Hot Tuna, Cool blues

May 30, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

As a kid, Jack Casady and friends would venture forth from his home turf in Washington, D.C., in search of adventure.

Of particular interest was a rock quarry in Dickerson, Md., which offered a right of passage involving a jump into the quarry 65 feet below.

Included in the adventures were forays through Hagerstown.

"I remember," he says, "a lot of corn fields out there."

This Saturday afternoon corn will make way for Tuna. The Original Acoustic Hot Tuna, actually. Casady forms one half of the duo, joined by childhood pal Jorma Kaukonen for an appearance at the Western Maryland Blues Fest.


Initially gaining fame as founders of Jefferson Airplane, the two musicians pursued Hot Tuna just as long, forsaking the former for the latter in the early '70s.

They have parlayed the career move into a cottage industry, touring as Hot Tuna while continuing to blaze new musical trails that keeps their nearly five decade partnership fresh.

Kaukonen has played the festival before, and remains a popular regional draw. Festival co-founder Carl Disque says bringing Hot Tuna to Hagerstown is a way to introduce listeners to musicians who played, along with acts such as the Rolling Stones, an integral role in melding blues with rock in the 1960s.

"They're our idols now, and it really shows how blues influenced rock 'n' roll," he says.

Hot Tuna mixes blues with country, folk, Appalachian music. You have to, Casady says, to remain engaged musically.

"Many genres you drift in and out of as you develop your own approach. Pigeonholing comes later," he says. "The labeling can get to be quite confining to an extent."

So, to keep their batteries charged, the duo maintain a robust - and more importantly, diverse - schedule.

Kaukonen has a series of concert dates lined up this summer. He also has the ongoing Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp in southeast Ohio where he teaches the craft to novices and more accomplished players.

Casady teaches at Fur Peace throughout the year, and has a couple of producing projects on tap this summer that allow him to hone his craft.

"I taught earlier in my career and then didn't have much knowledge and did it mostly as a means to support myself but at the same time I enjoyed seeing people get it and see it come together. Now I pull on the resources I've gotten over the years," he says.

"I have different abilities I can bring to the picture to help people with their music and gain confidence in themselves. You start reinvesting in your own knowledge and rethinking and breaking down yourself to help others."

The key, Casady figures, is balance.

Aside from an early '80s break, he and Kaukonen have been playing together for 35 years. It's an impressive run, but not necessarily one they sit back and reflect upon.

"I don't think you think about those sort of things," he says of longevity. "Allowing ourselves to do different things allows us each to bring more to it when we come back together. And there's no doubt there's a mutual appreciation for why we do this in the first place.

"We're just learning to bring some of the joy we feel about all this into the music."

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