For those of you receiving this from my email list, I am trying something new – some graphics, photos and album covers to be specific, in hopes of enhancing the mailing. It doesn’t seem to work so, after my normal method, I have enclosed an attachment in its original two column format; my cousin tells me it is easier to read that way on his phone. Please let me know if you think they add to or distract from the writing. Any feedback would be appreciated. I like today’s lineup, all Blues but each with a slant all their own, lots of good music and source material for the write-ups.
Lately I have been acquiring CDs of Soulful male singers (and Aretha Franklin, too) instead of the strong instrumentalists I usually favor. We played Little Junior Parker a couple of shows ago, but he had been in my collection for quite a long time. Recent acquisitions I am anxiously waiting to build shows around include Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke, but I am now presenting you Mister Lou Rawls; so much great music, so few shows to fit it in! When I think of Lou, one word comes to mind: elegance.
Hot Tuna was a recent change as I had much of this done a while ago, otherwise I would have never been able to do as much carnage to my typing fingers in the two weeks since the last broadcast. A band about as local as you can get, I just figured their unique style was about the best complement to the rest of the show.
It is a rare occasion when, after completing my essay about an artist, I come away with the feeling that I know the person, and Taj Majal stands tall in that small crowd. Because of what I’ve learned, I believe that he cares deeply not only for his music but for his people, and his people are all of us.
I will be back again next Sunday with a strong grouping of British Blues Bands for my annual St. Patty’s Day “extravaganza”. enjoy
Here is a man who could sing the Blues with the best of them, put out Soul as powerful as Otis Redding, or croon his Pop as well as any of the “Sepia Sinatras”. In other words, whatever Lou Rawls laid down, he was in rarified air among his competitors. Born Louis Allen Rawls on December 1st 1933 in Chicago and raised by his grandmother on the city’s South Side, he began by singing in the Baptist choir from age seven and getting into Black secular vocalists such as Joe Williams, Arthur Prysock and Billy Eckstine as a teenager. He was in a Gospel harmony group called the teenage Kings of Harmony with schoolmate Sam Cooke before joining the Holy Wonders, then in 1951 took Cooke’s place in the Highway QCs.
Lou’s first recording dates were early in 1954, for Specialty Records with the Chosen Gospel Singers, after the group installed him as a member during a tour of Chicago the year before. He was also in the Pilgrim Travelers before enlisting in the Army in 1956 where he served as a paratrooper. Discharged in 1958, he rejoined the Travelers as they went on tour with Sam Cooke who, along with Lou, was in the car that crashed into a truck during the tour’s Southern leg. Cooke wasn’t hurt bad, but one passenger died and Rawls was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital but came out of a five and a half day coma, taking three months to fully regain his memory during his yearlong recuperation period.
Upon recovery, Lou opted to go the secular route and headed out to Los Angeles playing clubs, coffee houses and just about any place that would allow him on stage. He even got an acting role in an episode of the TV show 77 Sunset Strip before becoming better known. He was signed in 1962 to Capitol Records after producer Nick Venet heard him at a coffee shop near the label’s headquarters. We’ll hear most of his first album, Stormy Monday, with Les McCann’s Trio providing a great Jazzy backdrop for Bluesy Lou, in our second Rawls set. Also in 1962, he provided backup vocal on old friend Cooke’s song Bring It on Home to Me.
Subsequent albums found Lou backed by various ensembles including Big Bands, even strings, as Capitol sought out its niche for Rawls. On stage, Lou was developing opening monologues to some of his tunes, particularly to point out social injustices, which the audience soaked in along with the music. A couple of his raps can be heard on today’s opening set taken from his breakout Gold album,1966’s LIVE! That was also the year Rawls set his sights on a more R&B style with his album Soulin’ which featured Love is a Hurtin’ Thing, a tune that came close to the Pop Top Ten while climbing all the way to #1 R&B by year’s end.
Although 1967’s Dead End Street only got to #3 R&B, it garnered him his first Grammy for the Best R&B Vocal Performance. His next hit was the 1969 cover of Mabel Johns’ Your Good Thing (is about to End) and, despite a drop-off in album sales, he was still a popular entry on the TV variety shows and maintained a consistent presence in Vegas.
