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Pulling the Plug: Jack Casady talks about Hot Tuna's 'Final Electric Run'

Hot Tuna is Jack Casady (left) and Jorma Kaukonen
Hot Tuna is Jack Casady (left) and Jorma Kaukonen

On Sept. 18, Hot Tuna returns to Ithaca as part of its “Final Electric Run,” as founding members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady will soon be laying to rest their long-running plugged-in project.

On the band’s website, Kaukonen writes: “It has been said that the music Jack and I play was transformative and that we injected an energy into our sound full of constant improvisation taking the compass on a joyride. It is still our plan to continue in our original duo format. We are not retiring from touring, but the Electric lineup of this long-lived incarnation is going fishing for a while. The road may not go on forever, but the destination is still beyond the horizon. Friends, this is the year to catch us as ‘Electric Tuna.’ We will be inviting companions old and new to join us and we hope that you will too.”

Last week, bassist Jack Casady spoke to Ryan Yarmel, music director of The Route, in advance of Hot Tuna’s shows in Rochester and Ithaca. Here are some excerpts of that conversation.

Q: I was going to ask you if you had any music stuck in your head today, but since you just came from rehearsal, you probably do.

Jack Casady: But just to tell the fans we're working on a number of new old songs that we've never played. A couple of them, I don't think we've ever played in concert before so we're really having fun doing these and setting them up. I'm not gonna give it any of it away. But there'll be new stuff to hear with our old stuff because we want to represent our loud electric version a lot. And this is our final electric tour.

Jorma and I've been playing since our high school days, but we started out with an acoustic guitar and a bass. And that's really blossomed in the last few years. So that hopefully will be all the next 20 years of touring. But we're really looking forward to this tour coming up.

Q: I read somewhere that you and Jorma played your first show together in 1958. And I wanted to ask you, how does it feel that a baby born on the day of your first gig could start collecting Social Security pretty soon?

Jack Casady: Well, it doesn't really affect me at all. I mean, that's just the way it is. That's certainly not anything I would ever say. No, no, I get it when an interviewer thinks of it. Sure, different people process going through the different stages in your life in different ways. I'm still doing 30-mile bike rides, three days a week. Hit the gym regularly. I love that kind of stuff.

And I think Jorma and I are playing better than we ever have, so I'm not too intimidated by it. Of course, there are physical adjustments you have to adapt to. As they say, getting older is learning the art of adaptation.

Q: Do you love getting on the road? Excited to get back on the road?

JC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, don't forget, we did like three tours of Hot Tuna Acoustic last year. We generally do three to four tours a year or maybe they're 15 days, maybe 20 days, something like that.

Q: I wanted your (Epiphone signature) bass so much when I was growing up as a young bass player for a lot of reasons. But especially after I learned that it was you who was playing on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” I was obsessed with that song, and then I realized it was you. And that song taught me a lot as a bass player just about simplicity and tone. How did you approach that song?

JC: The night before Jefferson Airplane did that Dick Cavett Show in New York, we went over to hear Traffic, which was their first stateside tour. And then Jimi came in there at the end of the night and invited everybody back to the studio. We were up all night long. We recorded that song about 7:30 in the morning, sir. And so my approach was to walk into the studio.

He broke the song down into sections. Now, it wasn't a jam in that sense – there was form and substance to the song. But we were all familiar with the blues genre. And of course, the idea was to get together with those particular people, (including) one of my all-time favorite drummers, Mitch Mitchell. We had become buddies – Mitch and I and Jimi – so it was a natural event that he asked, “Hey, let's play blues.” So my approach was to lock in and find the groove.

I mean, there's so much about Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, but let me tell you, you're looking across from him, and you want to play your best. But don't forget, we were contemporaries at the time. Yeah, he was one of the guys that I listened to. That was out there in the world in that moment… So the idea was, you get together musicians who want to play – they want to feel each other out and they want do what we love to do, which is get in a room and pick up instruments and play together.

Hot Tuna is Jack Casady (left) and Jorma Kaukonen
Hot Tuna is Jack Casady (left) and Jorma Kaukonen

Q: You've been coming to the Finger Lakes region for many years. Are there any memorable musical or music-adjacent stories from your time coming here in the past?

JC: Oh, listen, none that I can recall. I mean, our joy is going to people to play. I know, there are a lot of people when they get up to be our age and who like to do residencies and I understand all of that. But I really think we pull a little more from the folk world in that way, in that you have to go to the people. And that audience is what is going to keep you fresh and playing things differently.

Q: it warms my heart and gives me goosebumps to hear you speaking about still seeking joy. Do you have any tips for peace of mind from a lifetime in rock and roll?

JC: I don't know about peace of mind. But I mean, we all live in the same world. We all do. I mean, today's September 11 is a very, very emotional day. For me, I lost a lot of quite a number of people that I knew. And since that date, I've been associated with a number of projects involved with it. So, we all live in the same world, and after the show, we all walk back out on the street. So you pull all that together and you bring it into your show and you try to put that into relation to your music and you try to suspend a little time and place for that audience in front of you as well as yourself.

So it’s staying grounded and remembering that we're all walking on the same street.

If You Go
Who: Hot Tuna

When: 8 p.m. Monday, Sept 18

Where: State Theatre of Ithaca

Cost: $49.50-$79.50, available online here and at the State Theatre box office

Event Info

Ryan Yarmel is the music director of The Route: WRUR in Rochester (88.5 FM, and WITH in Ithaca (90.1 FM,