Saturday, February 26, 2011

NEWS: Hot Tuna Meets the Blues

Hot TunaCover of Hot TunaBy Emily Cary

Hot Tuna icons Jorma Kaukonen of finger-picking guitar fame and Jack Casady, guru of bass guitar, join forces with harmonica wizard Charlie Musselwhite, and Grammy-winning bluegrass guitarist/composer Jim Lauderdale for a cross-country tour. Musselwhite will perform songs from his latest CD, "The Well," nominated for five 2011 Blues Music Awards, and all team up to shake the rafters in a family friendly pairing of Hot Tuna Blues.

When teenagers Casady and Kaukonen began playing together in Washington during the early 1960s, Casady was already a seasoned local performer. Starting in junior high, he would sneak out at night to the clubs to hear a potpourri of styles, sitting in with the professionals once they discovered his talent. While Kaukonen was in college, Casady perfected his skills.

By the time they reunited in San Francisco in 1965 as members of Jefferson Airplane, Casady had switched to electric bass and Kaukonen had developed the guitar style that sets him apart. The duo founded Hot Tuna by 1970 and began the ride to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along a road paved with blues, jazz, bluegrass and folk.

Looking back, Casady is amazed that his parents allowed a 12-year-old to stay out late visiting local clubs and later on going to school the next day after playing most of the night, but they knew he had a passion for music. His father, Dr. William Casady, was a dentist in Washington. That was most of what young Jack knew about him, but when he was looking around the attic and found a guitar and a four-string banjo with one broken string, he learned that his father had played them while going to school in the 20s.

He began teaching himself to play the guitar. Curiously, it disappeared shortly before Christmas of 1956, but he discovered a note on the tree saying that he was entitled to 12 private guitar lessons. Years later, after his parents died, he found among their possessions a Life magazine addressed to his father's waiting room. He was on the cover. This discovery proved to him that his parents were proud of his accomplishments.

During the 1970s, Hot Tuna moved away from acoustic blues to heavy rock. Kaukonen and Casady eventually parted company to play in other configurations until reuniting in 1986 and performing on the Jefferson Airplane reunion album in 1989. By the 1990s, they were alternating between acoustic and electric styles. Today Hot Tuna is represented by the original duo along with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and Skoota Warner on drums.

The Hot Tuna friendship that began in Washington 50 years ago has soared through side trips to Bob Dylan's folk circuit, band personnel changes, collaborations with major artists, more than two dozen recordings and workshops where they share their expertise with musicians at all levels. When they are not touring, Kaukonen runs the Fur Peace Guitar Camp in Ohio and Casady teaches there on his signature bass. This spring, their first Hot Tuna studio album in 20 years, "Steady As She Goes," will be out on CD and downloads under the Red Horse label.

Emily Cary is a prize-winning teacher and novelist whose articles about entertainers appear regularly in the DC Examiner. She is a genealogist, an avid traveler, and a researcher who incorporates landscapes, cultures and the power of music in her books and articles.

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