Saturday, January 8, 2011
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady Performance History, January-February 1969 (early Hot Tuna)
January 2, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jorma Kaukonen/AB Skhy
The Jefferson Airplane were San Francisco's biggest homegrown rock band, but after three frenzied years of touring and recording, they took a well-deserved rest at the end of 1968. Grace Slick had had an operation on her vocal chords in December, so she was prevented from singing. The Airplane couldn't tour, but they focused on beginning work on their next album, which turned out to be Volunteers. However, local Airplane fans must have been surprised to see that guitarist Jorma Kaukonen was listed as a performer at the tiny Matrix club on Thursday, January 2, 1969. I have every reason to believe this show to be the first public performance of what would later be known to this very day as the band Hot Tuna.
Jorma and Jack
Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady had been playing together since they were teenagers in Washington, DC in the late 1950s. Kaukonen had insisted that Casady join the Airplane as bass player in late 1965 without, in fact, having heard him play bass. No matter. Casady turned out to be one of the great electric bassists in rock. While other members of the Airplane came from a folk singing background, Jorma and Jack were more about playing. During downtime on the road, they would play together in their hotel rooms, with Jorma's elaborate fingerpicked acoustic guitar winding in and out with Jack's tasteful electric bass playing.
The two musicians decided that the Airplane simply didn't play enough, and apparently decided in late 1968 to start playing local clubs themselves, rather than trying to goad the other band members to perform more often. Since Grace had already had her operation (reported by Ralph Gleason in the January 8 Chronicle), early 1969 seemed like a great opportunity to get started. Although the Thursday night Matrix show was billed as "Jorma Kaukonen," there's every reason to assume Jack Casady played along with him. However, up until now this show seems to have been ignored by historians, and I know of no tapes or eyewitnesses.
January 9-12, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: County Joe and The Fish/Led Zeppelin/Taj Mahal
Country Joe and The Fish had had difficulties filling their bass chair (Bruce Barthol was in England avoiding the draft, and replacement Mark Ryan had fallen ill), so Jack Casady filled in for some December dates. He also played the four nights at Fillmore West that proved to be the last stand of the most famous configuration of the band. One night of the concert stand (either January 11 or 12) was recorded and ultimately released in 1994 (as Live! Fillmore West 1969). Since CJF was breaking up, in a manner of speaking, all their friends showed up: Steve Miller, Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen sat in for a 30+ minute version of "Donovan's Reef."
Of course, many of the lucky fans attending these shows were still recovering from the blazing performance by the opening act, the then thoroughly unknown Led Zeppelin, just a dozen shows into their first American tour, with only advance copies of their first album available. It's telling, however, that on a night when Jack Casady had another gig, Jorma showed up to jam anyway.
January 27-29, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady/Morning Glory
Although there is no telling where Jorma and Jack may have popped up in the rest of January, the next sign of them that I have uncovered was a three night stand at The Matrix from Tuesday January 27 through Thursday January 29. A tape has survived from the January 29, and that is the earliest "Hot Tuna" performance on record (I am using quotes since they would not use the name Hot Tuna until quite some time in the future).
The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore Street in the Marina District, was San Francisco's primary hangout for hippie musicians. It was actually a pizza parlor that served beer, rather than a bar per se, and dancing was not actually allowed (by law). The Matrix had opened in August 1965, owned by Marty Balin, his father and some other partners, and it had been the first place to favor adventurous electric "folk-rock." The Fillmore and the Avalon and other places came along the next year, of course, but they were concert halls rather than clubs, so the musicians used the Matrix as a place to play on off-nights and hang out and jam as well. In the late 1960s, even in tolerant San Francisco, there still weren't that many places where longhairs felt comfortable relaxing, so the Matrix filled the bill nicely.
The Matrix was also the favored stop for bands that were new in town, or newly formed. The Matrix was also the preferred venue--practically the only one--for band members who wanted to try something outside of their usual groups. Since a lot of Matrix material was taped (I'm happy to say), we have at least some idea of what went down, and some pretty weird music got played there. There were regular jam sessions, mainly on Monday nights but often other times as well. Tapes have endured of Jerry Garcia, Jack Casady and various other musicians having some particularly memorable jams in October 1968 (known for various reasons as the Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats tapes, even though they were billed as Jerry Garcia and Friends). So the Matrix was the obvious choice for Jorma and Jack's experiment in modern blues.
