Hurl & The Captain

Hurl: Good Morning Captain…….Good morning to you sir!…..Hey Jorma, Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions regarding the fantastic new Hot Tuna release, “Steady As She Goes”. I know you’ll be taking off on the bus soon, so let’s get started. FIRST OFF……Big congratulations on the new record……You know I’ve been a fan of yours and Hot Tuna’s music since I was in high-school and some how all these years later you are still able to create such a wonderful work of art and a masterpiece that hangs nicely with all of the other great Hot Tuna records in the group’s 40 year span. How have you been able to sustain your inspiration for Hot Tuna for so long??????

JK: Simple… It’s not only what I do… It’s what I love to do! I have been blessed to have a career that is inspired by the music. Hot Tuna’s been an active band since 1970. Jack and I are each others oldest friends………..I cannot think of another person on this planet that I have been able to explore my songs with. Jack lets me be me.

HURL: I really love the format of the new record as I like the mix of acoustic and electric …..ballads and blues…you have a nice variety of musical styling’s on “Steady As She Goes”. In some ways it reminds me of my favorites…..”Burgers”…..and “Phosphorescent Rat”. Is it a challenge for you and the band to mix things up in this regard as compared to an all acoustic project or the powerhouse electric records you made in the late 70′s.??????

JK: Nope… once again, this was simple for us. The songs themselves told us how they wanted to be treated. I’m not really sure why that is…..because there were a lot of years that I personally struggled to write. I don’t question it………..

Hurl: “Second Chances” is one of the best songs you’ve ever written Jorma and I know it is a recent composition. What can you tell us about this song….. the creative process of “Songwriting” …. and how you were motivated and inspired to write some of the new songs on “Steady As She Goes”????

JK: For me, songwriting is seeing that rabbit in the field, following him and when he goes down a hole, I’m right behind him. Second Chances was one of those songs that was already a part of me…my life. I just followed it until it revealed itself to me. Barry helped me out with the music one night when I was staying at his house. So I guess you could say that it revealed itself to him too. We are lucky to have second chances in this life.

Hurl: Were there a lot of songs in your head when you went into the studio to record or did you go into the studio with all the material pretty much all worked out?

JK: Some of the songs were in a finished state, and some sprouted as the project advanced. For instance, Jack had been living with the music to Smokerise Journey for a very long time apparently. He came to me with the music at Levon’s and said, I need lyrics. The next morning, those lyrics rose from the smoke of a memory I had. Larry forged the chords and my lyrics into a chart for a great song. It turns out that it was exactly what Jack was feeling. That doesn’t happen often…..it was meant to be written I guess:

Hurl: “Smokerise Journey” is a sweet song and it marks the first time that Jack and You have collaborated in the art of songwriting……very nice….. I love the way “Easy Now Revisited” turned out….One of your great songs from back in the day gets a fresh visit with some new lyrics to boot…..Why did you choose to revisit “Easy Now”?

JK: Easy Now was a song back ‘in the day’ about a motorcycle trip I wanted to take but never did. Easy Now Revisited is about a motorcycle trip I did take last year.

Hurl: The addition of a female vocalist is a real nice touch and Teresa Williams does a fine job in that roll…..However, it is different for Hot Tuna……How was it having Teresa singing with you and how did that come about?

JK: Over the last couple of years I’ve been blessed by being able to do lots of projects with Larry and Teresa. If Teresa weren’t so busy, I’d love to have her with me everywhere I go. She always makes me sound good.

Hurl: Larry Campbell has been making quite a name for himself as a producer and he does a great job as the producer on “Steady As She Goes”…..What do you feel makes a great producer and how was it working with Larry???

JK: Larry’s musical sensibilities are impeccable. His talent to understand his artists and to totally become a member of the team makes him invaluable as a producer. The fact that he is one of the greatest musicians I know…..didn’t hurt.

Hurl: As a producer did Larry get Jack and you to do some things that you might have not thought to do….say if you were producing this project by yourself????

