Ahh, pay-day at last! I am now the proud owner of a clearance-priced Logitech S510 wireless keyboard/mouse set, as I had typed up the previous two entries with some barely-working gear that came with the computer. Things should go a lot smoother now, also I picked up a couple of new albums (as in, recorded within the last 2 years) so I’m excited about that too!
For now, however, it’s time to talk about an album I’m very familiar with by now, as it’s not only a favorite of mine, but also of my dear-departed father and not-departed uncle:
This is the 3rd album by Jefferson Airplane spinoff blues group Hot Tuna, but their first “studio” album. The previous albums (the second of which is probably my favorite recording of theirs to date, so we’ll get to that in a later entry) were recorded live, since the band was really just a side project while they were touring with the Airplane. However, with Burgers, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady decided to go into a brand-new studio and record one of the most laid-back studio albums I’ve ever heard.
The album opens exactly as it should. In a song called “True Religion“, Jorma’s bluesy fingerpicking establishes the melody for a while, and then the rest of the band comes in altogether, most notably the thunderous bass tones of Jack and the fiddle work of Papa John Creach (a black gentleman who was about 55 years old when he started playing with the band, though never as an “official” member), then come the lyrics:
Mama take the pillow from under my head, allelu
At least for the early part of Hot Tuna (I have yet to hear their apparently “weird” middle years), they did a lot of old blues songs, and you can’t have old blues songs without religious lyrics, I think that’s written somewhere.
Said take the pillow from under my head, Jesus’ gonna make up my dyin’ bed, then you’ll need that true religion, allelu
One thing you’ll quickly notice about the sound of Hot Tuna is that Jorma is not a projector, vocally-speaking. His vocals are probably the most laid-back thing I’ve ever heard (even singing on-key wasn’t really on the list of priorities, it seems). I think it adds a lot of charm, because honestly could you imagine someone shouting over such delicate tones? I think not.
Jack Casady is one of my bass heroes, he inspired my uncle, who is also an incredible bass player, back when all this stuff was new, and that influence certainly seeped down into my own style, such as it is. Jack plays bass in an unusual way, he turns the thing from a rhythm instrument to a melody instrument (like a lead guitar). It’s probably hard to pick up on unless you’re really into the way music is structured, but it’s a perfect compliment to Jorma’s fingerpicking, because his guitar melodies are rhythmic and constant, like a bass should be. The other facet to Jack’s style is the tone, the fact that his bass is extra rumbly and sometimes even resembles a low brass instrument in places is all pure intention; he used some really fancy basses and then installed what can best be described as a miniature switchboard in them. Hot Tuna sort of operated like that, they were simultaneously groovin’ and jammin’, but also really into arrangements and very analytical about their sound. Deceptive!
Anyway, the album then takes a bit of a turn into the “chilled out” territory with “Sea Child“, an electrical escapade that I understand was the signature for their later sound. I really dig the lyrics to this song, too:
Through your hair across my eyes, the twilight shafts in soft surprise
Reminds me once again how nice it is to be with you
I should cut that out though because honestly I love all the lyrics in this album, and I wouldn’t want this to turn into just posting all the lyrics.
The next song is possibly one of Hot Tuna’s most famous, and certainly a near-and-dear song to my heart, the super-bouncy “Keep On Truckin’“, possibly the jauntiest tune to ever be written about a particularly nasty woman. I simply have to give a lyrical sample on this one, because man:
Now whats that smells like fish? oh babe
I really would like to know
Now whats that smells like fish? pretty mama
I really would like to know
That ain’t puddin’, baby that ain’t pie
That’s the stuff that got you by
So keep on truckin’ mama
Truck my blues away
Really there are no printed lyrics so that is my best guess with the help of the internet.
It may seem unusual to put 2 masterpieces side-by-side in the middle of an album (or maybe not, I’ll have to think about a lot more albums before I decide the most unusual place to put the best stuff), but the next track is another “hit” for the band, the instrumental “Water Song“. It makes use of the previously-mentioned “lead bass” method of playing, as the fuzzed-out bass is nearly the only driver of the melody, as Jorma picks out an excellent open-tuning progression. This particular song really solidified my dad’s playing style (he was a finger-picking guitarist who studied hard in the schools of Hot Tuna and Chet Atkins… heh, school of tuna), and he showed me how to play it once, but I haven’t quite gotten it down yet.
The album then takes another turn for an angry minor key with the haunting “Ode For Billy Dean” (no proper album version available on Youtube, enjoy an elderly Hot Tuna rockin’ it out!) This song is great though late-album fatigue tends to set in for me at this point, so I don’t have a lot of particularly clear memories attached to this track. Instead I am just going to watch this vdieo and watch these middle aged fans bob around this video like kids, heh, hilarious!
Next is another jaunty stroll about what it must be like to be a hippy, “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here“. This song features some seemingly random rhythm changes that I can not explain the purpose behind. Perhaps a way to wake up entranced hippy folk who might have gotten a little too far out and fallen asleep? The world may never know.
Finally, the album ends with “Sunny Day Strut“, which of course, is the most dour track the band had recorded up to that point. It’s an instrumental featuring some wailing violin AND cello, and some overall really deep tones. I adore albums that end this way; leaving the unititated audience scratching their heads over the complete turnaround, contrary to all good sense. The best part is that the final note is actually a “major” one, which brings us right back to the happy place the rest of the album seemed to promise; a land filled with Burgers! Delicious Burgers. I’m hungry now, and as always, listening to this album has given me a craving for Whataburger.
Hope you enjoyed today’s entry, it’s time for me to run off and find some food while trying to figure out what this “Jarvis Humby” album I just purchased is all about. It’s not my fault I picked up yet ANOTHER album without knowing a thing about it or what it sounds like, there’s not even a Wikipedia entry for the band! I’ll probably be talking about this album really soon. Until then, keep on truckin’!
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