It came to my attention that Jack Casady, bassist for Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, turned 72 earlier this month. Lately, with everyday bringing news of the death of another musican I grew up listening to and learning from, I wanted to write something about Jack Casady now and not as a posthumous tribute.
In the late sixties and early seventies, Casady was one of the people you thought of when you were talking about virtuoso rock bassists. As a member of Jefferson Airplane, he brought a muscular melodic sense to his bass playing along with a driving rhythmic sense (very much in front of the beat). As a result, he gave a strong push to everyone he played with. And he played with a lot of people. Besides the aforementioned bands that define his career, he played with members of the Grateful Dead, CSNY, Country Joe and The Fish and this guy named Jimi Hendrix. He was also one of the first bassists to be involved with customizing his basses, first with a modified Guild Starfire bass and then a custom made Alembic bass. Later on, Casady helped design, in conjunction with Epiphone, the “Jack Casady Signature Bass”, a 34-inch scale hollow-body electric bass.
One of Jefferson Airplane’s songs that provided a showcase for Casady’s playing was the “The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil”. The clip below is from an old PBS special “A Night At The Family Dog” which featured perfromances from the Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana. Cool moment at 3:12 when you see Grace Slick checking out Jack’s bass solo.
Jefferson Airplane – Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil (1967)
Below is an audio clip of a Jefferson Airplane performance of “Somebody To Love” from The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 10/25/1969 in a mix that semi isolated Casady’s bass playing (with a little bit of Paul Kantner’s rhythm guitar and Spencer Dryden’s drums). As I was listening to this clip, I was struck by how good a rhythm section these guys were.
Jefferson Airplane – Somebody To Love (live Casady mix)
Hot Tuna started out as a side project for Casady and Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen in 1969 and has turned out to be most long lasting musical association of Jack’s career, one that lasts to this day. Hot Tuna started out as an acoustic blues unit, then became an electric blues band, morphed into hard rock (with a Hot Tuna show from the late seventies being the loudest concert I’ve ever been to) and now back to a semi acoustic band again. The clip below, from a show that was on the San Francisco NET station KQED called “Folk Guitar”, features the acoustic duo version of Hot Tuna playing a Jorma original instrumental “Mann’s Fate”. These two have a nearly telepathic rapport that is displayed here in full glory.
Hot Tuna – Mann’s Fate (1969)
About that Hendrix dude..
Below is a video of behind-the-scenes footage from the “Voodoo Chile” recording in 1968 featuring Casady alongside Hendrix and the all-star ensemble. The discussion regarding Casady’s contribution starts around the 3:00 mark in the clip that also touches on the follow-up song “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”.
Voodoo Chile / Voodoo Child (Slight Return): Behind The Scenes
Currently, as well as performing with Hot Tuna, Casady teaches bass workshops at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. How cool is that.