Sunday, February 10, 2013

Heart: Heart of Stone

SVT: Heart of Stone

I’ve written about Jorma, so now it is time to write about Jack.

Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen have been friends since their teens, playing together in bands in the Washington, D.C. area. When Jorma moved west, he recommended that his new band, the Jefferson Airplane, hire his friend to play bass. Jack had become a prominent bass player in the Washington area, despite his age, and backed up touring artists such as Ray Charles. After joining the Airplane, he became one of the most well respected bass players in rock music, using the bass as more of a melodic, lead instrument.

Jack and Jorma formed Hot Tuna, first as a side project, then as a main band, and have been the two constant members to this day. Casady’s bass playing is remarkable in its virtuosity, yet he never seems to call attention to himself. In addition to playing with the Airplane and Hot Tuna, he has appeared on albums by and/or played with Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby and Warren Zevon, as well as being involved in projects featuring members of the extended Airplane/Starship family and the Grateful Dead.

But in the 1980s, the music world was turning toward “New Wave” music—an uptempo melding of rock and power pop with influence from punk. Jorma formed a band called Vital Parts, which went nowhere, and Jack joined SVT, which was either named after a medical condition or a bass amplifier.

SVT’s first single, “Heart of Stone,” is truly a forgotten classic of the genre. Written by singer Brian Marnell, and featuring great bass playing by Casady, it became a radio hit in the San Francisco area, and crossed over a little into the then burgeoning “college rock” world. It hit my sweet spot, as a college D.J., fan of Casady, and lover of power pop, and I know I played it many times on the radio. I note that this is my third consecutive week posting about power pop songs, so next week, I’ll try to find something a little different, maybe something in 9/8 time about dragons or Vikings. It all depends on the theme…..

I have often speculated on this blog about why some bands or artists make it and others don’t. It appears from my quick research that the band started to disintegrate when they failed to hit it big, and then Marnell, the songwriter, guitarist and singer, died from an overdose (or in a car accident, depending on the source).

Casady tried another New Wave band, Yanks, continued to play in projects with others, and released a solo album in 2009. In the early 1980s, Jorma and Jack restarted Hot Tuna, and they have toured regularly, putting out an album in 2011. They are on tour now and the Hot Tuna website shows dates for shows into November. I saw them a few years ago (for the first time since high school), and they continue to impress, whether playing electric, acoustic or both. Jack’s bass playing is still amazing.

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