Hot Tuna performs at City Winery in DC on Nov. 27, 2018. (Photo by Chester Simpson)
Hot Tuna and Hot Plates at City Winery DC
Upon my arrival in San Francisco in August 1975, I heard of a free concert by Hot Tuna in Parkside Square. So with my friends, I traveled to see my favorite Jefferson Airplane musicians — guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady.
During that first time I saw them, the gents shared a sort of mystic chemistry, which remained in tact at their recent show at City Winery.
For great music and photos during the mid-’70s, San Francisco was the place to be and see all. We where not disappointed in the least see Hot Tuna for the first time onstage in their home city — although let it be said that Jorma and Jack first met as young men in DC!
The thundering trio of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (who both quit The Airplane in 1973), along with new drummer Bob Steeler, hit you in the face with their sounds. In 1975, Hot Tuna released two studio albums, “Yellow Fever” and its immediate predecessor, America’s Choice.
After the concert, I approached Jack with a request for a photo beside the ol’ Hot Tuna car and he honored it, and that photo became my first picture published in Rolling Stone Magazine. I became friends with the band, and I took pictures of several of Jorma and Jack’s Hot Tuna shows over the years in San Francisco.
At one time, Jack started hanging out at the Mabuhay Gardens, a punk rock club in the city, and he even started a punk band called SVT. They where a power pop/new wave band with Brian Marnell, Bill Gibson, Paul Zahl, and Nick Buck. Around this time, I acquired a taste for Stolichnaya Vodka because Jack would always bring a bottle with him and shared it backstage.
I ended up doing the promo shots of SVT back then and went to over 15 shows because they where so hot live. Brian Marnell, lead guitarist for SVT, and a power in his own right, died of a heroin overdose and that was the end of that. The band changed its name to the Yanks and powered on briefly, then Jack left the project to return to performing with Jorma in Hot Tuna.
Jorma and Jack’s ongoing collaboration in Hot Tuna, as a blues band, started when two kids from ‘50s DC knew that they wanted to make music. Jorma Kaukonen, son of a State Department official, and Jack Casady, whose father was a dentist, discovered guitar when they were teenagers (Jack, four years younger, barely so). They played, and they took in the vast panorama of music available in the nation’s capital, but they found a special love of the blues, country, and jazz played in small clubs.
Listen to Hot Tuna Live at State Theatre in Ithaca, New York, on Sept. 27, 2018 on Spotify:
So after all these years, to see and hear Hot Tuna perform at the City Winery was like having them show up in your living room. And what a pleasure it was.
Earlier in the day, Jorma and Jack (now a duo) performed for Sirius XM and specifically on Paul Schaffer’s show. Jorma observed they talked so much during the show that they didn’t get to perform “Hesitation Blues,” presented on Hot Tuna’s self-titled 1970 debut album, so they would play it for us now. “Thank you!” exclaimed a man seated in the very crowded audience. “You’re welcome,” grinned Jorma in response.
Each of the men turns to shine throughout the set. Jorma performed a smashing solo during “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here,” originally by the Rev. Gary Davis and recorded by Hot Tuna on 1972’s Burgers. Jack showcased a truly virtuoso bass on “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” a traditional gospel blues song recorded by Hot Tuna on the band’s 1971 sophomore album, First Pull Up Then Pull Down. Although Hot Tuna’s music certainly instilled a sense of loneliness, Hot Tuna also infused it with a remarkable sense of inclusiveness, buoyed by Jorma’s warm voice. It is music you could listen to all day long, regardless of your environment.
As is customary with City Winery, Hot Tuna lent their name to a collaboration wine on sale on Nov. 27 — a syrah rose. I didn’t partake of the rose myself, but I did enjoy a spot of City Winery’s Meritage blend, a delightfully dark red wine suitable for colder climes. With grapes from the North Coast of California, approximating a lovely Bordeaux vintage.
City Winery’s new winter menu offered fine nourishment in addition to its good wine. Ricotta Raviolo proved a surprisingly light and tasty dish. As its name reveals, the plate is one single large raviolo — but it is large enough to appease a hungry concert-goer. My dinner companion indulged in the Pork Chop Milanese, which came accompanied with roasted apples, sauteed swiss chard, and raisin mostarda. Although certainly heavier than the raviolo, the pork chop was pleasingly tender and gracefully spiced. The dishes alone made for a fine City Winery experience, and many in the bustling concert hall were dining alongside me.
Here are some pictures of Hot Tuna and hot plates at City Winery on Nov. 27, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Chester Simpson. At the bottom, catch a few of my photos of Hot Tuna in the ’70s — including that my very first photo for Rolling Stone of Jack and the Hot Tuna car.