Though inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as members of psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, bass player Jack Casady and guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen’s distinguished, decades-long music careers have included time with many bands, touching on many genres. As a duo, they are known as Hot Tuna, and this season their acoustic tour of the East Coast will bring them to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, December 5.
“It was really a great period of time of music for us and we revisited that from time to time,” Casady says of their years with Jefferson Airplane. “But at the same time, Hot Tuna gave us that artistic direction that is closer to home, and Jorma and I can appreciate that. Aside from four years or so in the late ’70s when we didn’t play together much, we’ve been together almost as long as since we started Jefferson Airplane.”
There is an oft-repeated story about Casady that speaks to his mastery of the bass guitar. While playing with his former modern rock band SVT, he wrapped his hand in tape to simplify his playing style, which normally employs all of his fingers.
Casady, calling from his home in Saint Helier, a parish of the Bailiwick of Jersey off the coast of Normandy, confirms that the story is true, though says its significance is overstated.
“That was an incident one time about—let’s see—38 years ago,” he says. “You have to be careful when you do all your sleuthing on the internet.”
Casady was playing bass with a thumb pick, and wanted to change the way he would approach the syncopation with his first four fingers. “In order to convince myself not to think in that way, to think in downbeats all the time, I used my thumb, like a country musician. And there were a couple times when I was practicing that I taped them so I wouldn’t get frustrated and start using those fingers.”
His prowess with a bass guitar is so renowned that Epiphone has licensed his name since 1998 for the Jack Casady Signature Bass. On this tour, he is playing Diana, an acoustic bass named for his late wife and built by guitar maker Tom Ribbecke.
Hot Tuna is best known as a blues rock band, but over the years has taken turns in the direction of hard rock, traditional rock, heavy metal, etc. Casady appreciates the challenge of trying a new approach to music, and entering a different mindset.
“Don’t box yourself in by only listening to one kind of music,” he advises.
Casady attributes his diverse tastes to his youth. He grew up in Washington, D.C., and had access to the Library of Congress’ record collection.
“Since I was 12 years old I’d go down to the Library of Congress and search out music,” he recalls. “You could take out records. Then they were 78s. This is 1956, ’57. I would listen to music from around the world…that I that couldn’t get access to normally, but I could get access to because I was curious.”
He consumed classical music and jazz, from the solo players to big bands. He admired how musicians composed and played. Living in D.C. also exposed him to Appalachian music and its signature: guitar, five-string banjo, mandolin and fiddle.
“All of that left an indelible mark on me, and at the same time I would love the tradition of a classical piece,” Casady says.
Casady is still an avid fan of hard-to-find music, but now he surfs the internet to sate his appetite. ”There is so much opportunity for the inquisitive mind, no matter what field you apply yourself in, to search out information,” he says. He downloads compilations of European and world music, 30 to 40 songs at a time. ”Maybe I’m only attracted by a small percentage of them, but that’s where I find different, new musicians that I wouldn’t normally get to hear.”
Hot Tuna performs at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St, Westhampton Beach, on Saturday, December 5, at 8 p.m. For tickets ($73, $88, $103) call 631-288-1500, whbpac.org.