Hot Tuna could easily be described as legendary, but the often-overused word hardly contains what Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have meant to music over the last half-century. As members of Jefferson Airplane, with Kaukonen on lead guitar and Casady on bass, they helped define psychedelic rock—a definition that hasn't changed much since its inception. With Hot Tuna, they have shifted to a more melodic and thoughtful blues rock.
Kaukonen and Casady formed Hot Tuna during a hiatus in the Jefferson Airplane touring schedule while Grace Slick was recovering from a throat-node surgery. Their early material was mostly comprised of Airplane material and covers of blues legends like Jelly Roll Morton and Bo Carter.
Their newest album, Steady As She Goes—released in 2011, after a 21-year gap in studio albums—fulfills the promise of their earlier work. The album is bluesy to its core, raspy, and grungy all the way through and a damn fine blues album all around.
We chatted with Kaukonen about his psychedelic voyage from Jefferson Airplane to Hot Tuna.
Source Weekly: In this reporter's opinion, "Embryonic Journey" is what the human soul sounds like. Was that what you were going after?
Jorma Kaukonen: The recording of "Embryonic Journey" was a total afterthought by the producer, Rick Jarrard. None of us had even considered including this song on Surrealistic Pillow. Who knew? It turned out to be one of my most popular songs on so many levels.
SW: You and Jack have been playing together since the '60s. What is it like performing and making albums with someone you have so much experience and connection with? Is that sort of shorthand invaluable?
JK: Of course that sort of shorthand is invaluable. That said, it's both comfortable and exciting at the same time. Playing together never gets old. We are each other's oldest friends.
SW: What inspired this new Hot Tuna album after 21 years? Will people have to wait so long for more?
JK: I guess it just seemed right for a studio [album], so we made it and we guarantee that no one will have to wait that long again.
SW: "Goodbye to the Blues" is a powerful and inspirational song that sticks with me. What was the inspiration and initial spark for that piece?
JK: The song was brought to me by Barry Mitterhoff and it seemed just as powerful and compelling to me.
SW: What sort of special celebration do you have set for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane?
JK: We just did it at Lockn' [Festival in Arlington, Virginia]. We were lucky to play some amazing artists for this special set. GE Smith, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Jeff Pehrson, and Rachel Price from Lake Street Dive.
SW: What is next after the tour? It looks like you are pretty busy through the end of the year.
JK: We've both got more teaching at Fur Peace Ranch, more writing, more touring, and more time to spend with our families.
SW: What is one of your favorite Jefferson Airplane memories?
JK: Having coffee with Bobby Kennedy.
SW: Do you have more fun playing the electric or acoustic shows or are they different enough beasts to be equally gratifying?
JK: It's apples and oranges. They are equally gratifying.
SW: For someone who has never heard Hot Tuna, what can they expect from the Bend performance?
JK: The audience can expect to hear a complete retrospective as well as tunes from the latest Hot Tuna and my solo albums.
7 pm, Tuesday, October 6
The Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.