Hot Tuna — The Phosphorescent Rat

One of the great joys of the pandemic times (because you have to invent some joy during this epic disaster) has been the many musicians who, out of love or out of necessity or both, have turned to streaming performances over the internet as a way of sharing and communicating. I have a number of musician friends who have provided weekly broadcasts as a way of staying in touch and staying sane through the sharing of music. And I know that many of the big names have been doing that on some kind of basis as well.

Phosphorescent Rat front cover
Kids – those are pop tops. Ask your grandparents to show you the scars on their feet.

Sometime in the summer I heard that Jorma Kaukonen was one of them, and someone wrote that he was making perhaps the best music of his life . . . which would be saying something. As I said last time, I was someone who had never paid attention to Hot Tuna out of fear of being disappointed. But I have also, in the past decade, developed a deep(er) love for old musicians, for people who have been doing this so long that it’s just ingrained, who have unbelievable levels of musical experience and knowledge. And so, when I learned that Jorma was doing weekly livestreams, I had to check it out.

The first time I watched one was early in the summer. I didn’t know any of the songs he was doing, didn’t know anything about his Fur Peace Ranch, didn’t really know anything. It didn’t matter: it was captivating. So I watched the next week, and the next. Then, all of a sudden, Jack Casady joined him at the ranch, and there they were: Hot Tuna, and a core part of the Jefferson Airplane.

Because I missed so many opportunities to see Hot Tuna through the years, going back as far as college, I think, I didn’t really realize that Jorma and Jack started playing together in high school, well before the Airplane. As teenagers, they were in a band called The Triumphs together (with Jack on lead) in the mid-to-late 1950s. They were apart when Jorma moved to the west coast in 1962, but just a few years later he brought Jack into the Airplane. That means these two men have been playing together, on and off, for something like 65 years. That’s incredible. In fact, I don’t know if I can think of another duo that has been together that long.

Phosphorescent Rat back cover
Phosphorescent Rat back cover – which would look pretty modern even 10 years later

So here I am, after decades of paying no attention to Hot Tuna, suddenly finding myself looking forward every Saturday night to just watching two old musicians playing together and enjoying each other. We actually start Saturday evenings by watching two young musicians, friends of ours, doing the same thing. Every week, they play from their living room, show us their cat, raise money for charity, and make us feel a little bit like we’re able to see our friends. Once they’re done, we slide over to the Fur Peace Ranch on YouTube and watch Jorma, sometimes Jack, and a guest or two. It’s a little delight each and every time.

Like my other Hot Tuna record, I bought this at Siren in Doylestown back in November, and also like “Hot Tuna,” I have played it endlessly since. The right music for the right time. Their fourth record, this came out in 1974, when Jorma and Jack had officially left Jefferson Airplane. This is much more of a rock sound than “Hot Tuna,” but very much from the same place with reflective lyrics and Jorma’s stunning guitar work.

I thought I’d include as a bonus here that I not only missed seeing Hot Tuna many times in many venues, but I also missed seeing Jack Casady play as part of a new wave (or “rock disco”) act at the Jabberwocky. That I missed anything playing at the Jabberwocky at that time in my life is remarkable in and of itself, but as much as I loved Jefferson Airplane, there was nothing that could have induced me to see an act labeled as “rock disco.”

October 1980: Jack Casady goes new wave or disco or something. Click to get the full effect.

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