Since their youth, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have loved making music together. So much so that while becoming part of rock music history with the Jefferson Airplane, the two formed HOT TUNA. With this new collaboration, Kaukonen and Casady gave themselves an outlet to perform the blues and roots music they both loved so much.
Known for live shows where energy and musicianship take center stage, HOT TUNA did not disappoint when the group played the Grand Opera House in Wilmington on Sunday February 13. The current group features core members Kaukonen and Casady, along with mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff, singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, blues-harp player Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist G. E. Smith (known to many as the highly talented former bandleader of “Saturday Night Live”) and drummer Skoota Warner.
The evening began in a relaxed fashion with Kaukonen, Casady and Mitterhoff onstage in chairs playing an acoustic set. The tone was set when they led off with the classic Rev. Gary Davis blues tune “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Three songs later the trio went into “Things That Might Have Been,” a new tune that will be coming out on an all new Hot Tuna album Steady As She Goes being released April 5.
Charlie Musselwhite and his blues-harp joined in with his version of “Come Back Baby”. Then the stage got a little more crowded when G. E. Smith came on to lead the group in “I Know You Rider,” during which he teased the crowd with a brief sample of his guitar virtuosity.
Rounding out the acoustic set, singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale provided the next four songs. Starting out with “Trashcan Tomcat” and weaving in “Alligator Alley” from his latest release Patchwork River.
After a short break the amps were fired up and Kaukonen, Casady, Mitterhoff, Smith and Warner began the electric portion of the evening. This was when the aforementioned musicianship was revealed in all its glory. Mitterhoff proved to be masterful on the mandolin when he soloed on the Lightnin’ Hopkins classic “Come Back Baby,” which opened the set.
Next up, Jorma, Jack and the band offered another new tune from the upcoming Steady As She Goes, the ballad “Goodbye To The Blues.” G. E. Smith tore it up on slide guitar during “Too Much Talk.”
After that Charlie Musselwhite joined the band, and suddenly we were hearing Chicago style blues, a la Junior Wells, or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
For the finale HOT TUNA reprised “Come Back Baby,” but this time it turned into a major blues jam with everybody getting a solo, including bassist Jack Casady, who showed that the bass can carry the show.
This iteration of HOT TUNA, with Charlie Musselwhite, Jim Lauderdale and G.E. Smith continues touring through March 11, and if audiences get the kind of performance seen in Wilmington then the band’s reputation will remain firmly intact, if not grow.
HOT TUNA’s Steady As She Goes, a CD of all new, original songs is to be released on April 5. HOT TUNA has graciously given STAGE Magazine fans a sneak preview of one of the songs being released – click the link below to listen to a sampling of “Easy Now Revisited”…and be sure to visit the band’s website for info on the CD and upcoming tours: http://hottuna.com
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