Jack Casady, Ever Present
Bassist Jack Casady needs no introduction. He is best known for his days in Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, as well as his later day duties in the current Jefferson Starship. Of course, Casady has also done many other things during his long career. He played bass on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” on Electric Ladyland. He also played briefly as a guest with Country Joe and the Fish, and appeared on their albums Here We Go Again and the live Fillmore West/I>. In the late 70s Jack also had a brief flirtation with the “punk-rock” band SVT. More recently Casady has played some shows with Warren Haynes. The following interview took place shortly after one of those shows. Casady was friendly, insightful and overly optimistic mood especially when it came to his new website. The website is a little different than most in that Jack is using it to share his knowledge and insight of instruments and amplification to help up and coming musicians, and of course, if possible, to sell a few of his signature Ephipone bass guitars.
M.S. It seems like you been very busy lately.
J.C. Yes, I’ve been a busy guy. I was just in New York a couple of days ago with Warren Haynes. I have also been doing a lot of acoustic Hot Tuna shows with Jorma. But it was good to hop into another whole range of things with Warren. He is such a sweet guy and such a consummate professional, not that we all aren’t, but when you come up against someone that you don’t know that well and you know they can make it tough or easy and he makes it pretty easy. He just sits down and gets to work
M.S. Warren is not just a great player but he also writes good songs too.
J.C. He writes wonderful songs. It’s really interesting, this project as you know, is a tribute to Allen Woody, his friend and bass player who died last year. I think it started out last year as a representation of some bass players that Allen admired and been influenced by. I just happened to be one of those players.
Allen and I had had a number of sessions and meetings together trying to make a couple of original instruments for a now defunct bass company. It was a little known start-up company and the main idea was to come up with couple of original instruments but the company folded and it didn’t work out, but Allen and I had many sessions together talking shop and talking about bass playing. He was a fan of my playing and so we had a lot of things in common and we talked about a bunch of stuff. We also had occasions for our paths to cross on tours with Hot Tuna playing with Gov’t Mule. I was quite shocked when I heard he passed away.
M.S. How did you come to work on the The Deep End?
J.C. Warren called me last January and said he was working on a new project to pay tribute Allen and at the same time, I think it was a chance for him to move on because he had his partner of a long time taken away. Although Warren has played on millions of sessions and has done all kinds of writing, it isn’t that he didn’t have a direction to go in. I think what started out to be a really nice and relatively simple idea, but became a great charthtic welling of bass players. It was very giving of Warren to write new material for all these different bass players and styles, and what a project. So with everybody that came in he got together and wrote a song that fit their style and that really says a lot for Warren Haynes and his musical abilities. I met him in March I flew from Los Angeles and we got together in the studio and did a song called “Slow Happy” with Matt Abts on drums and Chuck Leavell on keyboards. The first CD The Deep End contains 12 or 13 bass players and the second disc will have about the same. I’ll be on the second CD. I did a show with him on the 20th of September and then he asked me to come to New York on the 18th October for a show at Roseland with a number of bass players. That was a lot of fun. There was Tony Levin, Mike Gordon, Dave Matthews’ bass player and more. Oteil Burbridge was the main bass player and played the primary part of the set and then everybody each had three songs to play, and of course one of my songs was “Slow Happy Boys” and another was “Voodoo Chile.” It was great fun. I hope to do more.
M.S. What have you been doing with regards to Hot Tuna, is it just the acoustic stuff?
J.C. Not just, the great thing about that is we haven’t done that in years. What we have been doing is the original acoustic Hot Tuna. We have been doing a lot of material that hasn’t been played in a long time and there is also a lot of new material. It is really thrilling to be playing in that format. I think for the last four years we have been teaching at the Jorma Kaukonen Fur Peace Guitar Camp. I have been out there about six times a year to do workshops. During those workshops we do some shows and that sort of got us back into that mode. It really refreshed us and got our chops back. When you teach for eight hours a day you know you really get your subtle sensibilities of acoustic guitar and bass playing finely tuned. We sort of rediscovered and applied those national left and right hand dynamics that we really haven’t been following and I believe that Jorma’s singing has just come up superbly in the past few years. Without having to confront the nature of a loud band people get to hear the nature of that style of music being intertwined with voice which is the way it is. If you listen to greats like the Reverend Gary Davis or Blind Blake or a guitar player with the finger picking style and that voice becomes an instrument that is intertwined between notes and the finger picking. When you put that all together it’s a joy. Of course, for me it’s a joy because I get to play all sorts of roles as a bass player, traditional bass to contra pointing and rhythm work. With Jorma’s finger picking that opens it up for me to do the kind of things that I like to do.
