During the first leg of a cross-country Hot Tuna tour, legendary bassist Jack Casady (formerly of Jefferson Airplane) caught up with Jam Bands Online’s Kara Wilbeck via telephone. Check hottuna.com for electric and acoustic tour dates across the country.
Jam Bands Online: Hi Jack, how you doing?
Jack Casady: Good morning! Where are you calling from?
JBO: Portland, Oregon
JC: I’m actually in Portland, Maine! What are the odds of that?
JBO: So when will you be visiting up the other Portland?
JC: We’re coming there August 3rd. We started off the Hot Tuna electric tour for eight shows and the rest of the tour will be acoustic, with [fellow Airplane vet] Jorma [Kaukonen] on guitar and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin.
JBO: Just the three of you?
JC: Yes, Hot Tuna acoustic is always just the three of us.
JBO: Are you planning to have any special guests joining you on this tour?
JC: I don’t think so, but you never know!
JBO: I hear that Hot Tuna recently released a new album (2011’s *Steady As She Goes*).
JC: Yes, we do have a new album, and we were joined by Larry Campbell and his wife Theresa Williams. We recorded at the late Levon Helm’s studio in December of 2010 into January of 2011. We got to see Levon and talk with him — he’s been a good friend of ours for a long time.
JBO: What was it like to record at Levon’s studio?
JC: That studio is a wonderful place to record — the atmosphere is nice. It’s in a wooded area in Woodstock [New York], and the building itself is large, with a second story where the recording board went. It’s not sectioned or closed off. For me, a bass player, I just love the sound of the wood. It gives a large sound to the bass. We set up the band in a circle, all facing each other, and played all the tracks as a band.
JBO: You guys haven’t released a studio album for a while before this, correct?
JC: No, we haven’t.
(NOTE: The last Hot Tuna studio album released was *Pair a Dice Found* in 1990.)
JBO: After such a long recording hiatus, where did this material come from? Does it represent a different perspective on life?
JC: I think the material definitely matured over that period of time. Jorma and I and Barry, we’ve all been teaching at the Fur Peace Ranch [Guitar Camp in Ohio] for the last 15 years. That gave us an opportunity to reflect on our playing; to allow ourselves to let the natural process evolve to expand our outlooks and accept others’ directions in our material. The timing is great now to do this last album. We found Red House Records, but before them, we couldn’t find a suitable record company that was interested in our music. The timing was just right. I think the material develops as you develop as a person, and it reflects that. It’s so enjoyable and natural for us to present the kind of things we’re playing today.
JBO: What can we expect from your current tour? Will you mainly be featuring your new tracks?
JC: Absolutely. We play all the material from the new album in various forms. We make our adaptations, then present the new material with Jorma’s excellent setlist-producing mind. With the acoustic tour we generally do two sets, one 60-minute set and one 75-minute set. We’re really looking forward to presenting all the new material, and also to having a great time. We hope to give all our fans and newcomers a really interesting and fun show.
JBO: Can you tell us more about the Fur Peace Ranch?
JC: We do teaching at the ranch — it’s in its 15th year. If you go on the website (furpeaceranch.com), you can read all about it. Various musicians and guitarists come from all over to teach. The emphasis is on guitar, and generally the finger picking style, but also on songwriting. I teach bass out there as well. It’s pretty much a stringed instrument camp. It’s for adults, but some of my students have been as young as 14 years old. If you contact the ranch, you can get the parameters for what’s necessary for a musician under 18.
JBO: Is the camp for beginning players, or is some experience required?
JC: You have to have some knowledge of the guitar to walk in there. The assumption is that you already want to play the guitar and have already put some time into it. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s not a lot of pressure. There’s a lot that can be learned in just a few days.
JBO: So, being a bass player, do you like playing electric or acoustic better?
JC: I don’t even look at it as electric-versus-acoustic. They’re different opportunities and I enjoy them both. When you play one way for a long time, you inch your way toward wanting to do the other. There are certain things I do acoustically that release things that I can only do with that foundation. You go to different primal elements in both worlds, I think, and they’re deeply fascinating to me. I’m enthusiastic about each.
JBO: Good answer.