The legendary folk-rock duo Hot Tuna have been playing music together for over 50 years.
Starting out in Washington, D.C., as teenagers, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady became founding members of the iconic psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco. Together, they’ve been playing their acoustic and electric blues sound ever since to critical acclaim: Kaukonen and Casady were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 2016 Grammy Awards, and both have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In advance of their show at the Center for the Arts on June 15, Kaukonen and Casady joined longtime KHOL DJ Kevin P for a conversation in the KHOL studios.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KEVIN PUSEY/KHOL: Coming from your experience with Jefferson Airplane, what made you want to form Hot Tuna?
JORMA KAUKONEN : I don’t think we thought about actually forming something. Jack and I had played together and it just sort of grew. We found ourselves a little time, and, you know, you learn a couple of songs and then a couple [more] songs… then you got a set. Then you learn a couple more songs and you got a show. That’s kind of what happened. And then by that time, we needed a band name, so Hot Tuna.
JACK CASADY: And I remember in the touring days with Jefferson Airplane, starting at probably around 1966–we formed in ’65–but as we started to tour out with the albums that began to be successful, we finished those shows by 11, 11:30 at night, you know, and then we’d go hit the bar scene with our guitars always and sit in with people. And when we were in Chicago, we sat in with all blues guys. And then [in] different cities [there were] different scenes.
KAUKONEN: Whether they wanted [us to play with them] or not!
CASADY: And we’d play a couple of songs that we learned to play and practice in our hotel rooms. You know, they wouldn’t be Jefferson Airplane songs as such. And out of that, we got more and more material. We had to come up with stuff to play when you go to sit in. So, it worked out pretty well because if you had some material, some form to play, when you jumped onstage instead of just jamming. So, I think that encouraged us to keep learning songs.
KHOL: So, back in the day, you guys jammed with The Grateful Dead [and lead guitarist] Jerry Garcia… any memories about Jerry that you want to share?
CASADY: I mean, one thing I do remember, we were all really young back then and all the bands were just starting out. So, the perspective now of 50 years later, the legend and whatnot, we were pals and fellow musicians and we always liked each other. We went to each other’s concerts all the time. It was easier because we weren’t working all the time. When we weren’t working, we went to whoever was at the Fillmore, and they were all your buddies, this fairly close community of bands in San Francisco. So, it was easy to show up at somebody’s place and pick up a guitar and play.
KAUKONEN: I moved to California in 1962. So, I met Jerry way before the rock ‘n’ roll stuff when he was still doing the jug band and stuff like that. And he was married at the time and had a kid so he was kind of like a grown-up. He was just a great guy, you know. And like Jack was saying, you know, the social aspect of what the Bay Area had and really continued well into the rock ‘n’ roll thing until everybody’s career sort of dominated all your time.
KHOL: So, the show tonight is the first of the tour, correct? Is there any special treatment that you have for the first show of a tour?
CASADY: We really play off the audience. I mean, really, when we get onstage, we look at each other, we look at the audience and just go to work. What they bring, we reflect, you know, it really is that way. So, that’s one of the unique things about traveling and going to different audiences, particularly when we’re playing acoustic–like this is such an intimate place, very nice. Everything seems nice and close here. So, it’s kind of like we invite the audience into our world, you know?
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Hot Tuna.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.