M.S. Is there any possibility of recording some new stuff with Hot Tuna?
J.C. Yes, we want to make a new, from scratch all new material studio album. We would hope to get started on it in late 2002. Jorma has a new project coming out which you can talk to him about. He has been signed to Columbia for a solo project that he is going to record with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and a bunch of people that he has always admired, and I admire them too. That project will be in a different vein and that’s an exciting project for him, which he will be doing at the beginning of the year.
M.S. One of the things that I have always been a little disappointed with is that there have also been many great Hot Tuna live tapes floating around, most are much better than your officially-released material. How come you don’t do a series of live archive releases like the Grateful Dead have?
J.C. We have thought about it. People are always coming up to us or sending us material from the past. How far in the past are you angling here?
M.S. A couple of the best shows I ever heard were the Matrix in 1969 which were real jam shows where you do a lot of instrumental versions of Jefferson Airplane songs.
J.C. (Laughs) well that is pretty far back, but you know we are always open to that archiving and cataloging of material and when people show us shows that we like and that we feel hope up to the test of time you know you have to understand that from an artist’s point of view you might get a little difference of opinion. You know you may not want to encounter the first writings that you did on your first article and have it put out this year. I don’t know.
M.S. You’re absolutely right. But from a historical perspective some of the stuff is interesting and exciting and is well worth putting out.
J.C. I understand that but as you get older you set aside and not listen to all that stuff and besides with the fact that everybody being able to print up their CDs five minutes after the shows it begins to be a little bit out of your hands anyway. But we are always looking for that kind of stuff. So to answer your question we are open to that kind of stuff but we don’t have any immediate plans to put out the Matrix set, the answer is no, but I’d like to listen to it and see what it is like. (At this point I agree to send Jack a tape which I haven’t actually done yet!)
M.S. I remember talking with Dead archivist Dick Latvala shortly before he died and he loved that show and was thinking of trying to locate the master tapes.
J.C. In the nature of the things we were doing then as young musicians and learning about how to play and particularly Jorma because he really hadn’t been brought up on electric guitar playing and the Jefferson Airplane afforded him. Now he has really made an interesting marriage in his electric music now transferring his finger style technique more than trying to use flat-picking. There’s a progression that goes on with all of that.
M.S. What do you think of all the Jefferson Airplane reissues that have come out over the past few years?
J.C. Well you know that I am now so far away from the Airplane stuff that it bothered a lot more before than it does now. I’m really so far away from it that it is like another band playing all those tunes. It’s okay there’s always something of interest in there. We didn’t record that much or for that long. We were only together for seven years so that being said I certainly love the sound quality of the stuff. They sound a lot better than when they were first released. You can hear everything. You can hear all that bass playing, but as far as me personally I like to hear a nice full fat tune on the tracks, so I really think what they are doing is okay. It gets out to different people. I mean if you go to a store you see all this stuff repacked. I think the idea is that if younger people see it in a different package, a different form they don’t associate it with their older brothers or their parent’s records and they can rediscover stuff. I mean I went through all sorts of records during my learning period when I was 12-15. I went back to music from the 20’s and 30s. I hunted down all the music and discovered artists that I certainly wouldn’t have run into in my contemporary circles. That’s how I got into stuff by Reverend Gary Davis and others. I guess that reissues have their function.
M.S. I see that you have a nice web site up and running.
