Hot Tuna goes electric at The State Theatre

Jack Casady, left, and Jorma Kaukonen will perform at The State Theatre on July 17 with Hot Tuna (Electric).
Jack Casady, left, and Jorma Kaukonen will perform at The State Theatre on July 17 with Hot Tuna (Electric). Photo provided

Hot Tuna’s bassist, Jack Casady, got his musicial start around age 12.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Casady said his father was a dentist; his mother’s side of the family were all lawyers and civil engineers.

“My dad had a four-string banjo up in the attic (that I) discovered around 11 or 12 years old, and he had a Washburn guitar. To make a long story short, the guitar disappeared and reappeared around Christmas time 1956, with a little note that said ‘this entitles you to 12 guitar lessons’ at a local music store. I started playing guitar and I loved it. I added bass guitar at age 16, so I was playing both bass and guitar when I moved out to California and joined Jefferson Airplane in 1965.”

Casady’s love for music inspired him to start performing at a young age.

“I was in bands that would play Ray Charles covers, stuff like that” he said. “I had been playing professionally for seven years — from age 15 to 21 — before I moved out to California, in all the club circuits in the East Coast area. D.C., Wildwood, N.J., all over the place.”

Hot Tuna grew from the minds of Casady and his guitarist friend and Jefferson Airplane bandmate, Jorma Kaukonen.

“There wasn’t really anything to ‘get together,’ Jorma and I were buddies,” Casady said. “We enjoyed a lot of the same music. I love the Delta music and Reverend Gary Davis, stuff like that.”

The pair used their downtime to pursue other musical passions beyond the psychedelic sounds of the iconic Jefferson Airplane.

“Jorma’s three years older than I am, so when he went off to college in 1959, he came back after learning that approach to the guitar, with a thumb pick and two fingers,” Casady said. “I just love that. I love that you can hear that kind of music and the guitar work, it has the basslines going on with the thumb and the other fingers controlling rhythm and melody. It was like hearing two hands on the piano, but it was on the guitar.”

When the pair wasn’t at work with Jefferson Airplane, Casady said they began to develop Hot Tuna’s sound.

“Hot Tuna was born out of that. We started opening up for Jefferson Airplane, doing our own material. And then we started being brave enough to book our own shows and make that first Hot Tuna album with RCA in 1970,” he said.

Casady has a deep respect for all the great bass players, but can’t pick just one favorite. His style comes from several influences throughout his career.

“In the electric bass world, there were very few when I started out playing. I would have to say the people that I heard use the electric bass were in the country world or the rhythm and blues world,” he said. “James Brown comes to mind as the first real sound that the electric bass guitar changed the sound of the band and the intricacy of the syncopation. It came up through that band, but I didn’t try to mimic any of that.”

He also cites influences from the jazz world, including Charles Mingus and Ray Brown.

“What I heard from them, the melodies that they were playing, influenced me, not so much in the jazz style, but in the ability to orchestrate the music in terms of the bass guitar where I wasn’t just stuck in the rhythm section. I could move up into the cello range and play some of the melody. Of course when I’m playing with Jorma, and he’s playing his finger-style guitar, the bottom wouldn’t fall out of the music because he was holding that together with his thumb on the guitar. That allowed me to move around the bass part like a classical orchestra. It would hold together.”

The band has been making music for 45 years, but they still treat every performance with the same respect as when they first started.

“We try to make every show important,” Casady said. “Every night we hit the stage, that show is the most important one we’ve ever played. So, what I’m looking forward to is what I’m yet to experience when we come out there. The past is the past, and here we go looking forward to the next show always. We will be playing electric, in the trio format. We haven’t done that in a long, long time. That’s going to be interesting. The trio electric format opens us up to a little different framework than we have say, a second guitarist. We’re looking forward to it, can’t wait!”

Casady believes that good music takes time and preparation, not just inspiration and luck.

“A lot of people involved in music think you either have talent and it comes easy to you, or you don’t have talent and you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “It’s really 90 percent about hard work and learning the instrument inside and out. There are some people who have to spend more time to learn the same thing that other people come along and learn at a quicker pace. That really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have the passion for the music and you’re willing to put in the time that’s necessary for you to make advancements on the instrument. Hopefully, you will prepare properly and thoroughly enough so that when luck and timing play their part, you’re ready to take advantage of what will come by your way.”

The band promises to deliver a memorable experience, and a truly unique performance.

“I think if you want to hear good live music, and live music that’s of the moment, I think you should come and hear us,” Casady said. “It’s going to be fun. We always like to present a variety of different songs and material with different directions.”