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Q&A with Hot Tuna's guitarist Jorma Kaukonen

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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For more than 50 years, musicians Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have performed together. As members of the rock band Jefferson Airplane, the pair performed at now legendary music festivals, including the Monterry Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969.

In 1969, while Jefferson Airplane was on a hiatus, the pair formed Hot Tuna. It will perform at 8 p.m. today in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. The Daily Iowan sat down with Kaukonen to talk about the band's music and the Iowa City show this weekend.

Daily Iowan: Where does the name Hot Tuna come from?

Jorma Kaukonen: It comes from a Blind Boy Fuller song called "Keep On Truckin' Momma." It has a lyric, "What's that smell like fish, oh baby," some wag in the automobile said, "Hot tuna," and we thought it sounded like a good idea for a band name.

DI: Hot Tuna has recorded one studio album in the last 20 years — why do you prefer performing live?

Kaukonen: Well, we didn't really think about it one way or the other. You know, you do shows, and people say how about a live album? And if you have tapes, why not put it out? We just didn't have a record deal for many years; we were doing a lot of independent stuff and doing live albums is cheap.

DI: You and Jack Casady have played music together for many years — what keeps you from retiring?

Kaukonen: Since 1958. Jack is my oldest friend, and we've always respected each other as men and artists. We disagree about a lot of stuff, but we've never had an argument, and we love to play music together.

DI: After more than 50 years how do you manage to still be creative and make music that is still relevant?

Kaukonen: Interesting. I can't answer to the relevance, because relevance is in the ear of the listener. I guess we're lucky there. Our source material tends to be very rootsy and more timeless than pop music — we're not really a pop band. And so we like to think what we do, because we're dealing with the landscape of human emotion, is sort of timeless. But as far as playing together, interesting things are always happening, and that keeps it fresh.

DI: Maybe interesting things keep happening because of your talent. You've been listed as one of the best guitarists ever; how do you react to something like that?

Kaukonen: It's obviously very flattering to hear somebody say that; there are an awful lot of good guitar players in the world, so I hesitate to say that myself. But to have people like and respect your work is truly a blessing.

DI: What is next for Hot Tuna?

Kaukonen: That's a good question. We are still working out Steady as She Goes album, it's been out for a little over a year now. And at the end of this summer we're probably going to start thinking about not waiting another 20 years and going back into the studio again.

— by Jordan Montgomery


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