Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals; Jack Casady - bass; Papa John Creach - violin; Sammy Piazza - drums
From 1965 to 1971, Bill Graham closely observed the San Francisco music scene develop from young aspiring bands playing at dances to seasoned recording and touring vets known around the world. For the closing week at Fillmore West, Graham presented a week of festivities celebrating the San Francisco bands, featuring many of the musicians that established the original Fillmore Auditorium and Graham's earliest forays into live concert production and promotion. Every night was special and featured an impressive triple bill. As the week progressed, each night became more extraordinary than the night before and by the time closing weekend rolled around, expectations were extremely high. On Friday night, July 2nd, Jerry Garcia embarked on one of the most monumental nights of his career, performing on nearly every song by all three bands on the bill, the Rowan Brothers, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and of course the Grateful Dead in their farewell performance to Fillmore West. By Saturday night, July 3rd, ticket holders were anticipating another monumental night and Bill Graham didn't disappoint, presenting yet another triple bill that featured openers Yogi Phlegm (a scaled down version of Sons Of Champlin) opening and one of the most legendary of all San Francisco bands closing, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Performing in between these two sets was Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady's side project, Hot Tuna, representing the Jefferson Airplane faction during the closing week festivities.
Although Jorma and Jack had been exploring their collaboration both inside and outside the Airplane for several years, they had now developed what many consider to be the classic Hot Tuna lineup and were rapidly gaining popularity on their own. With Papa John Creach's electric violin now integrated into their sound and Texan Sammy Piazza in the drum seat, the group now had a special chemistry that was undeniable.
The seeds of Hot Tuna's sound can be heard as far back as 1966 Jefferson Airplane sets, but within the context of the Airplane they were often limited to one or two showcase songs a night. Now Jorma and Jack were free to explore the possibilities of their music to their hearts content. This particular lineup took Jorma and Jack's love of traditional acoustic blues (featured on the first self-titled Hot Tuna album) and further developed the music within a highly charged electric context. The group's second album displayed distinctive originality and a much more dynamic band, capable of inspired improvisational flights.
Despite not being the headliner, Hot Tuna get nearly two solid hours of stage time, packed with plenty of outstanding performances. Most of this material consists of songs featured on the band's first two albums, Hot Tuna and First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, the latter recorded three months prior to this performance. The telepathic interplay between Jorma and Jack is always fascinating and Papa John Creach's violin and Sammy Piazza's tasteful drumming adds a distinct new flavor to the proceedings.
Much of this material dates back to Jorma's pre-Airplane coffeehouse repertoire. His passion for the music of Reverend Gary Davis, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Blind Blake is very much in evidence here. Many of these numbers, like the openers "That'll Never Happen No More," "How Long," and "Candy Man," as well as several songs later in the set, feature Jorma's intricate blues finger picking translated to an electric Stratocaster with great effect. The audience is also treated to Papa John Creach's funky signature instrumental, "John's Other," and two of Jorma's most penetrating and poetic originals, "Been So Long" and "New Song For The Morning."
The remainder of the material showcases the groups gift for improvisation, with sizzling readings of Reverend Gary Davis' "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burnin'" and the traditional "Uncle Sam's Blues" and "I Know You Rider" among them. They also explore "Rock Me Baby," a staple of Jorma and Jack's Airplane repertoire. With Jack's incredibly dynamic and melodic bass playing and Papa John's soaring violin lead's augmenting Jorma's distinctive guitar arrangements, they often venture into surprising territory, which the Fillmore West audience thoroughly appreciates. Hot Tuna would eventually pursue the extremes of electric performances and return to acoustic duo performances, but for a brief time, with Creach and Piazza newly on board, they achieved a near perfect balance between acoustic and electric blues forms.
Everything on this show compares favorably to the released versions and many surpass those versions in both length and intensity. This is most evident on the last song of the set, Lightnin' Hopkins' "Come Back Baby," which burns for ten solid minutes and especially during the mind-melting jam during the encore. Released twice by the Airplane, in both studio and live permutations, both officially released recordings of "Feel So Good" pale in comparison to this truly spectacular performance, which clocks in at 22 minutes! A fitting farewell to Fillmore West, this leaves the audience in extremely high spirits, anticipating the set by Quicksilver Messenger Service still yet to come.