After a decade with Capitol, Rawls signed on with MGM, leading off with another major hit in the 1971 song Natural Man which earned him another Grammy after reaching the Top Twenty in both the Pop and R&B listings. Despite this, MGM was not pushing Lou in the direction he wanted to go, instead to more lightweight Pop fare, and they parted company in 1972. Rawls would remain without a label except for a brief stint with Bell Records before teaming up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International, leader of the highly orchestrated Philly Soul sound.
He had immediate success as the All Things in Time LP went Platinum on its ascent to the Top Ten, and its included single You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine reached the very top of the R&B charts and #2 in Pop. The song was bolstered by its additional approval in the Disco clubs. The followup Groovy People made it into the R&B Top Twenty and he remained one of the label’s top artists through the end of the decade, including 1977’s LP Unmistakably You bringing him his third Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance with its Top Ten R&B single See You When I Get There. Later in 1977 he was successful with the When You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard It All album and single Lady Love, winding up his charting for the label in 1979 with the title track from Let Me Be Good to You placing #11 R&B.
A new decade and a chance to help a favorite cause found Lou starting up the annual Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon which raised millions of dollars in the coffers of the United Negro College Fund. His work on the telethon had an unintended bonus feature in that it made it easy for him to play the role of the grand old man of Soul rather than seeking commercial success, which is not to say that he was resting on his laurels. He was signed to Epic Records between 1982 and 1986 but his heart was more in his telethon work and extensive touring of American military bases worldwide. A 1987 reunion with Gamble and Huff brought about Lou’s last chart entry in the single I Wish You Belonged to Me. He wound up the 80s with sessions at the legendary Jazz label Blue Note including the Grammy nominated At Last album in 1989.
Midway through the 90s, Lou was getting more acting roles in movies (Leaving Las Vegas) and on TV as well as voice over work in cartoons (Hey Arnold and Rugrats) which he got into when he sang on the Garfield specials. Most of his 90s releases were focused on holiday music, but his own label released the Jazzy album Season’s 4 You in 1998. He finally got around to his first solo Gospel album in 2001, I’m Blessed, followed the next year by Oh Happy Day. He also put out a 2003 tribute album, Rawls Sings Sinatra on Savoy Jazz. Lou Rawls passed away January 6th 2006 after a two year battle with cancer
Pictured:Taj Mahal in 2007
Our next artist differs from most of those I choose because, one: he is contemporary and I believe still performing, and two: Blues is just one of the musics he has advanced during his half century of performing. Another one of my all time favorite artists, he uses the stage name Taj Mahal but was born Henry St. Clair Fredericks on May 17th 1942 in Harlem, New York, then grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and did not endure many of the hardships generally associated with the early lives of most Bluesmen. Hopefully, this is a sign of improved racial conditions in the latter half of the 20th century and not just a singular situation. Like I said, hopefully. A multi-instrumentalist as well as vocalist, most frequently he can be heard playing guitar, piano, banjo or harmonica.
Taj was born into a musical family. His mother was a schoolteacher who sang Gospel in her church’s choir and his father was a Jazz arranger and piano man from the West Indies, working with Ella Fitzgerald (who called him The Genius) as one example. The Fredericks house was often the meeting place of musicians from the Caribbean and Africa as well as the US, so the young Henry was exposed to multiple genres of music as the family would listen to shortwave radio music broadcasts from all over the world. His parents got him Classical piano lessons and he also learned the clarinet, trombone and harmonica. His father ran his own construction company but, when Taj was eleven, was killed when a tractor overturned and crushed him. Within a couple of years, Taj’s mother wed a man who allowed the teenager to play his guitar. His first lessons came from Lynwood Perry, a kid his own age who had moved from North Carolina. Perry’s uncle was the well known Bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, author of the oft-recorded Its All Right including a version by Elvis Presley.
