Jack Casady talks Marty Balin, Hot Tuna and more before Clearwater concert

The Jefferson Airplane bassist and Jorma Kaukonen play Capitol Theatre on January 25.

click to enlarge Jack Casady (L) and Jorma Kaukonen, who play Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on January 25, 2018. - Kevin Tighe
Kevin Tighe
Jack Casady (L) and Jorma Kaukonen, who play Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on January 25, 2018.


Still hanging on to that tattered Jefferson Airplane T-shirt? Yeah? Then we’ll see you in downtown Clearwater for this Hot Tuna show where earplugs won’t be required since the boys — Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady — will be playing acoustic.

Kevin Tighe caught up with Casady to talk about his bands’ legacies, Kaukonen’s folk music and his late bandmate Marty Balin. Read the Q&A and get more info on the show below.

Hot Tuna (acoustic), Fri. Jan. 25, 8 p.m. $34.50 & up. Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. INFO.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I also want to give you early birthday greetings from your Florida fans who get to see you at some shows this spring.

Well my birthday is not until April 13, so we have a little bit of time. Yeah, we’re doing some shows at the beginning of April.

It’s a pretty big milestone.

Yeah, it is pretty much. It looks like, so far, I’m going to make it. 

You set a fine example.

Working on it, buddy. I’m working on it.   I did my six-mile hike this morning. I’m trying to shake off some of the road. We’ve been pretty much on the road for six weeks.

Pretty much on the road for six decades.

Yeah, well, there’s that. (laughs).

Hot Tuna will be touring through Florida in a few weeks with stops in Miami, Key West, Orlando and Clearwater. What can Hot Tuna fans expect from the upcoming shows?

The Hot Tuna shows will be acoustic Hot Tuna. We really look forward to it. Jorma and I have really enjoyed the close work together as our original layout for Hot Tuna was acoustic guitar and bass. I think the fans are going to get just a whole boatload of material and a good intimate concert. 

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Your Jefferson Airplane bandmate, Marty Balin, passed recently. He had a home here in Florida. Your thoughts on Marty’s impact on rock and roll?

He was right in the Tampa/St. Pete area.  Marty’s career  started early because of that golden voice of his. In the early 1960s he was produced as a solo artist I think by Columbia Records.  I think I even still have a 45 of that. He went from that world of folk music to ensemble folk music; the timing was right to come together with Paul Kantner and later Jorma and I. The great thing about Marty’s vocal and songwriting is, for me as a bass player, I got to play and try to write great bass material for the various styles that were in Jefferson Airplane. And so it gave me an emotional outlet that the other songwriters didn’t.

Those were the days when many people stayed in one flat. Later when we moved up a bit, he and I shared a flat on Fell Street right across from the Panhandle in San Francisco, so I watched him doing creative activities, painting and writing and whatnot and watched him work. We got to hang out. Musically, we didn’t play a lot together because Marty primarily used the guitar as chordal background for writing his songs, so it wasn’t like the interaction I had with Jorma on that sort of musical level. But, that being said, I got to work with him and work off the song — and for a bass player to approach the song as a song entity. Marty gave me a little bit different of a canvas to work upon.  

You and Grace [Slick] have stayed in touch.

Grace is right down the hill from me so I see her pretty regularly. It’s interesting after a period of time to get to reflect upon on how intense that period of creativity was from 1965 to 1972.  

Florida has a lot of Dead Heads. Weren’t you in a group for a short time with Jerry Garcia and Micki Hart?

There wasn't a group, but in that period of time there was a fair  amount of downtime. We  weren't on the road all the time. We were a new band. We didn't have  that much work outside California, so there was a lot of downtime to jam around and play and visit different people. One of the unique things about San Francisco in that period, with the bands  that evolved there in the mid-’60s, was that  everybody pretty much knew  everybody. Musicians  were always hanging out with everybody. It was  competitive in the sense that you  always tried to do your best, but we all  listened to each other's music and the different approaches of the bands. I loved the  Quicksilver Messenger Service and, of course, The Grateful Dead. All those early bands. We went to each other's shows  and shared the same bills and hung out and  visited  each other's places.

There was a seismic shift in music in the 1960s. You were part of it. Your thoughts? 

You know there are always young people that are playing music. There are always different influences. There are always creative people out there. The one thing I will say is there's just a ton more of it now. There are more books. There’s more everything. I mean, yes, there's a certain uniqueness to that period of time. I think another musical artistic period of time was in the ‘20s when jazz came up. Visually, the late 1880s with impressionism. There’s the Beatnik era that came in for poetry and writing in the late 1950s. I think there are just periods that well up on their own, and they are usually spearheaded by young people that had very little influence on what happened before. I mean that's the grace of not having everything recorded and seeing everything done. Now, of course, the good news is that young kids who want to do research today are able to watch videos to see and hear many things of, say, the past 100 years. That's never been available before, that physical recording and visual aspect. It's going to be interesting to see how it develops in the future.