January 31, 1969: Londonside Tavern, Glen Ellen, CA: Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen, Wingnut Buckboldt
The most remarkably obscure performance I have been able to uncover is this booking at the Londonside Tavern in Glen Ellen. It was mentioned in Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column of that day (above). There is actually a typo in Gleason's listing, and the actual name of the venue is Londonside Tavern, not Longside. Bucolic Glen Ellen is in Northern Sonoma County, 50 very twisty miles from the Matrix. Famed writer Jack London had an estate up there, which is now a state park, and the "Londonside" reference of the venue refers to the writer rather than the Thames Estuary. I do not know where, precisely the Londonside Tavern was located, but Glen Ellen is not large now, and surely was even less so then.
Bay Area groups regularly played the Londonside Tavern in early 1969, but the venue mostly favored quieter and more folk oriented ensembles, like Berkeley's Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band or the very peculiar Golden Toad. Marin-based Golden Toad seems to have had a Sunday night residency for much of early 1969. The Golden Toad mostly played somewhat medieval music on lutes and such, mostly playing Renaissance Faires during the Summer. Their leader was Bob Thomas, an old compatriot of Owsley's, and among many other accomplishments Thomas created the Grateful Dead "Lightning Bolt" logo.
Thus, while it is indeed strange that Jorma and Jack played a show in tiny Glen Ellen, the little venue was part of the circuit of local club bands. The surprising part, in the end, was that Jorma and Jack would go against entertainment business convention and play such small venues even though they were presumably "stars." This interesting pattern would be followed by Jerry Garcia several months later when he played numerous smaller rock clubs with the New Riders of The Purple Sage at the end of 1969.
February 17-19, 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen/Elvin Bishop Group (17), Weird Herald (18-19)
Jack and Jorma returned for three more shows at The Matrix in mid-February. It seems odd that Elvin Bishop was also booked on Monday night (Feb 17), which I take to mean that Jack and Jorma were added to the bill at the last minute. Weird Herald were an excellent San Jose band. Although their surviving single is sort of folkie, their actual sound was pretty psychedelic and hard driving. The group featured two old friends of Jorma on guitars, Billy Dean Andrus and Paul Ziegler, along with bassist Chuck Bollinger and drummer Patrick McIntire. The band was well regarded in San Jose, and according to McIntire, a long-dormant recording may yet see the light of day.
Weird Herald had other impacts on the history of Hot Tuna. Weird Herald broke up in early 1970, and Paul Ziegler joined Hot Tuna as rhythm guitarist for a while. He took part in some abortive recording projects, but there is little evidence today of his time in the band. Andrus, who had gone on to form the group Pachuco with Moby Grape's Skip Spence, died under unfortunate circumstances in November 1970. Jorma promptly wrote the song "Ode To Billy Dean," and Hot Tuna performs the song to this day (the Doobie Brothers's Pat Simmons, another friend, wrote "Black Water" in Andrus's honor as well). To my knowledge, these two Matrix shows are the only time that Billy Dean Andrus played on a bill with Jorma Kaukonen after the Jefferson Airplane formed.
Jorma and Jack ended the week by playing two Friday night shows at UC Berkeley's Bear's Lair coffee shop, another typical stop on the local folk-rock circuit. The Bear's Lair was (and is) in the basement of the Student Union building (Pauley Ballroom is two floors above it). Although I'm sure the room has been remodeled numerous times over the years, the basic contours of the building haven't changed. The basement coffee shop is a tiny room now, and it would have been a tiny room then. It's remarkable to think that Jorma and Jack played two shows in a place about the size of two classrooms.
I am not yet aware of any March Jorma and Jack performances. In any case, the Airplane would have been recording Volunteers in earnest and gearing up for a tour (did they play that March 8 show in Hawaii mentioned above?), so there would have been less downtime anyway. Yet by the time Jorma and Jack recorded the first acoustic Hot Tuna album in September, 1969 at the New Orleans House, it turns out that they had been performing live since January, for the lucky few who were able to catch them.