His musical tastes continued their diversity as he enjoyed and studied African music, became interested in the Jazz works by the likes of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson, and sang in a Doo Wop group in high school. When he was sixteen, Taj went to work at a dairy farm outside Springfield and by nineteen he was foreman. “I milked anywhere between thirty-five and seventy cows a day. I clipped udders. I grew corn. I grew Tennessee redtop clover. Alfalfa”…”You have a whole generation of kids who thinks everything comes out of a box and a can, and they don’t know you can grow most of your food.”
When Taj graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, majoring in animal husbandry and minoring in veterinary science and agronomy, he fully intended on becoming a farmer and his support of family farming has led him to performing often at Farm Aid events.
Around 1960, as he was starting college, Henry began going by the name Taj Mahal after his growing interest in Mahatma Ghandi, India, and the proper use of social tolerance. He headed up an R&B band, Taj Mahal and the Elektras, and also joined Jesse Lee Kincaid in a duo.
Kincaid and Taj were in Santa Monica in 1964 where they assembled the band Rising Sons, whose lineup at one point had Ry Cooder, future Byrds member Kevin Kelly and Ed Cassidy, soon to become better known as the drummer and co-founder of the band Spirit. The band signed with Columbia, but the label only released one single by the multiracial group, and there remained their legacy until, in 1992, Legacy Records released a CD with most if not all of the group’s sessions. In the band’s short lived heyday, they opened for Otis Redding, Sam the Sham, The Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas at L.A. hotspots like the Whiskey a Go Go and the Trip.
On the West Coast, Taj was also working with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Louis and Dave Myers, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, and Hammy Nixon. The last three were artists typical of a large number who first recorded in the 20s, got lost with the great depression (although Estes was able to record up to 1941) and restarted their careers in the Folk Blues Revival of the 50s, of whom Mahal spoke, “I was lucky enough to realize that during that time was the last window that those guys were going to be out. A young black man interested in their music, this was something that they felt real positive about, because they didn’t see this. I knew an awful lot of what they were playing, and this was very rare. I came to them on a level of correct reverence that they were ready to deal. I would take ‘em to some place where they could get some ribs and some beans and some peas and some rice and some greens and corn bread. Take ‘em to the barbershops and the places that they wanted to go and hang out; if you were hungry and want some ham hocks and lima beans, a hamburger is just not gonna make it.
“They were very open with me. What was going on for me, and I was very conscious of it, was that there was a transference of information from one generation to the next that would have actually skipped over me if I hadn’t been aware and culturally inclined … the majority of Afro-Americans at the time had no idea, were not even interested in these musicians, or were embarrassed that they existed. My mind said that there was something here bigger than that kind of emotional response to years of mistreatment and second class citizenship. It was a case of people throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I said I will just be bigger than all of this and not let these personal things throw me off the track of what I’m supposed to be doing.”
After the Sons broke up, Mahal remained with Columbia and put together a new band with Cooder and Jesse Edwin Davis, a Kiowa from Oklahoma and an accomplished studio guitarist. The ensemble cut three LPs: Taj Mahal in 1968, The Natch’l Blues in 1969 and, later that year the double album Giant Step and De Old Folks at Home. This is pretty much it for my collection, but Taj recorded a dozen albums for Columbia before departing in 1976. Towards the end of his time with the label, Taj began incorporating Jazz, Reggae, West Indian and other Caribbean musics into his repertoire.
“People are of the mind that I went to Jamaica, heard Jamaican music, and came back. No! Jamaican music was inside my house. My stepfather’s Jamaican. I spent a lot of time dancing to this music. When you’re raised with Marcus Garvey and Jazz and a different kind of political slant in your life that includes Blues and all these other things that are in and around it, you have a different kind of view of the whole diaspora, the African diaspora. To top that was growing up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, and within your own ethnic group there are different people from different cultures. You see the blend and you see the differences. You see it more as a tossed salad or a mosaic as opposed to a melting pot.”
