Take-off on Jefferson Airplane

Hot Tuna, one of rock’s first spin-offs, formed by two of the original band’s members, performs in Tel Aviv.

Reading 3 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Reading 3
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We’ve had our share of worldclass performers here in the last couple of years: Elton John, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Neil Sedaka. But it’s not too often that Israel gets the chance to play host to two members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the same time.
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were both integral components of Jefferson Airplane, the San Francisco rockers who epitomized the freewheeling music and lifestyle of the 1960s. Lumped together with the psychedelic acid rock coming out of the city, the band encompassed much more, with elements of folk and country infiltrating their sonic landscape thanks to guitarist Kaukonen and bassist Casady’s wide-ranging influences.
Eager to connect even more with his folk and blues roots, Kaukonen recruited Casady at the height of the Airplane’s popularity for one of rock’s first spin-offs – the bluesy, lower volume Hot Tuna.
Forty years later, the Airplane, which broke up in the early 1970s, are just a fond memory kept alive by classic rock radio stations and soundtracks of films set in the 1960s.
But Hot Tuna is still a vital, working entity, with Kaukonen and Casady still at the helm.
For Kaukonen, his Israel debut on December 22 at Reading 3 will complete a Jewish circle begun when he bought his first electric guitar for the Airplane in 1965 – with money cashed in from Israeli bonds.
“My grandmother, who was an Russian immigrant to the United States, was an ardent Zionist, and every year she would give me a $100 bond. When I joined the Airplane, I withdrew something like $500, which was a lot of money back then, and bought a Rickenbacker,” chuckled the 69-year-old Kaukonen, speaking on the phone recently from his home on a rural farm in Ohio, where he runs the Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp with his wife, Vanessa.
“My wife converted to Judaism six years ago. I never really practiced myself, so of course I got involved with the Jewish community. And our fourand- a-half-year-old daughter, Israel, is being raised Jewish,” he added.
Kaukonen’s journey from freakout, long-haired rocker to Jewish country gentleman has been – to paraphrase lyrics from one of the Airplane’s contemporaries – a long, strange trip.
But the music Hot Tuna plays has provided the constant stability, with its cogent, electric blues rock still carrying the sting it always did.
Two star-studded shows on December 3 and 4 in New York to mark his 70th birthday (which will be celebrated while he’s in Israel) proved that the band could still bring it on, even postretirement age. “Jack and I certainly felt all the fire from the old days coming out of our fingers,” Kaukonen wrote on his blog after the shows.
That same fire, whether or not you wear tie-dye, will also likely be evident on Wednesday night in Tel Aviv.
Reading 3, Wednesday, 10 p.m., www.reading3.co.il