Hot Tuna plugs in and heats up

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First Posted: 7/23/2013

For Jack Casady, there have been certain associations that have followed him throughout his career. He’s been respected as a prolific rock bassist for over 40 years, a touring warhorse, and recognized for his involvement as a founding member of perennial psychedelic outfit the Jefferson Airplane. However, for the last 44 years, Casady, along with fellow Airplane co-founder Jorma Kaukonen, has been bringing folk and blues music to legions of fans with the long-standing Hot Tuna, who will be performing an electric show at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg tomorrow night.

When The Weekender contacted the famed musician at his home in California to talk about the show, some phone connection problems ensued, and Casady, when informed the interview was being done from the parking lot of Bethel Woods (where the Airplane famously put in an early morning set at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, and Hot Tuna had just played a few days prior), instantly started reminiscing about his return visit to the famed farm.

“It was terrific. We toured the grounds and took pictures of everything,” Casady said.” You’ll meet Duke Devlin, the resident hippie, and you’ll love him. There’s a plaque out there with a list of all the bands that played (Woodstock), and we took photos and all that kind of stuff. The venue itself is terrific, and we made quips that when we played there 44 years earlier, there weren’t any iron fences,” he said with a laugh.

“And of course, the mud; the grounds weren’t as nappy as they are now… It was actually a unique and spiritual moment for us to visit back into that area, and be two of the guys that are still standing, and to be playing our music and keeping the flame burning.”

Casady and Kaukonen have been keeping the flame burning by an almost constant touring schedule, which finds Hot Tuna performing mostly acoustic shows intermingled with some electric shows, like the one in Stroudsburg. Having experienced both formats over the last five decades, Casady finds it impossible to favor either setting when on the road.

“You don’t ever want to put yourself into that frame of mind where you prefer one more than the other,” he said. “I think you do one long enough, then you work in that genre… You work in another world altogether with space and time (in electric shows). Different facilities are used, and different sensibilities come into play. They’re both just a ton of fun to do.”

Having an impressive back catalogue to choose from – and their love of traditional folk music – a Hot Tuna show can take any direction on any night. However, the electric format leads the band into a slightly different direction when putting together a set list for a show.

“Well, certain songs were put together electrically, so they’re not done acoustically,” Casady explained.

“You can transfer certain songs over from electric to acoustic, and that’s alright, but certain songs lend themselves to Jorma playing electric guitar that’s not in a finger-picking fashion, and those songs are saved for the electric shows. Jorma sort of fashions the sets to how we’re feeling at the moment, and also what songs we want to bring to the surface. We’ve got a very deep catalogue, so we’ll unearth a couple of new songs here and there with different tours.”

With 44 years behind them, Hot Tuna is still packing theaters, whether in the acoustic or electric format. For Casady, the ride has been a rewarding one, as he and Kaukonen have continued to be what they set out to be – folk musicians – but now utilize their music as a bridge for the older crowd who grew up with them, while also finding ways to reinvent the music for a newer generation.

“I think what helps is our attitude towards the music,” he said.

“We’re musicians first, and we mostly think of ourselves as folk musicians. Jorma writes beautiful lyrics and explores the interesting concepts of the way he approaches the songs, through finger-picking most of the time. We try to pick songs that are timeless and songs that aren’t quite headed towards a lot of, perhaps, a political element or not. That’s what folk music does: it talks about the time period, and at the same time, it hopefully deals with subjects that are timeless and will come up for any generation. We look to have something to say for all the age groups that want to come and give us a chance.”

As for what’s in store for the Sherman Theater tomorrow night, Casady enthuses about going out in the electric format, something that isn’t too common for Hot Tuna these days. Whatever the setup may be, Casady, Kaukonen, and the rest of Hot Tuna want their fans to do exactly what they’ve been doing for 40-plus years – go out and have some fun.

“We’re very excited for it. We haven’t played an electric show in a few months, so we’re really excited to get the electric gang together, and for the kind of material we do in the electric set,” he said.

“Everybody’s really excited to play, and we’re going to hit the stage and have some fun.”