JK: I would never want to produce one of my own projects. How boring. Larry shines the light, we notice it and follow. At this point I cannot imagine using anyone else to produce our music. I was lucky enough to have Larry produce River of Time and I really believe that River of Time and the spirit that went in to that project inspired all of us to make Steady As She Goes…Larry included.

Hurl: Barry and Skoota are such fine musicians and they sure add a potent contribution to the recording…..What say you about working with these two newer members of the Hot Tuna family?

JK: A perfect fit no matter how you look at it. Barry and Skoota were definitely ordained to be part of our group. Good stuff!

Hurl: Everyone I’ve talked to about the new record has been pretty stoked and elated with the fact that first off there is a NEW record and secondly that it sounds so great! I’ve had more then a few folks say that there are a number of songs on the new record that go back even further then CLASSIC HOT TUNA……they hear a Jefferson Airplane sound and feel…….Did you feel that as well?

JK: Absolutely. Working on this project opened many doors and freed me in a profound way!

Hurl: Having an instrumental tune on a Hot Tuna record has become a welcomed expectation and on “Steady As She Goes” this is once again the case with the CD closer, “Vicksburg Stomp”. Would you comment on that and tell us about how that recording came together???

JK: Barry brought this great tune into my life and I encouraged him to let us record it for Steady As She Goes. Vicksburg Stomp is very much like a lot of the instrumentals I have done and written over the years…..it was a fit that I just couldn’t let go away.

Hurl: I really dig your guitar sound on “Children of Zion”……how did you achieve that sound and how long have you been familiar with this Rev. Gary Davis composition????

JK: Well, you know how much I love the Rev. I’ve known about Children of Zion for a long time. I just finally got the insights to make it happen. The guitar sound is a Gibson SST Chet Atkins through a Oahu steel guitar amp from the thirties.

Hurl: Jorma……..You’ve had a long and blessed career……What is similar and what is remarkably different in the recording process from back then and now????

JK: The creative process is no longer a haphazard mystery. There is always room for magic to happen, but I am now able to at least give it a little direction.

Hurl: Well, I could keep on going……but I know you’ve got to go……What can you say in closing as to how satisfied you are with the sound you achieved on “Steady As She Goes” and the joy of a new studio recording for Hot Tuna????

JK: I couldn’t be happier with this project. Now I’m starting to think about the next, but first… our show at the Avalon in Eastern MD with Larry and Teresa! Oh…..wait….you forgot to ask about “A Little Faster”. I have to thank you and Vanessa for that song. As a manager bringing a song to a band is always a delicate task. But Vanessa brought me a real winner. And You, John…..wrote that beauty. It gives me such joy to be able to do one of your songs. Jack and Skoota really play off of each other in the middle of A Little Faster. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was an old Tuna classic! Thanks!

Vanessa, Resident Hot Tuna Artist Kevin Morgan and John Hurlbut

Vanessa, Resident Hot Tuna Artist Kevin Morgan and John Hurlbut

Hurl: Thanks Jorma, it is truly quite an honor to have one of my own songs recorded by one of my heros. Thanks for your time have a great tour. Bless Up! and rock steady!

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO…..#2

A recent email from my friend, Rob, who is a long-time Fur Peace Rancher and a music lover, gently prodded me to inform readers of “Checking the Levels” what music I’ve been listening to as of late. Thanks Rob……here you go. The last time I blogged on What I’m Listening To….I was heavy into the Afro-Beat sounds. There is so much good music out there and we are living in a golden age as far as availability of obscure music……You don’t have to me a Lomax with a field recorder anymore. I listen to all kinds of music….sure Jorma and Hot Tuna are my faves…..but there is so much music……it’s like a sonic buffet…..try something new……there’s lots to choose from.

