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Hot Tuna

Hot Tuna at MerleFest, 2006. Left to right, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhof.
Background information
Origin San Francisco, USA
Genres Rock, blues
Years active 1969–1977
1986 – present
Labels RCA
Grunt Records
Relix Records
Eagle Records
Associated acts Jefferson Airplane
Jack Casady
Jorma Kaukonen
Barry Mitterhoff
Skoota Warner
Former members
Paul Kantner
Marty Balin
Joey Covington
Will Scarlett
Papa John Creach
Paul Ziegler
Sammy Piazza
Bob Steeler
Greg Douglass
Nick Buck
Shigemi Komiyama
Michael Falzarano
Joey Balin
Joey Stefko
Peter Kaukonen
Harvey Sorgen
Galen Underwood
Pete Sears
Erik Diaz

Hot Tuna is an American blues-rock band, formed by bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane. They play acoustic and electric versions of original and traditional blues songs.[1][2]




Jefferson Airplane Side Project

Hot Tuna began during a hiatus in Jefferson Airplane's touring schedule in early 1969 while Grace Slick was undergoing recovery from throat node surgery that had left her unable to perform. Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Paul Kantner, and new drummer Joey Covington played several shows around San Francisco including the Airplane's original club, The Matrix before Jefferson Airplane returned to performing in April to support the album Volunteers. Although Covington had been hired as Jefferson Airplane's drummer, Spencer Dryden continued to perform with the Airplane and Covington was only called when needed.[3] Their early repertoire was derived mainly from Airplane material that Jorma played and covers of American country blues artists such as Rev. Gary Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Bo Carter and Arthur Blake (Blind Blake). In addition to these shows, Jack & Jorma would play as a duo with Jorma on acoustic guitar. In September, 1969, the week of concerts performed at New Orleans House in Berkeley was recorded and released as a live album in 1970, Hot Tuna. This album is affectionately known by Tunaphiles as the "breaking glass album", because of the sound of breaking beer glasses during the recording of "Uncle Sam Blues".[4] Jorma's brother Peter Kaukonen soon replaced Paul on rhythm guitar and Marty Balin joined on vocals for the electric songs. Starting in October 1969, Hot Tuna would perform as opening act to Jefferson Airplane with a combination of both electric and acoustic sets, giving Kaukonen and Casady an opportunity to explore their love of traditional blues music, and also giving Balin and Covington a chance to explore soul-rock compositions. In 1970, RCA paid for the band to go to Jamaica to record their next album, now with Paul Ziegler taking over Peter's spot, but the album was never finished.[3] Papa John Creach was brought in to the band in late 1970 (Creach also joined Jefferson Airplane at the same time) and Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna finished their co-tour in November 1970 with shows at the Fillmore East.

Independent Hot Tuna

In September 1970, Hot Tuna performed two acoustic shows without Jefferson Airplane at Pepperland and received good reviews[3] signifying that Hot Tuna could survive without the other band to support it. As Jefferson Airplane wound down and stopped touring after the Fillmore East shows, Hot Tuna—for whom live performance was always of prime importance—became an independent group consisting of Jorma, Jack, new drummer Sammy Piazza, and Papa John, moving fully to the electric band format. This line-up was documented on the album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971), recorded live at the Chateau Liberte (a nondescript club favored by the band) near Santa Cruz, California. The studio albums Burgers (1972) and The Phosphorescent Rat (1973) followed, with Papa John leaving before Rat was recorded. These two albums featured compositions mainly of Kaukonen original material and included some of the guitarist's most delicate and poetic works. David Crosby sang supporting vocals on the Burgers track "Highway Song," and keyboard player Nick Buck made his first appearance on what would become a semi permanent tenure during the 1970s. As the band prepared for its 1974 tour in support of Rat, Jorma decided to have the band perform acoustic on the next tour and Piazza was let go.[3] Jorma and Jack then proceeded to record Jorma's first solo album, Quah.

Electric Years and Breakup

July 1974 marked a departure from their primarily bluesy, acoustic style when Hot Tuna dropped their acoustic sets completely and morphed into a heavy rock band. The albums America's Choice (1975), Yellow Fever (1975), and Hoppkorv (1976), showcase a power trio with the addition of new drummer Bob Steeler. This trilogy is referred to by the group as their "rampage years."[citation needed] Kaukonen's electric guitar playing was multi-layered as evidenced by the solos on "Funky #7" and "Serpent of Dreams" on America's Choice. This style continued on Yellow Fever, on tracks such as "Song for the Fire Maiden," "Sunrise Dance with the Devil," and the closing number "Surphase Tension." Hot Tuna live performances during this period were typified by free-flow improvisational jams and very long sets (up to six hours uninterrupted) with extended versions of their studio material. However, when new producer Harry Maslin had the band in the studio, he didn't appreciate Jorma & Jack's free-form jam style and held them to a more traditional rock format and had them include several cover songs. In 1977, Jorma re-added an acoustic portion of the show by performing solo sets before the band would perform. These combination sets were documented with the double live album Double Dose in 1978 containing one side of Jorma's acoustic performance and three sides of the electric band. Hot Tuna stopped touring at the end of 1977 and Casady and Kaukonen went their separate ways and pursued short-lived careers in the new wave bands SVT and Vital Parts, respectively. Grunt Records released the compilation Final Vinyl in 1979 to signify the end of the band.