After a hard earned rest and recuperation trip to Spain, 1970’s Happy Just to be Like I Am represented his first foray into Caribbean rhythms, then the next year’s 2LP live The Real Thing presented more of a New Orleans flavor including, on some tunes, a full tuba section. In 1968, Mahal appeared in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, a film that Jagger and Company were apparently not pleased with so it sat on some dusty shelf until the mid-90s DVD debut. In 1972 he wrote the Grammy nominated score and acted in the Cicely Tyson movie Sounder and served the same dual purposes in the sequel. Taj made three albums for Warner Bros. Records including the score for the 1977 movie Brothers, but tastes were changing as Heavy Metal and Disco were dominating the markets.
Taj took the slowdown as an opportunity to move to Kauai, Hawaii in 1981 where he formed the Hula Blues Band complete with Hawaiian influences, initially a bunch of guys getting together for fishing and fun. Then the group began to gig and tour regularly but they went relatively unnoticed through most of the decade until Gramavision recorded them in 1987 for the album Taj. 1988 saw Shake Sugaree, the first of three children’s books he wrote.
In the 90s he recorded for the Private Music label maintaining his knack for diversity as he played Blues, R&B, Pop and Rock. He collaborated with both Eric Clapton and Etta James in the decade. During the 90s, Taj also built strong ties with the Music Maker Relief Foundation, remaining on the nonprofit’s advisory board thru at least 2019 and probably currently. Taj earned another Grammy nomination in 1991 for the score for the play Mule Bone. Taj’s musical diversity continued, as exemplified by the 1993 album title World Music, then Mumtaz Mahal from 1995 teamed Taj with classical Indian musicians, while traditional Hawaiian music was the focus on the 1998 Sacred Island album with the Hula Blues Band
1997 brought him his first Grammy for Senor Blues as the Best Contemporary Blues Album. In 1998 he joined musicians including Cindi Lauper, Joan Osborne, the Chieftains, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm on Largo, an Americana album based on the works of Antonin Dvorak. His second Grammy was for Shoutin’ in Key in 2000 and, like his previous winner, it was recorded with the Phantom Band.
Taj found his time spent on the 1999 album Kulanjan, where he played along with Mali’s Griot singer Toumani Diabate, to be a profound experience, stating it “embodies his musical and cultural spirit arriving full circle”, indeed causing him to change his name to Dadi Kouyate. “After recording with these Africans, basically if I don’t play guitar for the rest of my life, that’s fine with me….With Kulanjan, I think that Afro-Americans have the opportunity to not only see the instruments and the musicians, but they also see more about their culture and recognize the faces, the walks, the hands, the voices, and the sounds that are not the blues. Afro-American audiences had their eyes really opened for the first time. This was exciting for them to make this connection and pay a little more attention to this music than before.” He also had contributions to Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti’s 2002 Red Hot and Riot, a compilation whose entire proceeds went to help fund AIDS charities.
Despite his other roots releases, Taj still has strong feelings towards his Blues. “You can listen to my music from front to back, and you don’t ever hear me moaning and crying about how bad you done treated me. I think that style of Blues and that type of tone was something that happened as a result of many white people feeling very, very guilty about what went down.” And, “The Blues is a tone that puts me in contact with a lot of things, culturally, spiritually, cosmically. I really enjoy it and I’m not going to let it go, because it’s that good.
In February of 2006, Taj became the official Blues Artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in March, along with his sister Carole Fredericks, took home the Foreign Language Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for their work towards intercultural communication. A compilation, The Essential Taj Mahal, was deemed by the Blues Music Awards to be the Historical Album of the Year and, as if all that wasn’t enough, 2006 also saw Taj contributing to Olmecha Supreme’s hedfoneresonance album. The group’s leader was his son, Ahmen Mahal (AKA Imon Starr) and included Deva Mahal, possibly Ahmen’s wife or sister.
In 2008, Taj’s Maestro was boosted by an all star cast of cameos including Diabate, Angelique Kidjo, Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, becoming a nominee for Best Contemporary Blues Album; in all he has ten Grammy nominations throughout his career.
In May 2011, Mahal was the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree from Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He appeared in the 2013 documentary, The Byrd Who Flew Alone, about his longtime friend Gene Clark of the Los Angeles Rock band, The Byrds.
