LONG HISTORY: Jack Casaday (left) and Jorma Kaukonen
Who: Hot Tuna
Where: Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre, Wildwood Park
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 25
Tickets: $25 and $30, call 821-7275
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of once hard-rocking Hot Tuna dabbled in the acoustic after flying with Jefferson Airplane to stardom in the Summer of Love. But today’s Hot Tuna would sound right at home with, appropriately, the progressive bluegrass band Leftover Salmon or Alison Krauss. Kaukonen is rated by some as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, so he fits right in with Wildwood Festival’s typical summer festival roster, which has featured artist Leo Kottke and others.
Kaukonen, bassist Casady and mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff are taking Hot Tuna acoustic on the road coast to coast, stopping at Wildwood Park on Saturday, June 25. Chip and Cindy Murphy’s “Wild Bunch” is sponsoring the show; tickets are $25 for Wild Bunch members and $30 for nonmembers.
Kaukonen released the Appalachian acoustic-styled “Blue Country Heart” in 2002. Yet there will be many fans who think of the electric guitar riffs in “Volunteers” or “Somebody to Love” when Kaukonen’s name is brought up.
“To me, it’s all coming from the same musical pool,” he said. “We’ll play the classic Hot Tuna and all this new stuff that I’ve been doing with Barry. He can really play; you’ll get a kick out of him. Jack is playing bass, so I can play some guitar leads as well. We’ll draw from that well, too.”
He and Casady have been friends since the ’50s. They survived the ’60s and the drug experimentation that was part of the scene to still play music in the 21st century. “It’s scary, really,” he said. “It really is a miracle. If you’re lucky you’ll have friends that long, but I don’t have many of them. We’ve been pals for nearly 50 years. When I’m hanging out with my bluegrassing pals, or whatever I’m playing, he just fits in everywhere.”
Mitterhoff “is one of the great ones,” Kaukonen said. He’ll contribute tenor guitar, tenor banjo and octave mandolin, “which is kind of like a bouzouki,” Kaukonen said.
“Everybody can play real good and we have a great time,” he said.
Today, Kaukonen operates the Fur Peace Ranch in southeastern Ohio, a guitar camp with cabins and a performance theater. Such notables as G.E. Smith (the onetime “Saturday Night Live” bandleader) show up to help teach. “We have a lot of fun. My kind of teaching is people’s music; you don’t have to be a real genius to be having fun playing it. You can take it as far as you want. It’s not an intimidating style. We just really have a blast, four-day weekends and we have great food, too. No franks and beans out there.”
For those not able to travel to Ohio, Kaukonen has joined a group at www.breakdownway.com providing guitar lessons via high-speed Internet connection. “It’s a great time for learning the guitar, and on the road I meet a lot of young kids now who say they have seen the site. There are a lot of different ways kids can go nowadays, but my first love is the acoustic guitar.”
Kaukonen and Casady left Jefferson Airplane in 1972. “Then they went on to be Starship and made all the money and had all the hits, the story of my life. We did get back together for a reunion tour in 1989.”
He says he still has a business interests with the Jefferson Airplane gang and talks on the phone with Grace Slick a couple of times a year.
Hot Tuna, Kaukonen said, “were schizophrenics, we had electric, we had acoustic. We had a lot of wacky electric guitar stuff with overdubs … But I started out playing old-timey music as a kid, and today I’ve got the bluegrass channel on all the time. I’m not a bluegrass musician, that is a certain other discipline entirely, but I play the old-timey songs my way.”