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Hot Tuna is an American band, formed by bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen as an acoustic (and occasionally electric blues) spin-off of Jefferson Airplane. According to the liner notes on the 1977 Jefferson Airplane compilation album, Flight Log, Kaukonen and Casady originally wanted to call their band "Hot Shit," but RCA executives intervened and convinced the duo to give their band the less offensive name. Ironically, the band's fans often refer to them loudly as "Hot Fucking Tuna." Even Airplane lead vocalist Grace Slick, who joined the two on stage for their performance of "Third Week in the Chelsea" during the Airplane's 1989 reunion tour, introduced the pair with the middle expletive.
At first Hot Tuna used to open Airplane concerts and afforded Kaukonen and Casady the opportunity to further explore and develop their love of traditional blues music. As Jefferson Airplane slowly wound down in the early 1970s, the splinter group, to whom live performance was always of prime importance, became a new musical entity in its own right.
Their early repertoire was derived mainly from American country blues artists such as Rev. Gary Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Bo Carter and Arthur Blake (Blind Blake). Originally a duo, Casady and Kaukonen added Will Scarlett on harmonica and released a live album in 1970, Hot Tuna. This album was recorded in the fall of 1969 at the New Orleans House in Berkeley and is affectionately known by Tunaphiles as the "breaking glass album", because of the sound of breaking beer glasses during the recording of "Uncle Sam Blues". This LP was followed by a long series of well received albums that played mostly to a small but devoted cult following. Aside from the eight year breakup after 1978, Hot Tuna have continued to perform to the present day.
Following the release of the eponymous debut album, the band went electric and added violinist Papa John Creach and Texan drummer Sammy Piazza and issued the album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down recorded live at the Chateau Liberte, Santa Cruz, CA, in April 1971. The studio albums Burgers (1972) and Phosphorescent Rat (1973) followed. These two albums featured compositions mainly of Kaukonen original material and included some of the guitarist's most delicate and poetic works. David Crosby sung supporting vocals on the Burgers track "Highway Song", and keyboards player Nick Buck made his first appearance on what would become a semi permanent tenure during the 1970s.
The year 1974 marked a departure from their primarily bluesy, acoustic style when TUNA morphed into a heavy rock band. The albums America's Choice (1975), Yellow Fever (1975), and Hoppkorv (1976), showcase a power trio with the addition of new drummer Bob Steeler.This trilogy is referred to by the group as their "Rampage years". Kaukonen's electric guitar playing was exceptionally multi-layered as evidenced by the solos on "Funky #7" and "Serpent of Dreams" on America's Choice. This style continued on Yellow Fever on tracks such as "Song for the Fire Maiden", "Sunrise Dance with the Devil" and the closing number "Surphase Tension". Hot Tuna live performances during this period were typified by freeflow improvisational jams and very long sets (up to six hours uninterrupted) with extended versions of their studio material. They are often considered a forerunner of modern jam bands, such as Phish.
After the release of the double live album Double Dose in 1977 and the compilation Final Vinyl in 1978, Casady and Kaukonen went their separate ways and pursued short lived careers in the new wave bands SVT and Vital Parts, respectively. They re-formed Hot Tuna in the mid-1980s with guitarist and producer Michael Falzarano. Their first album of all new material in almost 14 years was 1990s Pair of Dice Found with New Yorker Harvey Sorgen playing drums. Kaukonen and Falzarano both contributed original songs.
Throughout the 1990s, Tuna again alternated between acoustic and electric styles. The two Sweetwater albums were predominantly acoustic sets with guests Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, singer Maria Muldaur and ex-Jefferson Starship keyboards player Pete Sears; the latter was to join the group on a permanent basis during the decade. The 1997 release Live in Japan was in many ways reminiscent of the very first Hot Tuna album, having a minimalistic sound and being recorded live at a tiny venue (Stove's in Yokohama). Falzarano stayed with the band until 2002 when he left to release and promote his solo album The King James Sessions, which also featured Pete Sears.
Other musicians have come and gone over the group's several incarnations, as Hot Tuna has always been a fluid aggregation, but the name "Hot Tuna" has essentially become shorthand for "Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen". Most recently (2004-2006), they have toured with multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Erik Diaz. In April 2006, Hot Tuna appeared at Merlefest, America's largest folk music festival.
Throughout the band's history they garnered much fan support based on their pro-taping policy, allowing fans to record their live shows. Recently (July 2006) the band has changed their stance, no longer permitting taping.
As former members of Jefferson Airplane, Kaukonen and Casady are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.