In 2014, the Americana Music Association honored him with their Lifetime Achievement award, and he put together an album with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Talkin’ Christmas, in time to close out the year.
In May of 2017, the partnership album with Keb Mo, TajMo, was released and among the guests were Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh and Shiela E. Six of the albums eleven songs were originals and it earned Mahal his third Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues album..
A month later, Taj could be seen in the documentary The American Epic Sessions, an award winning film about the early recordings of the 1920s. Mahal plays Charley Patton’s High Water Everywhere into the first electrical sound recording system and appeared in much of the accompanying documentary American Epic series, providing his insights into the rural artists, many of whom became inspirations decades later in the Folk Blues revival of the 50s and on Taj himself.
Taj can justifiably be considered a strong student of music in general, indeed a scholar of the Blues in particular. I saw an episode of the PBS TV show History Detectives where Taj was asked to explain the history of the banjo from its beginnings in Africa, through its preferred status among the stringed Blues instruments until the guitar was able to increase its volume through the use of wire strings, to how it is today considered almost solely a tool for the country and folk musicians. However inaccurate my memory might be here, it is sufficient to say that the man’s knowledge and presentation were uniquely impressive.
Taj appreciates the freedom his producers have given him to explore his trade. “There is a lot of music that people do not get to hear, and it’s unfortunate. It’s because of marketing and the fact that somebody (at the record company) says you won’t like this. But the people who come hear me get to hear everything I know about.” To reduce that happening in the future, Mahal has started his own recording company, Kandu Records. “I’ll be working with some young contemporary people to get their work out there. I might like to produce some people in the not-so-distant future.”
If Taj had his choice, it would be for more of his concerts to be outdoor performances. “The music was designed for people to move, and it’s a bit difficult after a while to have people sitting like they’re watching television. That’s why I like to play outdoor festivals – because people will just dance. Theatre audiences need to ask themselves: ‘What the hell is going on? We’re asking these musicians to come and perform and then we sit there and draw all the energy out of the air.’ That’s why after a while I need a rest. It’s too much of a drain. Often I don’t allow that. I just play to the goddess of music-and I know she’s dancing.” The only time I got to see him on stage was at one of the San Francisco Blues Festivals and I seem to remember him playing almost exclusively the piano.
“In the end, ultimately the music plays you, you don’t play the music.”
It seems as though I mentioned all of Taj Mahal’s accomplishments but, no, Wikipedia lists a whole lot more so I will include it as the conclusion to this essay, beginning with the albums. Today we used the Rising Sons CD, then 1966’s debut Taj Mahal, and we close with the 1996 Phantom Blues, not only the name of the album but also the band who backed Taj on his two Grammy winning albums over the next five years.
- 1968 – Taj Mahal
- 1968 – The Natch’l Blues
- 1969 – Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home
- 1971 – Happy Just to Be Like I Am
- 1972 – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff
- 1972 – Sounder (original soundtrack)
- 1973 – Oooh So Good ‘n Blues
- 1974 – Mo’ Roots
- 1975 – Music Keeps Me Together
- 1976 – Satisfied ‘n Tickled Too
- 1976 – Music Fuh Ya’
- 1977 – Brothers
- 1977 – Evolution
- 1987 – Taj
- 1988 – Shake Sugaree
- 1991 – Mule Bone
- 1991 – Like Never Before
- 1993 – Dancing the Blues
- 1995 – Mumtaz Mahal (with V.M. Bhatt and N. Ravikiran)
- 1996 – Phantom Blues
- 1997 – Señor Blues
- 1998 – Sacred Island AKA Hula Blues (with The Hula Blues Band)
- 1999 – Blue Light Boogie
- 1999 – Kulanjan (with Toumani Diabaté)
- 2001 – Hanapepe Dream (with The Hula Blues Band)
- 2005 – Mkutano Meets the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar
- 2008 – Maestro
