Hot Tuna – First Pull Up, Then Pull Down

Today is one of those days that should have been far too busy/inconvenient for me to write an Album Du Jour entry. I had to work at 6am and then band practice was immediately after, and I just got home, and oh yeah I didn’t sleep last night and tonight’s not looking so good either. Now I have 2 hours to write about an album of my choice and then I will probably immediately start working on another.

Indeed, an inconvenient day for blogging, but it is upon these days that I thrive. On these days, I tend to choose albums that I am very familiar with/fond of, and today is no exception. Today we’re talking about one of my favorite live albums, the second official album from Jefferson Airplane alumni Hot Tuna:

Nothin says lovin like hot tuna from the oven

It’s actually quite a matter of good fortune that I even own this album on CD. It went out of print some years ago and is the only Hot Tuna album not available from their official website. Strange! Either way, I was able to get one for a normal CD price on eBay, after which I sent it along to my uncle, who had been looking for the CD as well but doesn’t do so well with the internet. It is, in fact, my uncle David who introduced me to the band and their awesome sound and the influence of bassist Jack Casady, who is in top form in this live recording.

And what better way to start a live recording than with an extended instrumental! Indeed, “John’s Other” is an 8-minute Blues instrumental centered around Papa John Creach and his unique style of fiddle-playing. Despite the fact that he was 53 years old when First Pull Up, Then Pull Down was recorded, it is the first album Papa John recorded on. He would later collaborate on many Hot Tuna related projects until his death in 1994. It could be said that this introductory number is his “best song”, but in fact he uses the same 3 violin parts for pretty much every song, so it’s like every song is his best song!

Speaking of “best song”, the highlight of the album (well for me anyway) is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s an old blues “traditional” called “Candy Man” and it’s one of those jug-band kind of blues songs that I adore with all my heart. This song might as well had been engineered by NASA to be the perfect song for me. It’s got a bouncy beat, awesome finger-picking ‘lectric guitar supplied by Jorma Kaukonen, who also provides the understated vocals, and best of all, an excellent bass-line by my hero Jack Casady which amounts to a bass solo at the end. This is one of the few bass solos that ever made it onto an album by Hot Tuna (actually I can’t think of any others so it may be the only one), and it’s a real winner. It starts innocently enough with the regular bassline, but notes are slowly added in until it becomes deceptively complicated, and then it rocks out in various ways that I wish I had the knowledge to describe. I have praised Jack’s playing before, and one of the things I always like to mention is the tone. He could get a bass to sing in a voice that is unique among bass players, and it could be because he had dozens of effects and knobs installed in his already-fancy basses, but a lot of it is in his unusual technique. What is the technique? We may never know.

Though, speaking of finger-picking, the guitar is indeed finger-picked all throughout this album, but in a different way than on the band’s first album (which I will get to, I assure you) because there are basically 2 Hot Tunas you may hear on any given day: Acoustic Hot Tuna and Electric Hot Tuna. The latter is what we hear on First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, and it’s decidedly different in mood and tone than the acoustic songs the band started off playing. They would switch between these sounds through the years, however, which is why they are almost like 2 different identities.

The next song is “Been So Long”, which is a dour minor-keyed song featuring… well, honestly this song doesn’t have a whole lot going for it compared to the rest of the album. Whoops! I still like it, though.

“Want You To Know” is another cover that features an embryonic “bounce” that would be later seen to fruition with the song “Keep On Truckin'” on Burgers. Some of the lyrics are even used for the latter, which might amount to theft but that’s what the Blues is all about.

A crunchy, almost “scrapey” guitar intro brings us into the 8 minute epic “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning”, which is one of Hot Tuna’s more popular live numbers. This particular version is riveting with its mix of blues and a bit of ol’ swing, thanks to the bass. I am not ashamed to admit that I have borrowed from this song many times while writing basslines. It’s just a superb jam. So how do you keep an 8 minute song from going boring halfway through? Go into double-time! Other than that, it might as well be an instrumental as much time as is spent in the song’s incredibly long instrumental break. I am fine with this, however, as Hot Tuna are superb instrumentalists, and in fact that is the feature in their sound. I guess that’s why most Hot Tuna fans are musicians, now if only most musicians were Hot Tuna fans!

The next song, “Never Happen No More” is another upbeat number (trust me, you’ll need it after the duration of the previous song). It’s a great song, but a little too reminiscent of “Keep On Truckin'”, since basically the exact same chords are used for both songs. The actual fidelity of this track seems lower than the rest, or else I’m just crazy.

Finally, we have the 9 1/2 minute finale to the album, “Come Back Baby”, which is a song that goes all the way back with Hot Tuna. In fact, an early version of the song can be heard on the bonus tracks to the CD reissue of Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. The version on this album, however, is the best one I’ve heard. It’s got the addition of Papa John and the great harmonica player Will Scarlett (what a name) has some great solos all throughout. Heck, Jorma even attempts to sing a couple of notes outside of his comfort zone (which is approximately half an octave), so lots of work went into this particular track. It’s downbeat and simplistic, but full of that toneful goodness that makes every Hot Tuna album a special treat to the ears of people who listen for characteristics like that.

All in all, this is possibly my favorite Hot Tuna album, but then again my favorites always tend to be the ones I listened to last. Until tomorrow!

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