J.C. Actually, I only just got it up and running. Thanks for mentioning that. It is Casadybass.com. Jorma has had a couple of websites; Hot Tuna has had a web site. In these last years doing teaching I have met all kinds of people that are doing all kinds of jobs, bit just musicians and I just want to bring music to them to be a part to of their lives. There is very little information about instruments out there about instruments to buy that I like. Somebody just mentioned to me “why don’t you just put a website up.”There’s another reason as well as Epiphone and I and Gibson got together to do a customized bass, a Jack Casady bass. It’s a semi hollow bodied low impedance instrument and it really filled a niche that’s not out there. It has acoustic like qualities but is an electrified instrument. I have been playing that style of instrument for a number of years; I started playing it with the Airplane. I found an instrument and a company that would allow me to make the pickups I wanted, so I made the pickups myself. We put about a year and a half into the development of the instrument, but they are kind of hard to get in the stores. So the website is just another venue to get the instrument out there, so what I offered to do is have the instrument come through my hands and set it up. Set the necks and the bridge and play it through recording equipment and make sure it is all up to snuff to snuff to snuff. I’m on the advisory board to SWR and I endorse their equipment because Steve Robie the developer of SWR has given me so much attention over the years. He and I worked together on a bunch of projects. It really worked out nicely I have always had an interest in the development of amplifiers, pre-amps and instruments. Daryl James who just bought the company from Steve Robie has been a fine fellow indeed and has donated SWR equipment to my bass classes out at Jorma’s guitar camp. I put all this together and I kind of thought slowly I’ll just add direction and not necessarily just stuff that I endorse but also pre-amps, recording equipment or anything,
M.S. Well, you can give people the benefit of all the experience of the things that you have used.
J.C. Oh yeah, and maybe I can sell a bass or two. We all have make a living. We are, knock on wood, working musicians here.
M.S. I understand you also been doing some producing for “The Flying Other Brothers Band,” can you tell us a little about that project?
J.C. The Flying Other Brothers Band is an interesting group of people. They all have other projects in their lives. They work in the Silicon Valley, in research and development of their kinds of products and again that all falls into that realm of people that I find interesting. In the 60s when both Phil Lesh and I and other people in this small community. It just follows along for these people to do that kind of development in their products they have always had an interest in music and they have a band that they put together and they are actually quite talented. They went into the project of making music in kind of the same way that they do with products in the world of computers and finance. At first I thought it was going to be a project that was going to have certain limitations and it turned out to be a really fulfilling project —-and of course I could sit back and say “You know I’ve watched eight musicians trying to get along and work out their material and one two of them would say “I came in with this song, but it changed.” I’d say welcome to the club that is the way it is in real life. I would be able to say I used to think that. I used to be on that side of the glass. Here’s what happens and here is how it might work a little easier. I’d go through it and try and get them to play together and I did. I’m very proud of the album that they made and the contribution I was able to make to it. There was also some superb engineer/production work by Stacey Parish. Stacey and I had a ball doing this particular album. We hope to do other projects together as a team.
M.S. Have you ever had the inclination to do a solo album?
J.C. It’s funny that you should mention that. I’m not sure solo is the proper word.
M.S. Well, of course I mean an album under the Jack Casady name rather than Starship, Hot Tuna etc.
J.C. Absolutely, I am in the process of putting a studio together here. I have a nice place. The room is quite large and good for a studio. I hope my neighbors will put up with some of the basic tracks. I hope to have that up and running within a couple of months. Then I can get various acquaintances that I have met along the way and work on some projects.
M.S. You could do the Warren Haynes thing, but with different guitar players instead of different bassists?
J.C. Exactly. I am looking forward to it. I really have never put the emphasis on songwriting because I am not a singer, but all my musical ideas come from songs. I love songs and I love lyric content. I love the violin, acoustic guitar and instruments that have that melodic content. I like rhythm instruments too.
M.S. I notice that on your website there is a picture of you playing a Telecaster. Do you play much guitar?
J.C. Oh yeah, I did a little thing with G.E. Smith the other night. It was fun. I will probably record some electric guitar work when I do the album. When I started out in the 50s I was playing a Telecaster, but I am playing guitar more and more. It is always interesting for a bass player to come back around and play guitar and write your bass part afterwards it can be real schizoid.
M.S. Seeing that you had so much fun playing with Warren Haynes in the “power trio-type format” Is there any possibility that Hot Tuna will ever do the power trio like America’s Choice again ?
J.C. The plans aren’t immediate. The power trio, the problem with all that to my mind is that musically we are exploring another area. We explored that area very thoroughly (laughs). I don’t see a power trio coming real soon.
M.S. Well, you guys did some good stuff that never made it to record.
J.C. Absolutely, and I think musically for me there’s even better stuff in us. A power trio is never out of the question, but you have to live in the current time.