When guitarist Jorma Kaukonen left Jefferson Airplane at the height of its fame to form an acoustic blues duo called Hot Tuna, people thought he was nuts.
Yet decades after the Airplane morphed into Starship and released what Blender magazine called the worst song ever (“We Built This City”), Hot Tuna is still going strong.
This week, the band will celebrate Kaukonen’s 70th birthday with two shows at the Beacon Theatre featuring an array of special guests.
amNY spoke with Kaukonen.
Are you surprised at how long Hot Tuna has lasted?
Yes, and I’m surprised that I’ve lasted this long. When you’re 30 years old you don’t think about what life will be like at 70.
Why did you start Hot Tuna?
The stuff we do in Hot Tuna is what I’d been doing before the Airplane got going. Jefferson Airplane had been together for seven years at that point. I felt like it had run its creative course.
You also give guitar lessons. Do you prefer teaching or performing?
I love playing for other people, but teaching has made me a far better player and performer. It ... allows me to go through the same process I did when I was first learning, which is practicing a lot. I used to say ‘Who needs practice when you can play?’ That’s cute, but it’s also bull.
What are you most proud of when you look back at 40 years of Hot Tuna?
That we’ve been able to turn a lot of people on to music that turned us on. When we first broke out, people thought we wrote the Rev. Gary Davis songs we play. Being able to introduce people to his music is a real thrill.
If you go: Hot Tuna is at Beacon Theatre Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., 2124 Broadway, 212-465-6500. $39.50-$59.50