 1971. It was recorded live at the Chateau Liberte, a favorite beerjoint in the Santa Cruz mountains. Will Scarlett dropped out of Hot Tuna before work started on their third album. Burgers, released in 1972, was Hot Tuna's first studio album. In mid 1973, Papa John Creach left Tuna to concentrate on his solo career. Following the release of Phosphorescent Rat in 1974, drummer Sammy Piazza left to work with another local band, Stoneground. Jack and Jorma toured briefly as acoustic Hot Tuna after Sammy's departure. During this period Jorma began work on his solo acoustic album, Quah, recorded with Tom Hobson and produced by Jack Casady.
Hot Tuna then became an electric trio with Bob Steeler on Drums Steeler, who started playin gdrums with them on America's Choice, and the later Yellow Fever joined Tuna with ample credits. Originally from New York, he had drummed with Sam Andrew, Kathy McDonald, Merl Saunders, and Doug Kershaw to name but a few.
Hot Tuna stopped playing together by the end of 1977. This brought great dismay to the Hot Tuna freaks of the world. Well, despair no more. JORMA AND JACK ARE BACK!!!
(Note -- See the next issue of Relix, Vol. 11, #1, for all the details and photos from the Hot Tuna Reunion Tour as well as interviews with Jack Jorma. --ed.)