Jack Casady is one of rock 'n' roll's most definitive, innovative, oft-imitated bass players. It was in San Francisco that he made his initial mark as a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and later Hot Tuna. He is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, yet it has taken until 2003 for him to record his first solo record.
Dream Factor was definitely worth the wait. But why so long?
"That's a good question," Casady says from his LA home. "I think mostly it's difficult, without being a singer, to get material out and to be recognized. And also, I just sort of kept putting it off."
The album Casady finally recorded employed a wish-list lineup. Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Barrere, Jeff Pehrson, Ivan Neville, Warren Haynes, Matt Abts, Jim Brunberg, Doyle Bramhall II, Fee Waybill, and Steve Gorman all piled into Casady's home studio with producer Greg Hampton to create a mid-tempo, soulful rock 'n' roll record.
Casady had a picture in his head, but relied on the other artists to help bring it into focus.
"Sometimes I had just a song title or an idea. For instance, with Jeff Pehrson and Jim Brunberg, I did a session for about five days with those guys and I said 'Listen, I've got this song here, and this song here, and I've got an idea for a song here. I've written some prose with it, can you see if you can use it.' Everybody came about."
Though focused, Casady and crew were open to surprises.
"It was really enjoyable to see something take off in a little different direction than I thought," he says. "That's what my idea of producing is about. You gently guide it down the stream, but you don't want to have every paddle in the water."
Casady's wisdom clearly comes from the vast chunk of rock 'n' roll history he was a part of. Starting out playing r&b in Washington DC-area clubs in the early '60s, Casady soon found himself growing disillusioned with music.
"In the music I was playing at the time, you thought in terms of breaking into clubs and playing music," he says. "You played a lot of cover music. By playing other people's music, it actually kind of put me in a box. I was pretty lost musically."
And although Casady credits the British Invasion groups for breaking a mundane chain where he felt he was "mostly going through the motions," after a while he still felt his career stagnating, his originality going unchallenged.
So, upon the urging of friend and band mate Jorma Kaukonen, Casady grabbed his bass and headed west to San Francisco where artists, both pro and hopeful, were converging on the scene.
"A lot of people were coming out from art school and folk music," Casady says. "And they hadn't played in rock 'n' roll bands. So on one hand I came out there to what sounded like a bit of chaos with a band where everybody came from different musical directions. On the other hand, everybody was sticking to their guns, trying to write their own material. That hadn't been allowed in the circles I had traveled in before that. I was a young man searching his instrument, searching how to play it --- still searching."
On a recent drive up to a show in San Francisco, Casady popped one of the recently re-released Jefferson Airplane discs into his dash.
"I though 'God, this stuff is so complicated.' It's unbelievable," he says. "I don't even remember doing all that stuff."
There's no denying Casady's impact on the world of rock 'n' roll. The innovation, tone, and technique are still audible and credible today. He's a legend, sure, but Casady, in his humility and passion for music, is all about now.
Jack Casady, Box Set, and Jim Lauderdale play Saturday, October 4, at The Montage Grille, 50 Chestnut Street, at 9 p.m. Tix: $16-$18. 232-8380