By MIKE CHAIKEN
Fifty years for one career is a long time for any vocation.
And to keep plugging along in that career into your seventh decade of life is also an incredible feat.
But Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen have been cooking along as musicians since the 1950s when they started off as folk musicians—and they keep plugging away in probably what is their best known entity, Hot Tuna.
Hot Tuna comes to the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut on Dec. 4.
Casady and Kaukonen – along with a slew of special guests— celebrated Kaukonen’s 75th birthday with a concert this past summer at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Casady himself is celebrating his 70th birthday.
In a phone call from Arlington, Va. several months ago—where he had just finished the Lockn’ Festival, Casady was asked what his younger self might have said if someone told him that he’d still be making music into his 70s.
Casady said he doubted his young self would have been surprised.
When he was growing up, Casady said his musical heroes came from the worlds of folk, jazz, and classical music. “They’d play and play (no matter their age),” said Casady, “and they’d get better.”
“Only in rock do you burn brightly (and fade away),” said Casady.
“I always wanted to be a musician,” said Casady, who met Kaukonen when he was 18 while Casady was 15. “At 15, I knew I wanted to do it as a living.”
And although his parents would have liked him to choose a more traditional career, Casady said they gave him their support as he pursued music.
It’s proven to be a fruitful and creative endeavor. As the years have progressed, Casady has had a chance to play with some of the greatest stars of rock and roll.
“I’ve been so blessed,” said Casady of the many musicians he worked with that have helped him grow as an artist.
Casady’s career has been long but his friendship with his Hot Tuna partner has been just as long. They were folkies together first. Then they found themselves as members of Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”). Then from the Airplane, the duo constructed Hot Tuna.
Asked what was it about the chemistry between he and Kaukonen that has kept the partnership burning all these decades, Casady said, “We draw from each other on stage.”
Both do well individually, explained Casady.
Casady explained, as a solo artist, Kaukonen is the complete musician. He can sing. He can write music. He can write his lyrics. And musicially, his guitar can take on each necessary role for a song.
But together as Hot Tuna, said Casady, Kaukonen and he become an entirely different entity.
“We both are enthusiastic to see what we can still develop on stage… we’re as excited to be on stage every night— just as we were when we started out,” said Casady.
With separate solo careers, Jefferson Airplane, and Hot Tuna in their repertoire, Casady and Kaukonen have a treasure trove of songs to cull from.
When it comes time to figure out what to play on tour, Casady said he and Kaukonen know the set list will be heavy into the blues.
But from there, he said, things are in flux.
“Jorma does a master list and we review it together,” said Casady. Looking back on their catalogue of tracks, Casady said they’ll try to figure out what songs “excite us at the moment.” Then, when it comes to stepping in front of the audience… well… things will change based on the crowd.
At Lockn’, Casady and Kaukonen were part of an ensemble that celebrated the music of Jefferson Airplane.
To prepare for the set, even though he created the music, Casady said he had to do a little research on what it was exactly he played.
Casady said it was interesting to hear the 25-year-old Jack Casady playing in his earphones.
As he listened to his younger self, Casady said he found a good deal of admiration for what he heard. Casady said he found himself often exclaiming, “Did I really do that?”
“I was impressed with how hard I was working to make things interesting,” said Casady.
“I really got excited about it,” said Casady of the prospect of revisiting the material.
During the rehearsal process for Lockn’, Casady said he called Grace Slick—the now retired lead singer of the Airplane. The two are still friends after all these years.
Casady said, he told Slick, “I want to say thank you for writing these great songs that let me do this.”
“There were really interesting chord changes and really interesting lyrics,” said Casady of Slick’s songwriting.
As for what’s next for Hot Tuna, Casady noted that Kaukonen recently released a solo album (“Ain’t in No Hurry”) in which he played.
“In the not too distant future,” added Casady, he expected there will be a new Hot Tuna album as well.
Hot Tuna will bring its acoustic set to the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Rd., Ridgefield on Friday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $57.
For more go to RidgefieldPlayhouse.org or HotTuna.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.