What started as a blues-rock side project for Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady (bass), Hot Tuna would soon become their full time focus, seeing a healthy cult following that still exists today. Childhood friends, Kaukonen and Casady had been playing music together for years, developing an undeniable chemistry, which was a large part of Jefferson Airplane's success in the '60s.
The Hot Tuna concept began to take shape in 1969 when the two were still regulars of Jefferson Airplane and, as such, played many of their first shows as openers for the band. Their first physical release came in 1979 and was a live recording from a performance at the New Orleans House in Berkeley, CA, and heavily featured blues and ragtime style rock. After several positive reviews and a growingly fervent audience, Hot Tuna realized their side project could exist on its own, without the support of the Jefferson Airplane flagship, and as Airplane's tour came to an end, Hot Tuna filled out its lineup with drummer Sammy Piazza and Papa Jon Creach on violin.
Now a fully formed band, Hot Tuna released another live record entitled First Pull Up, Then Pull Down before heading into the studio to record Burgers in 1972, which featured David Crosby on backup vocals for the track "Highway Song." Following, the band put out The Phosphorescent Rat, which along with Burgers was made up mostly of Kaukonen's original material.
The next phase of Hot Tuna's career saw them shift from the acoustic blues style to a more hard edged rock 'n' roll, jam band sound. Known as the "rampage years," 1975 and '76 saw the release of America's Choice, Yellow Fever, and Hoppkorv, all of which included Kaukonen's multi layered electric guitar solos. Hot Tuna's live shows shifted as well, focusing on long, improvisational jams during sets that could last up to six hours. Label pressure caused the band to reintroduce some acoustic portions into their live performances, resulting in the live album Double Dose in 1978, which was part acoustic, part electric. Shortly afterwards, Casady and Kaukonen split from each other and pursued their own individual projects.
Although Hot Tuna officially announced their breakup in 1979 with the release of the compilation Final Vinyl, Casady and Kaukonen continue to this day to play multiple live shows a year. At rock concerts today, Hot Tuna's audience includes new aficionados and those long-standing fans from the band's blues and ragtime days.