Well, after getting back from Hawaii I was swooped up in the sounds of the island. I had some Hawaiian music on LP…..Ry Cooder was responsible for that. I was always a big fan of his music and as his JAZZ record was responsible for turning me onto some different Jazz sounds….CHICKEN SKIN MUSIC utilized some Hawaiian Slack Key players and was what made me search out Sol Hoopi records…..he was the King of Hawaiian Steel Guitar players. After experiencing such a great time in Hawaii and with the musical sounds fresh in my ears I jumped big time into some great Hawaiian Music CDs and I recommend each one of these. Some of these might be a tad hard to find…..I always check first with independent CD stores when ordering…….Amazon is a good second choice.

Gabby Pahinui is one of the Kings of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar and I really am enjoying a CD simply titled, “Gabby”. This is known as the “Brown Album” and it was first released in 1972. On this recording the slack-key master is joined by his sons for the first time on record. It is a beautiful album with great old style Hawaiian singing and playing. Another great Hawaiian Slack Key Guitarist, Keola Beamer, has some wonderful music available…..I’m particularly enjoying his solo instrumental CD, “Soliloquy” on Dancing Cat Records……..and…..Speaking of Dancing Cat Records…..they have two fantastic compilations of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters. I’ve been really digging Volume 1…..the Instrumental Collection. Another great collection on Palm Records is “Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2″. This collection has a nice variety of traditional and contemporary styles. “Hawaiian Touch” features Barney Isaacs and George Kuo in duet performances on acoustic steel guitar and slack key guitar. This all instrumental record I bought on a feeling and it is a real pleasure to listen to……highly recommended. The two other Hawaiian CDs I have recently purchased and recommend big time both feature female vocalist and they both are traditional. Raiatea has won numerous Hawaiian Music Awards, including 2002 Female Vocalist of the Year. Her CD, “Sweet & Lovely”, features her incredible falsetto voice as she sings traditional Hawaiian tunes with a deep respect of their heritage. The other CD with beautiful female singing is Lei’ ohu Ryder‘s “Lady of the Mountain”. I heard this CD when in the ranger station / gift store at the top of Haliakila and was really captured by her voice. The liner notes say it is “contemporary Hawaiian music from a very ancient source” and that’s the feeling I come away with. These last two recommendations, with just out of this world singing, are in heavy rotation in Hurlworld.

Thievery Corporation is my favorite group of the last 10 years. I first heard them when in a card shop in San Francisco and it was exciting. I asked the lady at the counter what was playing and when she told me I thought……I’ve never heard of them. Well, I walked down Columbus to the now, long gone, Tower Records’ store and picked up “Richest Man in Babylon” their newest release and was just blown away. It was like a discovery and the excitement and energy that comes with it. I’ve bought everything I can find on this group and have never been disappointed. Last year they released a best-of compilation, “It Takes a Thief”, and I most definitely would recommend it. Even though I had all of the material from other Thievery CDs, aside from the one unreleased track on this comp, I still picked it up and it is a great introduction to TC. Their music is classified as world, electronica and chill……it is also known as “outernational”. It is really a perfect mix of all kinds of music with the common denominator being cosmically good music.

Bob Marley is the reigning KING of Reggae. I was lucky enough to see him twice and the experience was life changing. I had tickets to see him on September 25, 1980 in Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately, he collapsed after the Pittsburg show two days earlier and the show was cancelled. The Pittsburg show was to be the last time Bob Marley and the Wailers took the stage. The concert from Pittsburg has now been released on Island Records as “Live Forever”. It is a super IRIE show for Bob and the quality of the performance and recording lay no hint of the health struggles Bob was waging. It’s a great concert and it captures Bob and the band in top form. I opted for the deluxe package which gives you 3 LPs and 2 CDs of the concert along with great packaging and liner notes. It is also available as a 2 CD set at a much more tamer price. Speaking of REGGAE……I’ve really been playing Agustus Pablo a lot recently. I have some of his recordings on vinyl, in fact they are Jamaican pressings……the kind that would drive an audiophilist crazy. Two, in particular, I recommend BIG TIME……they are “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown” and “East of the River Nile.” In each case make sure to go for the Deluxe Edition CDs……..they are killer! Pablo has been acknowledged as the founder of dub music, he was also a mystic producer and artist and he is an obscure Reggae legend. Let me finish off my Reggae sounds with Bob Marley’s “Survival”. This is one of the best of his best and it has been remastered with bonus track…….I’ve been listening to this one a great deal lately for some reason known only to Jah!

