Hot Tuna is an American blues-rock band, formed by bassist Jack Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane. They play acoustic and electric versions of original and traditional blues songs.
Following the release of the eponymous debut album, the band went electric, adding fellow Airplane bandmates Marty Balin and Joey Covington on lead vocals and drums, respectively. This configuration was dominated by the latter two's soul-rock compositions and opened most shows for the parent band throughout late 1969 and 1970. After a string of disastrous concerts in Jamaica (from which a live album was to be compiled) marked by flaring tensions between Balin and Kaukonen - a portion of the group's advance earmarked for the singer had already been spent without his consent - Casady and Kaukonen briefly resumed their acoustic performances. In the autumn of 1970, they returned to the electric band format, adding violinist Papa John Creach and Texan drummer Sammy Piazza. This line-up was documented on the album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down (1971), recorded live at the Chateau Liberte (a nondescript club favored by the band) in Santa Cruz. The studio albums Burgers (1972) and The 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 sang 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 Hot 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 free-flow improvisational jams and very long sets (up to six hours uninterrupted) with extended versions of their studio material. Because of this, they are often considered a forerunner of modern jam bands, such as Phish.
After the release of the double live album Double Dose in 1978 and the compilation Final Vinyl in 1979, 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 1990's Pair a 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-Rod Stewart, 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. In 2007, they played at Bonnaroo. Throughout the band's history they garnered much fan support based on their pro-taping policy, allowing fans to record their live shows. In July 2006 the band changed their stance and no longer permits taping.
In 2004 Eagle Records re-mastered and re-released Live in Japan, Live at Sweetwater and Live at Sweetwater Two with some new tracks that hadn't been included on the Relix releases and some tracks removed.