With your various projects
over the years, what makes
Hot Tuna Hot Tuna?
The presence of Jack Casady.
Someone asked me to get Jack
to play on my solo record River
of Time, but then it would have
been a Hot Tuna record. Jack is
one of the great bass players, and
his presence on a recording is
undeniable. The rhythm section
is the most important part of any
band—us guys who play the melody and the lead would be lost
without a good rhythm section.
Jack and our drummer, Skoota
Warner, like each other so much
personally and musically that they
just lock in. This record has many
different kind of songs, with
many different kinds of beats,
and Jack played in a way that I
haven’t heard him play since the
Airplane recordings where we did
a lot of different material.
I teach a lot, and the importance of the rhythm section is one
of the things I teach. In my solo
guitar playing, my strength is my
thumb—my rhythm section. The
same is true when you get more
than one person making music.
The rhythm is what people feel
without thinking about it.
“ . . . you can obsess about minutiae,
that you think are brilliant, but nobody
but your friend who is a guitar player
will give a rat’s ass about that. If the
groove is self-sustaining, you’re there.”
where he’s coming from—it’s like
he channels this inexhaustible
fountain of creativity. And that’s
exciting. Another thing is that
when it comes time for him to
be a traditional bass player, he’s
totally there. He’s tuned into the
other musicians. When we play
in our quasi-acoustic setting, he
has many different meanderings
he can do in that format, but
when we play electric, he needs to
lock in with the drummer. He’s
able to do both without sounding
self-conscious, and his creativity
shines because of that.
that some of the old guys didn’t
know that a C# minor chord was
very similar to an Amaj7, they just
liked how it sounded. Yet these
things fall into place as you learn
other people’s songs. I hear cool
chords and intervals in a Reverend
Gary Davis song, and I think,
“I need to snag that,” but I don’t
need to snag all the other things
that make it the Reverend’s song.
I don’t have the ability—and at
this point in my life, I don’t have
the tone.” I agree that it will
make a difference, but I’ve spent
my life changing the tone of my
acoustic guitar with my arm.
You know you’re playing well
when you’re playing and you
see the audience moving.
Yeah! As a guitar player, you can
obsess about minutiae, that you
think are brilliant, but nobody
but your friend who is a guitar
player will give a rat’s ass about
that. If the groove is self-sustaining, you’re there.
What do you recommend players do to develop that sense of
style as a player or songwriter?
All of us have musical heroes
and iconic styles we look to.
You need to find a foundation
of something you love to stimulate the creative juices and bring
the music forward without
being an archivist. You need to
take it to another place.
Is there something about
Jack’s playing that brings you
together—in addition to
There are a number of components to Jack’s playing. One is
his inventiveness as a soloist. I
have a finite number of zones
that I can draw my solos from,
but Jack amazes me. When it
comes time to blow, I never know
A lot of people learn to play
their heroes’ songs note-for-note
but can’t take it beyond that.
One of the things that saved
me—and that was a true gift in
the long run—was that I either
didn’t have the ability or the
patience to learn songs note-for-note. Even when I was learning
Reverend Gary Davis songs or
Merle Travis songs, I got what I
needed to play them. I didn’t agonize over the minutiae. I’m sure
Did you ever experiment with
high-tech electronics like
Jack did when you were in
No. Jack was always fearlessly
exploring the possibilities of sound,
but he’s probably the first to tell
you that a lot of that is a less-direct
tone path. If you pass the same
instrument around a room, each
player will sound different—and
that’s the magic of the instrument.
Your body mass affects it—how
you hold it, how big your belly is
pressing against the instrument.
Everyone worries about whether
the guitar has a mahogany back or
a rosewood back, but maybe it’s
about your beer gut pressing on
the guitar’s back.
Dan Erlewine, who lives nearby, wanted me to put an armrest
on my acoustic guitar to keep
my arm off the face of my guitar
because he said that my arm kills
my tone. I went, “No Dan, it
doesn’t kill the tone, it changes
Tell me about your signature
Much of my acoustic guitar
playing has centered on my
1959 Gibson J- 50, but at this
point those large guitars are getting difficult for me to play. I
got a Martin David Bromberg
signature guitar and really liked
it. I talked to [Martin’s director
of artist relations] Dick Boak
and he helped me put my guitar
together. It’s based on Martin’s
M series, and they’re very ampli-fication-friendly. I used to always
pare off bass from the sound,
because the body was so boomy
on jumbos and dreadnoughts.
I’m not a guitar designer, but I
knew I wanted a 1 3/4"-wide
neck—because my hands have
changed with age—forward
bracing, and a larger soundhole.
It also has a V-shaped neck,
which I like now that I’m older.
I can play it as long as I want,
and it never hurts my hand. And
I loved the Italian spruce top on
the Bromberg guitar, so we used
it on my guitar, too. It was a
treat to put together.
You do a lot of teaching at
your Fur Peace Ranch—how
did that evolve?
My wife and I talked about
doing a camp, so we bought