- 2014 – Talkin’ Christmas (with Blind Boys of Alabama)
- 2016 – Labor of Love
- 2017 – TajMo (with Keb’ Mo’)
- 1971 – The Real Thing
- 1972 – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff
- 1972 – Big Sur Festival – One Hand Clapping
- 1979 – Live & Direct
- 1990 – Live at Ronnie Scott’s
- 1996 – An Evening of Acoustic Music
- 2000 – Shoutin’ in Key
- 2004 – Live Catch
- 2015 – Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues Band: Live From Kauai
- 2002 – Live at Ronnie Scott’s 1988
- 2006 – Taj Mahal/Phantom Blues Band Live at St. Lucia
- 2011 – Play The Blues Live From Lincoln Jazz Center – with Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton, playing on “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Corrine, Corrina”
- 1972 – Sounder – as Ike
- 1977 – Brothers
- 1991 – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
- 1996 – The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
- 1998 – Outside Ozona
- 1998 – Six Days, Seven Nights
- 1998 – Blues Brothers 2000
- 1998 – Scrapple
- 2000 – Songcatcher
- 2002 – Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
- 2017 – American Epic
- 2017 – The American Epic Sessions
- 1977 – Saturday Night Live: Episode 048 Performer: Musical Guest
- 1985 – Theme song from Star Wars: Ewoks
- 1992 – New WKRP in Cincinnati – Moss Dies as himself
- 1999 – Party of Five – Fillmore Street as himself
- 2003 – Arthur – Big Horns George as himself
- 2004 – Theme song from Peep and the Big Wide World
I have never been a fan of many of the psychedelic era San Francisco bands. I did like the Grateful Dead’s Bluesy debut album but Jerry Garcia said he wished they’d never made it and their Blues content dropped off sharply after the death of Pigpen. Janice Joplin was good with Big Brother but then went in a Pop direction. Country Joe and the Fish, while enjoyable, were more of a novelty act to me. I did like the Folk-Rock (pre-psychedelia) of the Jefferson Airplane until I became almost totally immersed in the Blues, so it’s always possible I missed out on some other quality music. Today we listen to an Airplane offshoot, Hot Tuna, formed initially as an acoustic duo of guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bass player Jack Casady around 1969 while both were still key parts of the Airplane. Jorma and Jack’s lives were intertwined as far back as their school time friendship in Washington, D.C., playing together in a group called the Triumphs, and when Kaukonen became a founding member of the Airplane in 1965, Casady was not long in following.
The Kaukonen / Casady combo actually got a chance to perform while the Airplane’s female lead singer, Grace Slick, was sidelined after a throat surgery. They were augmented by fellow Airplane members Paul Kantner on rhythm guitar and drummer Joey Covington, and male lead singer Marty Balin also participated. The ensemble played around the San Francisco area until Jefferson Airplane was fit to support their Volunteers album in concert, released in October 1969. Their playlists were based on some of the Airplane material mixed with Kaukonen’s penchant for Folk, Blues and Rags. Once Slick returned to the stage, what would become Hot Tuna opened before the full Airplane lineup took over the show. In September 1970 they had a gig at Pepperland in San Rafael and drew a good critical response, making playing without the Airplane a viable option.
The pair made their recorded debut with 1970’s Hot Tuna, an acoustic live set of material gleaned from a week-long stay at Berkeley’s New Orleans House, and had the addition of Will Scarlett on harmonica. These concerts were the first time they used the name Hot Tuna and initially the proposed album name was to be Hot Sh*t, but for some odd reason their label, RCA, convinced them otherwise. The album contains some very good material, particularly the expanded version of the album, which contains the original versions of five of the eight songs we’ll be hearing today, but the album seems kind of toned down after having listened to the later electric versions. Scarlett’s harmonica is subdued in comparison to the violin of Papa John Creach and certainly the live and loud mode suits my palate better. Still, in addition to the aforementioned five, there are four more tunes well worthy of a future look deeper into their music, in particular Kaukonen’s solo instrumental Mann’s Fate. The roots of what the band was all about are definitely here.
