Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Dave Mason are all members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the latter going in as a member of Traffic and the duo of Kaukonen and Casady as part of Jefferson Airplane.
Towards the end of Jefferson Airplane’s run, Kaukonen and Casady formed the side band Hot Tuna, an electric blues band that welcomed a steady stream of musicians to join them in live concerts around the country.
“Jack and I never really looked ahead. When Hot Tuna was born, Jefferson Airplane wasn’t working too much and we just wanted to play,” Kaukonen said. “This was a fun way to play music that was not Jefferson Airplane related. That was easy because without Paul, Grace and Marty, it could not possibly be a Jefferson Airplane project.”
The duo invited different people to play with them and Hot Tuna released new music.
“The records did ok, and we weren’t under any pressure because we weren’t a hit-making band, so we slid into our identity and were able to get gigs without relying on record sales, which in those days was a big deal,” Kaukonen said.
Over the past 50 years, Hot Tuna has continued to play, tour and record some of the most memorable original electric rock and soulful acoustic music.
“In the era that Hot Tuna came up, Jack had stacks of speakers and wall amps and the band’s gear onstage was actually part of the environment,” Kaukonen said. “Nobody today is ever going to be surrounded by that kind of sheer physical volume. It’s not 1975 anymore. The sonic environment today is physically less demanding, and considering most of our audiences are not kids anymore, that’s not a bad thing.”
He knows the bulk of audiences today are those who have followed the band for a long time, but because the music Hot Tuna plays harkens back to another era, young musicians and fans often come out to hear them, and Kaukonen loves that.
“Anytime the audience is full of people, I’m so grateful, but to get younger people to come in, that’s frosting on the cake,” he said.
On Aug. 25, Hot Tuna and Dave Mason will pair up for a show at D.C.’s Warner Theatre, with three-time Grammy winning drummer and percussionist Justin Guip part of the Hot Tuna mix.
“Dave has such an awesome providence of cool stuff, both as a guitar player and an artist in general,” Kaukonen said. “Dave and I are sort of springing from the same well. He’s had such a storied career—he’s played with great bands and written great songs—but underneath all that, he’s a great guy and always has a great band. To be able to be playing with someone who is going to make me want to come out of my dressing room to watch is a good thing.”
For Hot Tuna, the band will be playing the type of rock and roll that Kaukonen believes people want to hear. When Guip is part of the trio, Hot Tuna becomes Electric Hot Tuna, and Kaukonen first used him on a solo album back in 2015 (on his “Ain’t in No Hurry” album).
“We don’t tour electrically all the time, so we really can’t afford to have someone on retainer, but Justin is my friend and sometimes a co-producer on projects, and he doesn’t depend on us for being on the road all the time,” Kaukonen said. “We love him as a human being and he’s there whenever we need him. And we all are on the same page.”
Kaukonen and Casady are both originally from D.C., so the gig is something of a homecoming for the rock legends.
“I graduated [from] Wilson High School in 1959 and I only came back to visit my grandparents when they were alive, but now my son lives in the northern Virginia area,” Kaukonen said. “But to come back to D.C., the place we learned to play and where it all started for me and Jack, is really special.”