Last night a friend and I were discussing  whether or not the world  was a better place in the 1960s. Maybe, nothing has really  changed. 

Music, we just played our part, so to speak. There are these  monumental events that take place  periodically. Now we are all so much more aware of  everything going on in the world around us. Before we were much more  isolated because that was the nature of the  times. You're aware of so much more than before as far as strife, aggravation, the end of world, our  economy and  everything else. I think  it's a unique place in time now. Much more unique than it's ever been. That's why perhaps you can get easily  overwhelmed by  the mass of  knowledge that is heaped and thrown at you every day. We've never had this worldview.

Something happens halfway around  the world and we know about it almos t in real time.

Absolutely. And the influence is felt. The interlocking  influence of all the  economies, which is the basis of almost all movement in  society, I think, now is the real test. I'm almost 75 years old. Jorma just turned 78. We're  entering the last quarter of our lives so to speak, but those people who are young, who are 15  and 20 today. The  next 75-100 years for them; that's what's fascinating to me. The advancement of the physical things we use in daily life. At the end of the day they are all humans behind the computers. Technology can be used in a variety of ways as we are finding out. Doesn't necessarily  change  the nature of how humans think, how they lust for power, recognition or just advancement of their own interests. It doesn't  change the human  condition.

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The Guild bass you used at Woodstock and played on “Voodoo Child” with Jimi Hendrix and Steve Winwood was stolen almost 50 years ago but, you were recently reunited with it.

Isn't that great? I've always dabbled with instruments. I got that from my father who was a dentist. His hobby was electronics. We built my first amplifier together when I was 13; I had a Telecaster, which I bought with my newspaper route  money. It was a Tele I bought for $115 in 1958. I wish I had that guitar now. I like to improve the  fidelity of instruments. When I found the Guild it had some of the qualities I liked. My friend Owsley Stanley and I looked at the instrument. We put little preamps in it. We improved the circuitry, the quality, and I boosted the  power. That one got stolen. Ron Wickersham did the electronics on the second version of that bass which is in the  Rock and  Roll Hall of Fame. You can take a look there. That one wasn't as fancy, just sawed up with a couple  aluminum  plates.

That's what I loved about that  period of time. Lots of people contributed. Artists were drawing posters for the shows.  Seamstresses were designing clothes. I would go down to the fabric stores and pick out material and bring it to back to Jeannie [Franklyn, AKA Genie the Tailor] to make clothes out of. We all had fun with  that, and we kind of  created our own whole world and environment.

How did the original Guild bass end up back with you?

I put a little notice on my Facebook page a couple of years ago. I said, “Here's a picture of me playing bass at Woodstock.” I just did it as a fluke. I thought what the heck, you know? I was doing an interview where this gentleman and  I were talking about gear getting stolen or lost or whatever, and I said, “You know, really, I'm OK with it except, you know, just for emotional aspects I would love to have that Guild bass back.”

So I put a picture of it up there, and I got a call from Jorma who said, “Jack, somebody is going to call you and you don't know them. You won’t recognize the number. So make sure you answer the call.” So I answered the call, and the caller said, “You know, I think I have your bass. I bought it  years ago from a pawnshop”. And so I said,  “That's just fantastic. I'll pay you.” He wouldn't accept anything. A total gentleman.   Later on I sent him one of my new Signature bass guitars.

You were influenced early by jazz and classical music, but you have said it all goes back to folk music.

Yeah exactly. When I was younger the folk music was some of the most personal and descriptive of the times and what was going on. Not to mention politics; just what was going on around you and the hardships, or the pleasures, the little loves, or whatever. It’s such an intimate music. All the versions. It’s really is music of the folk, of the folk land, and I've always had that that connection with it.

Jorma has that deep connection and commitment to telling the story. That's what's unique about Jorma’s writing. Unlike so many writers he doesn't talk about Moon, June, Blue. He talks about things that affect him. Emotional things that affect him and music. And I draw from that, good lyrical content, in order to play the way I play bass. I have some jazz influences, but I don't try to play the style of jazz as my profession. I have classical influences because I appreciate the construction of classical music and writing, but I’m not playing classical music.   Folk music really reaches out to everybody. Jorma has a lot of writing, and he explains a lot in his new book called Been So Long.

I will have to get him to autograph my copy.

You can, it’s really fascinating. He can really write. I learned plenty about the man even though I’ve known him for over 60 years.

One last question. Do you think Jorma will ever call a band meeting?

Not if I can help it!

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