After the first album came out, Kantner was gone and Jorma’s brother Peter played rhythm guitar, only to be replaced himself by Paul Ziegler. When Marty, Jack and Jorma disagreed about finances; Balin left both Tuna and the Airplane at the same time. In the meantime, Papa John joined both groups in October as the bands concluded their joint tour in November, the last show being at New York’s Fillmore East.
The band went electric for their 1971 follow-up LP, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, adding another member from the Airplane’s cast, violinist Creach, and the quintet was rounded out by drummer Sammy Piazza. This was one piece of their vinyl I had in my collection and it was responsible for developing my idea of whom Hot Tuna was. Similar to their first album, five of this LP’s seven songs are found in today’s sets. The album was recorded at the Chateau Liberte, a favorite venue for the band, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains outside of Los Gatos and much closer to Summit Road. I only went there once or twice; it was a great environment for music but I could do without the heavy biker element. It might have been Tuna and / or the Doobie Brothers that I saw; my memory is a little vague, likely due to the era.
After the Airplane’s Volunteers tour, their appearances slowed remarkably for about a year and a half, but Kaukonen and Casady were doing well enough on their own. They also took part on four songs from Creach’s two solo albums.
Reduced to a quartet with the absence of Scarlett, 1972’s Burgers’ lineup was enhanced by Nikki Buck’s piano and organ on a couple of tunes, the guitar and vocal of Richmond Talbott on one, and even the Byrds’ David Crosby vocalizing on a song. The band’s name came from when the boys played Keep on Truckin’ before it appeared on this album that, in response to the lyric “What’s that smell like fish, oh baby”, a witty audience member shouted back “Hot Tuna!”
Papa John had left Tuna before the recording of The Phosphorescent Rat, electing to stay with the Airplane as Jack and Jorma officially dropped out, so his time in the band was more limited than I realized, and a change in style was required. Before the album’s supporting tour, Piazza was let go as Kaukonen wished to return to a semi-acoustic mode. Next up was Kaukonen’s solo album Quah. In July 1974, the band went full on electric Heavy Rock, including an October appearance on the TV show The Midnight Special.
Hot Tuna was again a trio for their 1975 release, America’s Choice, but with Bob Steeler behind the drums, where he was on Tuna’s other 1975 album, Yellow Fever. Hoppkory would come out in 1976 with the same three participants. It would be fair to describe them as a power trio for this part of their career as concerts featured free-flow jams and long sets, even up to six hour uninterrupted sets. In 1977, Jorma began to play a solo set before the main performance and their last concert was November 26th at the Paladium.
As Jack and Jorma were finding their differences worsening, an upcoming 1978 tour was cancelled with Jorma covering the dates as a solo act. Their label put out Double Dose in 1978, a 2LP set of recordings from their tour the year before and the 1979 release, Final Vinyl, appears to be essentially a bunch of studio leftovers.
Kaukonen came out with another solo release, Jorma, before joining the New Wave band, Vital Parts. Casady’s career also moved into New Wave territory as he fronted the group SVT, but both would revert to their familiar ways in 1984 with Jack rejoining Airplane members Kantner and Balin in the KBC Band while Jorma went back to his acoustic Folk and Blues roots.
But the two seemed destined to play together and the Hot Tuna name was used again on occasional dates leading up to returning full time in 1986. A 1983 reunion tour, with rhythm guitarist Michael Falzarano and drummer Shigemi Komiyama forming the quartet, featured old material mixed with new, but the Hard Rock style had fans reportedly leaving the venues.
After the band reformed in 1986, Kantner returned to the fold for 1987 and 1988, bringing with him some classic Airplane tunes to add to the mix. Grace Slick even joined them on stage at the Fillmore one night in March 1988. Kaukonen and Casady joined in the Jefferson Airplane reunion album and tour in 1989 including a Hot Tuna set between Airplane sets on each show.
Not long after the Airplane tour, 1990’s Pair a Dice Found became the first set of new material since 1976’s Hoppkory. Things to follow were mostly live releases as the group varied between acoustic and electric shows. 1992’s two Live at Sweetwater albums were mostly acoustic, featuring guests Bob Weir, Maria Muldaur and former Airplane keyboardist Pete Sears; Sears would join full time later in the decade; he and Falzarano, a multi-instrumentalist, would stay into the new century.