There was a reunion tour in 1983 with rhythm guitarist Michael Falzarano and drummer Shigemi Komiyama added to the roster. Jorma decided to play very few Hot Tuna songs and instead concentrated on newer material[3] which changed the band to a hard rock and heavy metal direction. The band was not well received at all and fans walked out of shows.[3][5]

Hot Tuna was reformed again as an acoustic band in 1986 performing classic material, with Joey Balin joining on rhythm guitar until 1987. Kantner joined the band in 1987 and 1988 adding some old Airplane songs to the setlist. Grace Slick showed up on stage as well for one show at The Fillmore in March, 1988. The band continued into 1989 and Jorma and Jack joined the 1989 Jefferson Airplane reunion album and tour, performing acoustic Hot Tuna sets in the middle of each show.

At the end of the Airplane tour, Hot Tuna resumed their electric performances adding drummer Joey Stefko and rhythm guitarist Michael Falzarano to the lineup.

New Yorker Harvey Sorgen soon replaced Stefko on drums and Galen Underwood joined on keyboards for their first album of all new material in almost 14 years, 1990's Pair a Dice Found. Kaukonen and Falzarano both contributed original songs.

Throughout the 1990s, Tuna again alternated between acoustic and electric styles. The two Sweetwater albums were predominantly acoustic sets with guests Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, singer Maria Muldaur, and ex-Rod Stewart, Jefferson Starship keyboards player Pete Sears; the latter was to join the group on a permanent basis during the decade. The 1997 release Live in Japan was in many ways reminiscent of the very first Hot Tuna album, having a minimalistic sound and being recorded live at a tiny venue (Stove's in Yokohama).[6] Falzarano stayed with the band until 2002 when he left to release and promote his solo album The King James Sessions, which also featured Pete Sears.[7]


Other musicians have come and gone over the group's several incarnations, as Hot Tuna has always been a fluid aggregation, but the name "Hot Tuna" has essentially become shorthand for "Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen." Most recently (2004–2009), they have toured with multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Erik Diaz, and have played electric shows with guitarist GE smith. In April 2006, Hot Tuna appeared at Merlefest, America's largest folk music festival. In 2007, they played at Bonnaroo. In August 2009, Skoota Warner took over on drums.

Taping policy

Throughout the band's history they garnered much fan support based on their pro-taping policy, allowing fans to record their live shows. In July 2006 the band changed their stance and no longer permit taping.

Band name

The band name Hot Tuna came from someone Kaukonen refers to as a "witty wag" who called out, "hot tuna" after hearing the line 'What's that smell like fish, oh baby,' from the Blind Boy Fuller song "Keep on Truckin." Kaukonen decided it was a good band name and it stuck ever since.[8] Before their debut album was released, their name was seen on the Jefferson Airplane Volunteers album lyrics insert with a mock headline proclaiming "Hot Tuna! R. Nixon Misplaced. For details see sports section." The band's fans often refer to them loudly as "Hot Fucking Tuna." Even Airplane lead vocalist Grace Slick, who joined the two on stage for their performance of "Third Week in the Chelsea" during the Airplane's 1989 reunion tour, introduced the pair with the middle expletive.


The band has performed live as Hot Tuna between 1969 and 1977; in 1983; and from 1986 to present[3][9]

  • Jack Casady – bass (1969–present)
  • Jorma Kaukonen – guitars, vocals (1969–present)
  • Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar (1969, 1987–1988)
  • Joey Covington – drums (1969–1970)
  • Peter Kaukonen – rhythm guitar (1969–1970, 1989–1990)
  • Will Scarlett – harmonica (1969–1971)
  • Marty Balin – vocals (1969–1970)
  • Paul Ziegler – rhythm guitar (1970)
  • Papa John Creach – electric violin (1970–1973)
  • Sammy Piazza – drums (1970–1973)
  • Bob Steeler – drums (1974–1977)
  • Greg Douglass – 2nd lead guitar (1975)
  • Nick Buck – keyboards (1977)
  • Michael Falzarano – rhythm guitar (1983, 1990–2002)
  • Shigemi Komiyama – drums (1983)
  • Joey Balin – rhythm guitar (1986–1987)
  • Joey Stefko – drums (1988–1990)
  • Galen Underwood – keyboards (1989–1990)
  • Harvey Sorgen – drums (1990–2000)
  • Pete Sears – keyboards (1992–2000)
  • Barry Mitterhoff – mandolin (2002–present)
  • Erik Diaz – drums (2004–2009)
  • Skoota Warner – drums (2009–present)


In 2004 Eagle Records re-mastered and re-released Live in Japan, Live at Sweetwater and Live at Sweetwater Two with some new tracks that hadn't been included on the Relix releases and some tracks removed.


  1. ^ Hot Tuna on Allmusic
  2. ^ Hot Tuna discography on Music City
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Tamarakin, Jeff (2003). Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671034030. 
  4. ^ (1970) Album notes for Hot Tuna by Hot Tuna [Remaster CD booklet]. New York City: RCA (LSP-3864).
  5. ^ Casady, Jack. Interview with Brian G. Bourke. Casady Promises Fresh Approach. Syracuse Herald Journal. March 1987.
  6. ^ Bendersky, Ari. "Hot Tuna in the Raw", Rolling Stone, April 24, 1998
  7. ^ Metzger, John. "Hot Tuna Blues", The Music Box, February 1998
  8. ^ Montgomery, Marie. "Get Groovy with Hot Tuna", Fairfield University Mirror, December 13, 2007
  9. ^

External links


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