ARTIST: Hot Tuna
TITLE: Hot Tuna
YEAR RELEASED: 1970
CHART ACTION: #30
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They do versions of old country blues songs for the most part, like Hesitation Blues, Death Don’t Have No Mercy and Know You Rider
LINEUP: Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Will Scarlett on occasional harmonica.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Lead guitarist and bassist for the Jefferson Airplane record their live set of acoustic country blues, performed at a club in Berkeley.
SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Airplane, by 1969 and 1970, were a restless bunch of individuals. Whether it was the drugs, or being shoehorned into a stereotype of ‘the drug band’, the members of the band all were pulled in various directions musically.
Kaukonen and Casady migrated to the blues, and started to warm up for the Airplane with electric blues. But the duo was also influenced by the acoustic country blues that flourished pre-World War II. So they booked dates at a club in Berkeley and recorded a decent set of reverent acoustic blues numbers.
Kaukonen plays acoustic, and he’s a master of finger picking. While he made his bones playing electric, acoustic blues is where his heart is and it shows. He also sings, and while he’s not much of a singer in classical terms, he gives the songs the reverence and emotion they deserve.
What’s weird, to my ears, is Casady’s bass. Casady is a wonderful bassist, but his electric bass at times overshadows Kaukonen’s guitar instead of augmenting it. Still, this splinter group will provide some enjoyable listens, especially if you focus on the fingerpicking.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: At first, Hot Tuna was to record an electric album in Jamaica with Airplane members Marty Balin and Joey Covington, but the sessions were never released.
IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, there are five more songs recorded at the same dates in Berkeley.
GRADE: B: Kaukonen’s fingerpicking is top notch and that should be the focus here.