Aside from the CD Keep on Trucking, which RCA released in 2006 as a retrospective best of their years with the label, not much worthy of note happened in the century’s first decade. As the band continued with its habit of a fluid lineup, Steady as She Goes was recorded at Levon Helm’s Woodstock studio and came out in April 2011, their first studio album in two decades. Harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite was prominent in Tuna’s 2011 tours as he was joined at different times by guitarists Jim Lauderdale, David Bromberg, G.E. Smith, Steve Kimock and Larry Campbell and vocalist Teresa Williams. Both Williams, who had appeared on the Steady album, and Campbell, who had produced it, were still touring with the group as of the date Wikipedia’s article was entered.
I picked up a CD box set including five of their first seven albums, but today’s airing is from a disc I might have ripped from a San Jose library, Classic Hot Tuna: Electric; there is also an acoustic version.
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To listen to KSCU on a computer, use either iTunes or WinAmp for the media player.
To listen to KSCU on a smart phone use either the NextRadio or TuneIn apps.
The studio phone number is (408) 554-KSCU or, for the digitally inclined 554-5728 but, as always, make sure no one is speaking on the air before you dial.
The mailing address for sending CDs, et cetera, is:
KSCU Local Music
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA
KSCU radio’s studio is located in the basement of Benson Hall
KSCU’s Sunday morning Blues rotation has the Jakester, Mister G, Dave the Blues Dude and the Bluesevangelist between 9AM and 1PM. Sherri Jones does her Blues show between 10:30AM and 12:30PM on Saturdays. And, of course, me!
The best way to reach me is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org (my computer’s autocorrect adds a letter t, so if that shows up here please remove it before trying to contact me; apparently, cotyledon is some kind of botanical term). I do send out my blog via email so, if you would like to be added to that list, just give me your address and I’d be happy to do so, otherwise all my writings going back to 2014 are still available at key2highway.blogspot. I do recommend the direct email to let you know when I will be on, especially now that I will occasionally waiver from the second and fourth week of each month format. Thank you all for your continued support. Feel free to call me during the show; it gets lonely in the dungeon.
Southside Blues / Tobacco Road
St. James Infirmary
Goin’ to Chicago Blues
The Girl from Ipanema
Street Corner Hustler’s Blues / World of Trouble
I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water
Lou Rawls 29mins
11th Street Overcrossing
Walking Down the Line
Take a Giant Step
Last Fair Deal Gone Down
Baby What You Want Me to Do
I Got a Little
The Rising Sons 29mins
Pictured: Taj Mahal performing in 1971
Bill Graham intro, Never Happen No More
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
I Know You Rider
Uncle Sam’s Blues
Hot Tuna 27mins
Pictured: Hot Tuna 1972. Casady and Kaukonen in front, Creach and Piazza in back.
In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down
(They Call It) Stormy Monday
See See Rider
I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town
‘Tain’t Nobody’s Business
God Bless the Child
A Little Les of Lou’s Blues
Blues is a Woman
Lou Rawls with Les McCann, Ltd. 30mins
Checking Up On My Baby
Everybody’s Got to Change Sometime
The Celebrated Walkin’ Blues
Dust My Broom
Diving Duck Blues
Taj Mahal 30mins
Pictured: Taj Mahal in 2005
Rock Me Baby
Come Back Baby
Hot Tuna 29mins
Dead End Street
Trouble Down Here Below
A Natural Man
You Can Bring Me All Your Heartaches
Righteous Woman / I Wanna Little Girl
Breaking My Back (Instead of Using My Mind)
Bring It on Home
You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine
Lou Rawls 33mins
The Hustle is On
I Need Your Loving
Lovin’ in my Baby’s Eyes
Oo Poo Pah Doo
Don’t Tell Me
What Am I Living For
We’re Gonna Make It
Let the Four Winds Blow
Taj Mahal 30mins
Pictured: Taj Mahal in June 2007