Hot Tuna – 1971 LP First Pull Up, Then Pull Down – ‘We Used To Melt’

by | Dec 18, 2019 | 2 comments

Sitting on the turntable platter today in the ‘rock room’ is
Hot Tuna’s June 1971 LP, First Pull Up,
Then Pull Down
, the duo’s follow up record to the previous year’s acoustic
based debut. Recorded live in April of 1971 the album continues a theme of Jorma
Kaukonen’s and Jack Casady exploration of traditional and blues tunes
sprinkled in with a curated selection of Jorma originals. The central
differentiating factor of the first and second records is that, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down is fully
electrified. The famed self-titled debut spotlighted Jorma, Jack and blues
harmonica specialist Will Scarlett playing live in an acoustic setting in
contrast to the bombastic performances Jorma and Jack had just left behind in
the Jeffferson Airplane. The follow up record added drummer Sammy Piazza and
blues fiddler and Bay area favorite Papa John Creach on electric violin to the
school of musical fish. The first two albums could easily be referred to as Hot
Tuna Acoustic and Hot Tuna Electric.

Hot Tuna’s manifold musical influences developed from both
Jorma and Jack’s early coffee house folk days and their psychedelically induced
playing with the Airplane. Hot Tuna was and has always been the culmination of
their friendship and the expression of their numerous musical tastes. This LP
and the aforementioned self titled debut set the brick foundation for all of
their future musical exploits.
First Pull Up, Then
Pull Down
opens with ‘John’s Other’, a Papa John instrumental composition,
and a horny jam session. Immediately I think of the ‘Dirty Mac’s jam from the ‘Rolling
Stone’s Rock and Roll Circus with violinist Irvy Gitlis (as they are both a 12
bar). The band members each take the opportunity to solo over a bed of hot
rock. First Papa takes a slick series of violin quotes, then followed by Jorma
who puts a buzz saw to wood with a delightfully fuzzy guitar solo. Scarlett
blasts some blues harp before again being taken over by Papa John. A straight ahead
extended rock and roll opener, this track straddles the boundary between Hot
Tuna of the sea and Jefferson Airplane of the sky.
The following cut is a cover of Reverend Gary Davis’s
“Candyman” a major influence of Kaukonen and of music in general. While an
acoustic version would appear as a bonus cut on the Hot Tuna debut reissue,
here the song is given a country funkified rendition. A whiney harp by Will
Scarlett takes center stage blowing over the front porch rocking chair creaking
of the rhythm section. The deft concoction of harp and violin are the sugary
covering over the rich rustic center. Jorma’s wonderfully reedy vocals lend a
sepia tone to the proceedings.  Midway
through the song Jack Casady takes the classic blues and dismantles the
structure into a well-timed, chord riddled and looping bass solo. The music
swells and lands perfectly into the central melody.

A Jorma Kaukonen original comes next with, “Been So Long”.  A chunky palm muted introductory guitar scrub
signals the band to fall into place. Jack drops a stone into the water letting
the ripples reverberate. To the ‘rock room’s’ ears, there may have been a
rerecording on the vocals as they sound almost studio quality (in addition to
an extra guitar lick). A cut that has lasted for the duration of ‘Hot Tuna’s
career this song contains all of the hallmarks of Kaukonen’s best songs. Dynamic
guitar and a euphoric middle eight highlight this early Hot Tuna standard.
‘Want You To Know’ continues in the same vein, bathed in a
bitter drink, thick smoke and dimmed lights. Jorma begins the tune with some
delicate Delta blues finger picking before a steady snare hit and earnest fiddle
swells coagulate the beat. Invisible dusty feet stomp collectively as the
curtain is pulled back to reveal Papa John scribbling historical lines over the
twisted frame of traditional music.

The second side of the record begins with another Reverend
Gary Davis composition and an in concert favorite of Hot Tuna fans, ‘Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning’. Sadly, lyrically
the song remains as relevant as it was when it was born. This song was also
given an acoustic reading on the first Hot Tuna record and here it is given a
100 watt jolt. Jorma plucks out the song’s introductory heartbeat before the
band flares around him into a honky tonk groove. Jorma’s vocals sound slightly menacing
as his picking mirrors the melody. Extended to past eight minutes, the band
peruses each nook and cranny of the musical framework. Jorma and Papa John work
in conjunction tugging on each end of the verse until snapping back into a
collaborative groove. Casady hits the root appropriately but dances around the
edges while tastefully joining in disseminating a taste of the lead melody.
Midway through the song Piazza’s tempo doubles and at five minutes in Kaukonen
stomps the fuzz box with Casady slamming his thick four strings. Papa John,
Scarlett, and Jorma wrap around a central pole, streaming flash paper melodies that
rise, fall and dissipate in musical community. The group reaches an appropriate
peak before falling into the final verse and conclusion.

A blues classic and main stay of the Tuna repertoire ‘Never
Happen No More’ comes next. Written by Blind Blake in 1927, the ‘rag’ tells the
tale of a down on his luck depression era man, the perfect fit for Jorma and
Jack. Papa John is the leader of the band, laying down a mournful yet slippery
consonance to Kaukonen’s rag time picking. Similar to the groups cover of ‘Want
You to Know’ the band pulls the most important elements of the song and hold
them up to the light for inspection.

The album closes with an extended reading of ‘Come Back Baby’,
a song Jorma had been using as a spotlight piece in Airplane performances. (the Woodstock version is particularly fine) The original version was written by
Walter Davis in 1940, but a number of cover versions took place in the 1960’s
including well known versions by Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. The closing
version for First Pull Up, Then Pull Down
sets a swampy groove with Casady answering Kaukonen’s guitar with rotund
thumps pounded into the empty spaces. Again, Papa John adorns the rhythm with a
martellato bow attack. Once in a while Papa John elicits a colorful dropping
from above in a dizzying array of descending sound. While taken at a more
patient reading than some Jefferson Airplane versions, the blues form is
explored by all the instrumentalists conjuring up a dirt stomping version. At
around 6 minutes Jorma pours some spicy wah-wah into the stew giving a kick to
everyone involved.
‘Hot Tuna’s 1971 album First Pull Up, Then Pull Down is a proper ‘Volume II’ to their debut acoustic
album. The record illustrates the other side of the band’s mirror to listeners
allowing them a view of their influences and abilities. Perhaps not the ‘best’ Hot Tuna recording, but one well worthy of your listening time. Throughout the later 1970’s
the band would walk the razors edge balancing their musical personality between
rock and psych ‘metal’, but always keeping the acoustic blues and electric ragtime sensibilities
firmly in their grasp. The relationship between Jorma and Jack endures of 50
years on, and while the musicians and friends they work with under the banner
of ‘Hot Tuna’ revolve with every trip around the sun, the principals remain.

2 Comments

  1. Bob W.

    Nice review of First Pull Up, Then Pull Down. I have to say that I did not like this album when it first came out. I was used to seeing Hot Tuna as an acoustic band, and seeing Jack & Jorma electric in the Airplane (I first started seeing the airplane when Signe and Skip were still aprt of the band).

    After the acoustic playing (both live & the 1st LP) FPUTPD seemed like over indulgent jamming. Sometime in the late 80's I pulled this album out and gave it a spin. I was surprised by how good it was. I think how we hear an album is more dependent on our expectations than we realize.

    Thanks for the write up, a very enjoyable read.

    Reply
  2. talkfromtherockroom

    Thanks again for commenting Bob and for the kind words. That is AMAZING you were lucky enough to see the early line up of the Airplane. I am sure you have some great stories. Thank you again for sharing!

    Reply

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