I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. Just my luck. There’s nothing stimulating on the boob tube so I’m going to lay down for a spell on the couch with the kitten (aka “The Asshole”), listen to Old Man Winter rage outside and and pump through another few chapters of my ‘Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion‘ (Robert Gordon). On the stereo is the ‘Burgers‘ album by Hot Tuna.
‘Burgers’ is the 3rd album (released in 1972) by Hot Tuna, the Folk rock offshoot of Jefferson Airplane. I have no idea how this album came to be in my collection but the collection is better for it’s being here. I’m sure I rescued it from somewhere as it’s in pretty rough shape but it sill plays well enough. Sometimes those snaps, crackles and pops are appropriate…and this is just such a case.
The album marked a crucial transition for the group. Until now, the Tuna had been viewed as a busman’s holiday for Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. Their first album was an acoustic set of folk-blues standards recorded in a coffeehouse, their second an electric version of the same that added violinist Papa John Creach (who also joined the Airplane) and drummer Sammy Piazza. Then the Airplane launched Grunt, its own vanity label, which encouraged all band members to increase their participation in side projects. ‘Burgers‘, originally released as the fourth Grunt album, sounded more like a full-fledged work than a satellite effort.
It was Hot Tuna’s first studio album, and Kaukonen wrote the bulk of the material, not all of it in the folk-blues style that had been the group’s métier. ‘Sea Child‘, for example, employed his familiar acid rock sound and would have fit seamlessly onto an Airplane album. And ‘Water Song‘, one of his most accomplished instrumentals, had a crystalline acoustic guitar part that really suggested the sound of rippling water. On the material that did recall the earlier albums, the Tuna split the difference between its acoustic and electric selves, sometimes, as on ‘True Religion‘, beginning in folky finger-picking style only to add a rock band sound after the introduction. The result was more restrained than the second album, but not as free as the first, with the drums imposing steady rhythms that often kept Casady from soloing as much, though Creach’s violin made for plenty of improvisation within the basic blues structures. Oh, and that’s guest David Crosby on vocals for ‘Highway Song‘. All of which is to say that, not surprisingly, on its third album in as many years, Hot Tuna had evolved its own sound and music, and seemed less a diversion than its members’ new top priority.
My favorite thing about the album however is the band photo on the back of the album. I mean, seriously, if that doesn’t scream early 70’s California I don’t know what does. When it comes to old hippies, these guys would give John Mayall‘s band a serious run for their money.