Sometimes a friend will ask…….”Don’t you listen to Blues anymore?”…..Well, of course I do. Again for some funny reason……that can’t be explained……I’ve been listening to Johnny Winter mucho lately. Some of it is NEW as far as in relation to release date. There is a great “Bootleg” series of CDs that Johnny’s people have been releasing and all of the ones I’ve heard are very credible. I’m really jazzed by the recently released Vol. 7 in this series. Also, a recent release of an old show is pretty fantastic…..”Johnny Winter And: Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70″. This is a fiery LIVE record from his hay day. Two others that I recommend are….The Legacy Edition of “Second Winter”. The original release came out in 1969 and 40 plus years later it still sounds soooo good!!!! The nice thing about this Legacy Edition is that you get the original LP…..remastered to sound spectacular…..along with a Live concert from the Royal Albert Hall in April 1970 which captures Mr. Winter with his band of Tommy Shannon, John “Papa” Turner and Johnny’s brother, Edgar. Indeed, this CD features Edgar’s earliest presentation of a song that would become a big hit for him, “Frankenstein.” ALSO…..the Johnny Winter “Woodstock” CD is very cool. This is a two – CD set that features his self-titled first record for Columbia paired very nicely with his Woodstock performance from the same year. Most of his Woodstock performance has been unreleased and it great to hear it in it’s entirety.

Another great Blues CD I’ve been listening to is Michael Bloomfield “Live at Bill Grahams Fillmore West 1969.” Michael is one of my favorite electric guitar players and this set captures him at the top of his guitar prowess. This CD is an import, so it may be a little difficult to find……but well worth the effort. Of course, we stock it at the Fur Peace Ranch Co. Store. I reviewed this CD for the local Athens News some time ago and you can read the review by clicking here….if you like.

I love Indian music and have a couple things that I would recommend as I have been thoroughly enjoying these. One is “IF, Magical Sounds of Sitar” by Niladri Kumar. He is a fifth generation Sitarists and his forefathers trained him well……learning Sitar at the young age of 4. I heard this CD while in the Self-Realization Fellowship Store in Encinitas and it was once again one of those experiences of ….who is this and where can I find it. Fortunately, they sold it at their company store / gift shop. I really like the sound of this CD. He mixes Indian Raga and Indian Classical traditions with modern and progressive styles. Some times it sounds like Ravi Shankar meets Joe Satriani…….and speaking of Ravi Shankar…I most strongly recommend a beautiful box set recently released. “Collaborations” is a limited edition box set that features 3 CDs and a DVD of music that Ravi Shankar and George Harrison worked on together. The box set’s presentation is just glorious……aside from the CDs that are presented in mini-LP sleeves, about the size of a 78 cover, the DVD which captures Ravi and a great group of Indian musicians in concert…..you also get a small hardcover book with nice text and wonderful color photographs of the master, Ravi, and his student, George. I can’t say enough about how nice this box is……check it out!

Now before I go…….As for a recent release……check out “Black Dub.” This is the new release from Daniel Lanois and it has an edge to it and it has been cutting into my musical pallet with each listen. ALSO….we just had a fantastic opening weekend here at the Ranch and I plan to write about that soon. Tim Reynolds was here and he did a great solo show on the Saturday night up at the Fur Peace Station. Tim has a new release, “The Limbic System”, and I’m enjoying this wonderful set as well. It’s a 2 – CD set and you get to hear the instrumental TR as well as a CD with vocals. Tim has his own style and it is on full display on this CD. I’m still digesting it and there is a lot here…..but I’m liking everything I’ve heard. I’m particularly fond of the song “The Truth” which I’ve heard him play before and am now happy to have on CD.

