Hot Tuna is an American blues rock band formed in 1969 by former Jefferson Airplane members Jorma Kaukonen (guitarist/vocals) and Jack Casady (bassist). Although it has always been a fluid aggregation, with musicians coming and going over the years, the band’s center has always been Kaukonen and Casady’s ongoing collaboration.
As the band prepared for its 1974 tour in support of The Phosphorescent Rat, Kaukonen laid off Piazza after deciding to have the band return to its semi-acoustic repertoire. Kaukonen and Casady then proceeded to record Kaukonen’s first solo album, Quah. However, July 1974 marked a departure from their primarily bluesy, acoustic style when Hot Tuna dropped their acoustic sets completely and morphed into a heavy rock band. In October 1974, the group performed on The Midnight Special.
The albums America’s Choice (1975), Yellow Fever (1975), and Hoppkorv (1976) showcase a power trio with the addition of new drummer Bob Steeler. Jeff Tamarkin’s liner notes on the RCA “Platinum Gold Hot Tuna Collection” characterize this trilogy as being emblematic of the band’s “rampage years.” Kaukonen is quoted as saying the change of focus was due to the fact that “it was just fun to be loud.” During this period, Kaukonen’s electric guitar playing was multi-layered, prominently showcasing such effects as the Roland Jet phaser. His “rampage” style is typified by the solos on “Funky #7” and “Serpent of Dreams” on America’s Choice and “Song for the Fire Maiden,” “Sunrise Dance with the Devil,” and “Surphase Tension” on Yellow Fever. Live performances throughout the epoch were distinguished by free-flow improvisational jams and very long sets (up to six hours uninterrupted) with extended versions of their studio material.
A November 1976 concert at the Palladium in New York City featured a 16-minute version of “Invitation.” However, producer Harry Maslin did not appreciate the group’s style and held them to a more traditional rock format (including several cover songs) for Hoppkorv. In 1977, Kaukonen began to perform solo sets before the band would perform. The trio stopped touring at the end of 1977 and performed its final concert at the Palladium on November 26, with keyboardist Nick Buck and saxophonist “Buffalo” Bob Roberts.
Although live performances from all iterations of the group enjoyed a notable cult following for much of the 1970s, Hot Tuna failed to rival or eclipse Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship from a commercial standpoint. All but two Hot Tuna albums from the era reached the Billboard Top 100, America’s Choice was their only post-1972 album to chart for more than ten weeks, peaking at No. 75.
America’s Choice is the fifth album by the American blues rock band Hot Tuna, recorded in 1974, and released in 1975 as Grunt BFL1-0820. The album was also released in Quadraphonic as Grunt BFD1-0820. The first of the “Rampage” trilogy albums (the others being Yellow Fever and Hoppkorv) recorded by the now power trio, it marked a major shift in musical direction by the group. With new drummer Bob Steeler, Tuna now performed in a predominantly hard rock style, leaving the earlier band’s mixture of electric and acoustic material.
The album rose to No. 75 on the Billboard charts. One of the tracks is named “Hit Single #1”. Despite its title, it was not released as a single.
The album cover art depicts a box of laundry detergent, complete with dripping suds, labeled “America’s Choice: Hot Tuna”. The lettering and color scheme are loosely based on the style of Tide. On one side of the detergent box, a contents label lists the musicians as the “active ingredients”, and also says, “Pure, unadulterated sounds with amplified additives and the necessary polytonal ingredients to handle heavy loads.” On another side of the box is a “warning” stating, “This album to be played at full volume for maximum effect.” Unedited extended live versions of “Invitation” recorded at the New York York Palladium November 26, 1976, and Santa Clara University May 28, 1977, are available. In 1996, RCA released the CD box set Hot Tuna in a Can which included a remastered version of this album, along with remasters of the albums Hot Tuna, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, Burgers, and Hoppkorv. (wikipedia)
Hot Tuna returned to a heavier sound on their fifth album, which, although it again was dominated by Jorma Kaukonen’s compositions, leaned more heavily on extended electric-guitar solos and even included a Robert Johnson classic, “Walkin’ Blues.” Drummer Bob Steeler replaced Sammy Piazza as of this release. The result was a modest recovery from the disappointing sales of The Phosphorescent Rat, although not a complete return to form. (by William Ruhlmann)
What it suffers from most is Jorma’s cringy mixed-down/double-tracked/reverbed studio vocals, something that old Tuna fans would find strange and unappealing because they and in direct contrast to how he sang in live setting. These are bad production elements that marred this record in a few spots (Funky #7 and Great Divide, notably)
But each fault (and there are more) is offset by a plethora of musical brilliance that make me chuckle and say, “damn”. When this is on all cylinders, it’s really on, and that is most of the time.
A favorite Tuna record. (Sancho Wobbivitz)
Jack Casady (bass)
Jorma Kaukonen (guitar, vocals)
Bob Steeler (drums, percussion)
01. Sleep Song (Kaukonen) 4.25
02. Funky #7 (Casady/Kaukonen) 5.49
03. Walkin’ Blues (Johnson) 5.22
04. Invitation (Kaukonen) 6.55
05. Hit Single #1 (Kaukonen) 5.16
06. Serpent Of Dreams (Kaukonen) 6.53
07. I Don’t Wanna Go (Kaukonen) 4.57
08. Great Divide: Revisited (Kaukonen) 5.17
The official website: