Old Town School of Folk Music; Sat 29
Over its long history, Hot Tuna filled many roles: Haight-Ashbury’s most traditional blues act, jam-band pioneers and a haven for Jefferson Airplane fans who refused to “build this city on rock & roll.” But perhaps the band’s true achievement is that it is the all-time greatest “other guys” side project.
In 1969, Airplane’s guitarist, Jorma Kaukonen, and bassist, Jack Casady, began gigging on off days as Hot Shit, playing acoustic roots music. It’s somewhat absurd to call an innovative lead guitarist in a groundbreaking psychedelic band an “other guy,” but the fact that Airplane had two lead singers—band founder Marty Balin and the face of the San Francisco scene, Grace Slick—meant that everyone else was a second-stringer.
RCA Records mandated an understandable name change, and the newly minted Hot Tuna’s first releases for the label were spare bluesy romps, mixing acoustic and electric. By the mid ’70s, Airplane was no longer an outlet for Kaukonen and Casady; Balin and Slick began recording without the duo as Jefferson Starship. Tuna subsequently became a wailing power trio, famed for endless jams and raucous concerts; several of its albums were live.
The band briefly split in the dawn of the ’80s, but for most of the last four decades Hot Tuna has toured, recorded and earned devoted love from its significant following. Maybe this isn’t the equivalent of a Joey Kramer–Tom Hamilton side project outlasting Aerosmith or Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams telling Angus to screw himself—in hindsight, Kaukonen and Casady’s ragtime band always seemed like their main concern—but it’s close.