As for the newest CD in my play stack…….well, heck, …..it just came out. Yes, it’s been 20 years in the making and it so darn good……I mean great……that you’d think they were in the studio for that whole time. Just released on Redhouse Records, I’m talking about the NEW HOT TUNA ……It’s called “Steady as She Goes” and it finds Hot Tuna at the pinnacle of their career, ….so far. More on this later, but to me…..this CD (and a vinyl limited-edition that comes in May) fits into the Hot Tuna discography really nicely……right next to “Burgers” and “Phosphorescent Rat” ……this is Hot Tuna doing what they are known for better then ever…..with a new sound that is so crisp, you can tell it’s not farm raised……..but the tastiest tuna and the freshest catch. ENJOY!!!!

Practice Aloha!

We sure had a great workshop week at the Royal Lahaina Resort at the beginning of this year. While we had done three “On The Road” workshops in Desert Hot Springs during past winters, this year we decided to go for it and make the dream of a winter workshop in Hawaii a reality. We had been talking and dreaming about it for a couple of years and when it finally happened….. the reality was as nice as the dream. The place, The Royal Lahaina Resort, was just stellar and the food, service and accommodations were all perfect…..just the way we like it. Jorma and Marjorie, once again did a fine job of teaching and they also had a fine group of students. We all had a wonderful time. January is a nice time of the year to be staying on the beach in Maui. The whales start to come in and it is a real possibility that you’ll be seeing whales flipping their tales and blowing their spouts as you walk along the sandy beach.

Well, we had such a good time that we made a decision right there and then before we could make it back to the mainland that we should do it again. So, we are planning on returning to the Royal Lahaina and Maui in January of 2012. For next year we have reserved TWO weeks at the Resort. The first session will run from January 16th through the 20th…..and for this session the august teaching team of Jorma and Marjorie Thompson will once again reunite for a level 2 / 3 workshop session. Just as a side note…..if you feel you are more of a level 3 player…..do not be turned off by the grouping of these two levels…..Jorma and Marjorie have this teaching thing so down and they are also good at giving personal attention where needed.

Our second week of workshops will start on January 23rd and will run till January 27th. For this second session, Jorma will be teaching his first ever SONGWRITING workshop and he will be joined by Chris Smither who will be conducting a workshop that explores the music of Lightnin Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt and how Chris has used aspects of their music to form his own style. Both of these classes will have a very limited enrollment of 10 students per teacher and both will offer a unique learning experience!

After this past January’s workshop I stayed on in Hawaii for an additional couple of weeks for some R & R …. that was a lot of fun too. Maui is a beautiful place and the vibe is real nice as well. On my last night on the island I went out to dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Lee and my Dad, who had flown in to join me for the last few days. The Lee’s had suggested a place named the Mala Ocean Tavern and it was a super spot….right at the water’s edge…….our outside deck table was just a few feet from the lapping surf…..and mon, oh, mon…. it was a nice spot. The food was real special as well. But what I really enjoyed and took away from the restaurant……because there sure weren’t any leftovers…..was these cool little stickers they handed out. It simply stated in red capital letters against a black background….. PRACTICE ALOHA.

Now Aloha is one of these words that has multiple meanings and is most likely the most used word in Hawaii. It means hello…..it means goodbye…..it means love and affection and is an adjective for describing good things. It’s literal meaning is “presence of breath” or “the breath of life”. Aloha is a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. Aloha is sending and receiving positive energy……Aloha is living in harmony. So…..YES, Aloha does have many connotations…..and I’ve got to say …..I love every one of them! As I was looking into this I found a great quote from Queen Lili’uokalani….”Aloha means to hear and learn what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.” Another Queen…..Queen Debbie…..who has reigned over the Fur Peace Kitchen since we opened likes to say…..”Love is anticipating the needs of others”…..now that sounds like the Aloha spirit as well. So……with all of this in mind……I wish you all ALOHA!!!!!!