Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, the two men who have operated under the name Hot Tuna for nearly four decades, recently finished a two-night engagement in New York’s Beacon Theatre for Kaukonen’s early 75th birthday celebration.
It’s been just over 50 years since Kaukonen, who turns 75 on Wednesday, Dec. 23, called up the then 21-year-old Casady to replace bassist Bob Harvey in a band called Jefferson Airplane.
“You use these time markers to reflect back on things like that,” Casady told the News-Press while speaking on the phone from a hotel in Kingston, N.Y. where he and Kaukonen were getting ready to rehearse for the Beacon Theatre shows.
“And of course Jefferson Airplane afforded me a lot of great opportunities to play a great variety of music with very talented people. Although the band itself only lasted from 1965-72, I think we did a tremendous amount of work. We had a good sized catalog and progressed amazingly during those seven years.”
It was natural for Kaukonen to call on Casady back when they were youth – he and Casady have been friends since they were teenagers growing up in Northwest Washington, D.C.
When they met through Casady’s older brother Charles, Kaukonen was 17 and a senior a Woodrow Wilson High School and Casady was 13 and in his last year at Alice Deal Middle School.
“We started having record listening sessions and then we started playing together,” said Casady, who had started playing guitar the year before he met Kaukonen.
“We just formed a little band for about a year or so during his last year of high school called the Triumphs.”
And now, decades later, the duo who have sustained the blues rock group Hot Tuna since it spun off from Jefferson Airplane in 1969 are coming to play a show in their native land on Saturday, Nov. 28 at Sixth & I Synagogue.
“It’s an acoustic duo, just me and Jorma,” Casady said. “So you’ll be getting Hot Tuna in its purest form.”
The duo in its purest form goes beyond music, though. “We were friends before we were ever bandmates,” Casady said. “I think that’s probably a reason our friendship has lasted as long as it has…because it wasn’t just about the business. We have other identifying markers of our early life besides the business of being a band together.
“I think we recognized that we were friends first and then we found a common bond to continue that friendship through making music together. So, I think we’ve watched each other grow in different directions and do different things – we’re different people. But at the same time we respect each other who the other person is and I think that’s where you have to give each other leeway in our friendship as well as the professional aspect….If you’re able to do that I think you’re able to keep all of it in perspective and not sacrifice one for the other.”
• For more information about Hot Tuna, visit hottuna.com.