Innovation takes on a life of its own, and Hot Tuna lives on as a vehicle for Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady to lead American music. As friends growing up around Washington, D.C., then members of Jefferson Airplane and founding members of Hot Tuna, guitarist Kaukonen and bassist Casady have played together for about 50 years. Delving into Americana, blues and bluegrass, their music has morphed from bluesy acoustic to electric rock and back, according to Red House Records' website.
"Airplane was only together for seven years, from '65 to '72," Casady says during a telephone interview from his home in Southern California. "The career Jorma and I share is significantly longer."
Who: Hot Tuna
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8
Where: Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass
Tickets: $38, $48 or $58
Call: 541-471-1316 or see www.roguetheatre.com
Kaukonen and Casady will be joined by mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff for an acoustic show at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at the Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass. Tickets cost $38, $48 or $58 and may be purchased at www.roguetheatre.com or by calling 541-471-1316.
In an era of older bands reuniting for final tours, Hot Tuna doesn't because it's never been a nonentity. Over the years, it's included a succession of talented musicians — drummers, harmonica players, string players, keyboard players and more — who all have fit into Kaukonen's and Casady's prevailing place in the musical spectrum.
Mitterhoff, along with drummer Skoota Warner, helped record the songs on Hot Tuna's newest album, "Steady as She Goes," released in 2011 on the Red House Records label.
Warner is the newest member of Hot Tuna, joining in 2009. Like many in the world of blues-inspired music, Warner's relationship with music began in church in his hometown of Newnan, Ga. Gospel provided a soulful foundation for him — by age 11, he was touring with emerging gospel groups. He joins Hot Tuna for the full-band shows.
Mitterhoff — a good fit for Hot Tuna — is a bluegrass and folk veteran who's worked with Tony Trischka, Skyline, Hazel Dickens and Bottle Hill.
"Mitterhoff has played with us for the last 10 years," Casady says. "He plays tenor guitar, banjo and baritone mandolin. He brings a huge, versatile aspect to our playing."
While playing with Jefferson Airplane — putting together the "soundtrack of the '60s" — Kaukonen and Casady never let go of their blues and folk roots. The pair played together, working on sets of songs they'd perform in San Francisco Bay Area clubs — often after performing with Jefferson Airplane.
In 1970, Hot Tuna received good reviews for its acoustic shows without Jefferson Airplane at a music hall called Pepperland in California's Marin County — news that it could survive without the other band supporting it. As Jefferson Airplane stopped touring, Hot Tuna became an independent group featuring drummer Sammy Piazza and fiddler Papa John Creach. This lineup was documented on the album "First Pull Up, Then Pull Down," recorded live in 1971 at Chateau Liberte, a club near Santa Cruz, Calif.
Studio albums "Burgers" and "The Phosphorescent Rat" followed in 1972 and 1973, respectively, with Creach leaving before "Rat" was recorded.
It was the launch of an odyssey that has continued for decades, always finding new and interesting turns in its path. Album has followed album — more than two dozen in all — with "Steady as She Goes" in the lead, a record that has the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers reflecting on their past and present lives.
"It will be an easygoing show (at the Rogue Theatre)," Casady says. "It will be an intimate, acoustic version of songs from our extensive catalog."