By 1969, Jefferson Airplane’s original lineup began to drift apart. In one direction, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick would drift toward their Jefferson Starship project rooted in the former’s interest in science fiction. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady went a different way, as the two boyhood friends formed a band firmly rooted in traditional rhythm and blues. With Volunteers in the can, we get an idea of the Kaukonen’s and Cassady’s direction on stage at Woodstock playing “Uncle Sam’s Blues.”
Naming their band Hot Tuna, because RCA balked at Hot Shit, they recorded a live session at New Orleans House in Berkley. With Kaukonen on acoustic guitar, Cassady on electric bass, the two played the blues, covering new and traditional arrangements. Joined by talented harmonica player, Willow Scarlett, it’s a much different sound from the Airplane. Though he didn’t crack Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists list, Kaukonen is an extremely talented stylist. Lacking the on-stage charisma of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and Marty Balin, Kaukonen and Cassady were key contributors to that distinctive sound. The mastery of their craft comes across in this first eponymously titled L.P. The live album is complete with the sound of shattering beer glasses in the background.
Hot Tuna’s second album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down is also a live album recorded at Chateau Liberte, a small club in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Accoustic no longer, Jack and Jorma are joined onstage by Scarlett and violinist Papa John Creach who would be a fixture on all further Jefferson Airplane projects, as well as Kantner and Slick’s Jefferson Starship records. The sound is more full, and the set list a bit more structured.
With 1972’s Burgers, Hot Tuna moved into the studio. Kaukonen, Cassady and Creach are joined by drummer Johnny Piazza. The set list takes a more conventional structure, with compositions by Jorma. A fine variety of songs, including rock and folk rock. It’s a very accomplished set, demonstrating Hot Tuna was not just a spin-off and could survive on its own. David Crosby makes a guest appearance on Highway Songs.
Hot Tuna enjoyed a long and successful run, remaining intact until 1989. Jack and Jorma reunite occasionally for tours. Though there are many more Hot Tuna records, they are outside the scope of this report, as I am trying to focus on those albums coinciding with the life of Jefferson Airplane