Jack Casady


musical style: 

photograph of Jack Casady

Jack Casady (born John William Casady, April 13, 1944 in Washington D.C), is an American musician considered one of the foremost bass guitarists of the rock music era. First playing as a lead guitarist with the Washington D.C. area rhythm and blues band "The Triumphs", he switched to bass during his high school years and while still underage, played the Washington D.C club scene, backing artists such as Little Anthony and the Imperials. He became the bass player for the Jefferson Airplane (replacing original bassist Bob Harvey) when lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, a high school friend and former Triumphs rhythm guitarist, invited him to join in the summer of 1965. Jefferson Airplane became the first successful exponent of the San Francisco sound, characterised as loud, raw, unpolished powerful rock and roll with plenty of feeling and an improvisatory dimension. Their singles, including "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit," had a more polished style and successfully charted in 1967 and 1968. They are one of the best remembered bands of the "psychedelic Sixties," inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Casady adjusted his bass and amplifier for a bigger and more luxurious tone, and as a song's performance developed, stepped beyond the conventional rhythmic and chord-supporting role of rock & roll, in order to explore other possible melodic ideas offered by the rhythm and chord progressions. His impact is immediately evident on Airplane debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966) on tracks such as "Let Me In" and "Run Around." The live Airplane album Bless Its Pointed Little Head, recorded in 1968, demonstrates Casady's unique walking line style to the fullest, as his Guild Starfire bass signal was delivered through a Versatone amplifier which gave his instrument a distinctive growling sound when played in the higher register. The Fred Neil track "The Other Side of This Life" remains the quintessential example of his style. On later Airplane albums, such as Bark, Long John Silver and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, Casady switched over to a $4,000 custom-made Alembic bass (#001, the first made by the company) dubbed "Mission Control." The extraordinarily grand sound Casady produced during his 1968-71 heyday—nowhere better heard than in his multi-tracked playing on "Sunrise," a song from Paul Kantner's 1970 solo album Blows Against the Empire—inspired fans to assign him the affectionate nickname of "God."

Other noteworthy Casady performances on Jefferson Airplane recordings include the seminal Top 10 hit "White Rabbit" (on the album Surrealistic Pillow, 1967), "Rejoyce" and "Watch Her Ride" (After Bathing at Baxters, 1967), "Crown of Creation", "If You Feel" and "The House on Pooneil Corners" (Crown of Creation, 1968), and "Crazy Miranda" and "War Movie" (Bark, 1971). Several of these tracks are remarkable for their groundbreaking infusions of jazz and raga bass lines into the rock format. For years in live performance with the Airplane, Casady's showcase was the Paul Kantner composition "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil," which gave the bassist the opportunity to improvise an open-ended solo that was different every night and often astonishing. The Fly Jefferson Airplane DVD includes one such performance videotaped at The Family Dog, where Casady pulls off a ragingly inventive solo that visibly impresses fellow band member Grace Slick. He was likewise adept at complementing the musicianship of his fellow players; the live version of "Volunteers" on the Woodstock album is a notable example of cooperating bass and keyboard rhythm with session pianist Nicky Hopkins.

Casady's appetite for playing led him to do extensive moonlighting during his Airplane tenure. He played bass on the Jimi Hendrix song "Voodoo Chile", from the Electric Ladyland album of 1968 (some copies of Electric Ladyland misspell his name, assigning credit to actor Jack Cassidy). He also occasionally played with other key San Francisco bands Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish and James and the Good Brothers. Furthermore, he was a member of two short-lived splinter groups, Mickey and the Heartbeats (with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart) and Jack Casady and the Degenerates; neither of these groups ever recorded, though live tapes are in circulation. Later, Casady was to appear on David Crosby's " If I Could Only Remember my Name" (1971) and Warren Zevon's "Transverse City" (1989). He also produced Jorma Kaukonen's first solo album, the critically acclaimed "Quah", in 1974.

Together with Jorma Kaukonen, Casady founded Hot Tuna in 1969, which they still front today. The group has morphed over the years from an acoustic blues unit to an electric boogie band to a rampaging metal act and back again. Casady is equally comfortable accompanying an acoustic Kaukonen ("Mann's Fate", 1970) or electric jamming ("John's Other", 1971). Casady's solo on "Candy Man" (Hot Tuna's First Pull up Then Pull Down, 1971) also shows his ability at carrying the melody rather than just playing rhythmic scales, a key characteristic of his bass solo work. Some exquisitely intricate playing is evident on the 1972 album Burgers, particularly the sparkling instrumental track "Water Song," which Casady has described as featuring "lead bass." When Tuna became a power trio in the mid 70's, Casady's Guild Flying V custom bass became his trademark. Later work, especially Live in Japan (1997), still boasts some devastating solos, reminding bass purists that he has not lost his touch. Casady's creativity is evidenced by his continually evolving bass solos on "Candy Man", "Good Shepherd" and "99 Year Blues".

In the late 1970s, Casady and Kaukonen found that they needed some creative time apart and Hot Tuna disbanded for several years. During this time, Casady helped found a short-lived modern rock band, SVT, with Brian Marnell, a promising songwriter and frontman (who later died of a drug overdose after SVT had disbanded). Again, Casady's versatility was demonstrated as this band played in a convincing New Wave style, totally removed from Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane. During his SVT tenure, Casady actually taped his fingers together to force himself to simplify his highly articulated playing style. He and drummer Paul Zahl formed an exemplary rhythm section, as evidenced on the LP No Regrets (1981). Also during the 80's, Casady joined former Airplane members Paul Kantner and Marty Balin in the KBC Band.

In recent years Casady has had a change of philosophy about the role the bass should play in presenting a song, and though he continues to play melodically, he now prefers to play in support of a song rather than to use a song as a platform for demonstrating his virtuosity of his instrument. As a result, though his mastery has not diminished with time, his sound is no longer as foregrounded or as grand as it once was—by choice.

Not a singer and never a prolific songwriter, it was not until June 2003 that Casady released his first solo album, Dream Factor. Like other Airplane-related solo works, there was nothing solo about it, as it featured substantial support from the likes of Jorma Kaukonen, Fee Waybill, Ivan Neville, the group Box Set, and many other musician friends. A well-played, warm-sounding, and diversely programmed album, Dream Factor ultimately suffers from being too much of a sampler, lacking the fire, audacity and specific personality of Casady's finest work. One exception, the instrumental "Outside," exemplifies the signature sound that Casady's followers hoped the entire album would embody.

Currently, as well as performing with Hot Tuna, Casady teaches bass workhops at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. He also helped design in conjunction with Epiphone, the "Jack Casady Signature Bass", a 34 inch scale hollow body electric bass with single low-impedance humbucker pickup. Read more about Jack Casady on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

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Jack Casady bass guitars

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