Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals; Jack Casady - bass; Michael Falzarano - guitar, mandolin; Harvey Sorgen - drums
The seeds of Hot Tuna's sound can be heard as far back as 1966 Jefferson Airplane sets, but within the context of the early Airplane they were often limited to one or two showcase songs a night. During a 1969 hiatus in The Airplane's touring schedule, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady began further exploring their love of traditional acoustic blues and in September performed a series of concerts at the New Orleans House in Berkeley. These sets were recorded and later released as the debut Hot Tuna album. The following month, Hot Tuna began performing as The Airplane's opening act and would continue to do so over the course of the following year. Convinced that Hot Tuna could survive independently of The Airplane, Kaukonen and Casady recruited drummer Sammy Piazza and violinist Papa John Creach and began further developing and touring their music within a highly charged electric context. The second album, also recorded live, proved that the band was capable of inspired improvisation and, by 1972, Hot Tuna had become Kaukonen and Casady's primary interest.
Over the course of the next five years, Hot Tuna would release several acclaimed studio albums, containing an ever-increasing quantity of original material and, through extensive touring, develop one of the most fanatical followings on the planet. By 1977, their performances had become endurance marathons, often stretching to four or even five-hour performances that featured extensive improvisation.
Following the 1977 tour, Kaukonen and Casady would pursue separate paths for six years before rejuvenating Hot Tuna in 1983. Rhythm guitarist Michael Falzarano and drummer Shigemi Komiyama would become the newest recruits and Hot Tuna would again hit the road performing a new live repertoire, much of it sourced from Kaukonen's solo projects and previously unheard contributions from Falzarano. More aggressive and extremely loud, Hot Tuna again hit the road, but the band received mixed reactions, with much of the audience pining for older material and a sound that had long since run its course.
They would revamp again three years later, returning to the acoustic-based music that initially established their reputation and, in 1987, Paul Kantner came on board, adding additional Airplane-era material to the live repertoire. At a March 1988 gig at The Fillmore, Grace Slick turned up and proved that the chemistry was still in tact, sowing the seeds for a Jefferson Airplane reunion album and tour the following year.
Upon completion of this tour, Kaukonen and Casady resumed Hot Tuna, bringing back Falzarano and eventually recruiting Harvey Sorgen to fill the drum seat. Epic Records, which had signed and released the Airplane's reunion album, also signed this new Hot Tuna configuration and, by 1990, with Galen Underwood augmenting the group on keyboards, they set about recording the first Hot Tuna album of all new material in nearly 14 years. The result was Pair A Dice Found, released in November of 1990. Although the album sold modestly, the tour that followed was very well received. Fueled with a wealth of new material and a new sense of purpose, this tour was a very different affair than the 1983 reunion. Striking a near perfect balance between old and new material, Hot Tuna was again delighting audiences everywhere they went, playing with a tighter precision than ever before and doing it within an electric context. Kaukonen and Casady's unique musical chemistry flourished and to a large degree, was more clearly in focus.
An excellent example took place on March 9, 1991, when Hot Tuna wrapped up a two-night stand at The Fillmore before a hometown crowd. John Mayall's Bluesbreakers opened, priming the audience and raising the bar. Recorded by the Bill Graham Presents crew, this remarkably well-balanced recording allows listeners to clearly hear this era of the band at their best, full of enthusiasm for the material and playing with a tighter precision than ever before.
Following the break after Hot Tuna's first set of the evening, the group returned to the stage to close out the two-night run. Although not completely recorded, the portion of the set that was captured is presented here and focuses on the down-home blues of their acoustic repertoire arranged for this quartet lineup, mixed with several choice selections from Kaukonen and Cassidy's tenure in Jefferson Airplane.
They begin with a take on the traditional "Hesitation Blues." Showcasing Kaukonen's intricate finger picking and Casady's melodic bass work, this is approached much like the version on Hot Tuna's debut album, but with Casady and Sorgen adding the extra punch of a full rhythm section. Relaxed during the verses and picking up momentum for Kaukonen and Casady's guitar/bass interplay flights between, this is classic Hot Tuna adapted to the instrumentation of this quartet lineup. The same can be said for the next several numbers, with a pair of blues classics turning up next. Reverend Gary Davis looms large in Kaukonen's repertoire and remains one of his primary influences. Davis' "Let Us Get Together Right Down Here" kicks it off followed by Bo Carter's "I Want You To Know" and then another Davis staple, "I'll Be All Right Someday," follows. These songs have been staples of Kaukonen's stage repertoire since he was a playing the San Francisco folk clubs in the early 1960 and they display his mastery of blues finger picking styles, but rather than sounding dated, the band adds an accomplished polish that makes these songs fresh and vibrant.
Two vintage Jefferson Airplane-era numbers surface next, beginning with Kaukonen's distinctive arrangement of the traditional "Good Shepherd," a standout track from the 1969 album Volunteers. A tightly focused performance of "Trial By Fire" is also a delight. Both of these numbers display plenty of impressive technique, but it is the sophisticated rhythmic bed of Casady and Sorgen and the telepathic interplay between Kaukonen and Casady that make these performances so enjoyable. A fine version of the ballad "Watch the North Wind Rise" is next. Unlike the highly amped up version on Hot Tuna's 1976 album Hoppkorv, where it received the power trio treatment, this more acoustic-style arrangement accents the innate beauty of the melody and is all the more compelling for it. The recording concludes with Kaukonen's "Genesis," the beautiful love song that kicked off his first solo album, Quah, most of which was captured prior to the tape stock running out.
-Written by Alan Bershaw