Released 1975 on Grunt
The Seth Man, April 2000ce
This was Hot Tuna’s sixth album and was by far their most reckless, damaged outing ever. Compared to their first two wholly blues-based albums (recorded live) and the following two studio albums, “Yellow Fever” (and it’s immediate predecessor “America’s Choice,” both released in 1975) holds moments that surpass everything they ever recorded as Hot Tuna. They forsook the acoustic old tymey-ness of the first four albums and just went for it, continuing their loud jamming sensibilities they forged within The Jefferson Airplane for years. Their new direction as a thundering power trio of guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen, bass player Jack Casady (who both quit The Airplane in 1973) and new drummer Bob Steeler reached an apex on “Yellow Fever” (though “America’s Choice” with it’s inadvertent proto-techo soap powder sleeve and equally mind bending electric jamming is every bit a classic; along with the first and last song from “Hoppkorv,” the album which was the last in the power trio trilogy.) Storming into Wally Heider Studios, they proceeded to record tracks which were blues-based but wound up transmutating into frenzied jams as though Hendrix had just restored eyesight to Reverend Gary Davis. The first two tracks ease into the hectic-ness of this album with a cover of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and the innuendo-laden, public domain “Hot Jelly Roll Blues.” But it’s with “Free Rein” that heaviness starts rearing its ugly head. It’s not chords Jorma is coaxing from his hollow-bodied Gibson, it’s blocks of distorted, unsmelted iron ore that pour and roar outta the amps, contending with Bob Steeler’s drum fills over everything. The instrumental bridge shows Casady counterpointing everything with just a few carefully placed low rumble bass notes, but there is a melody in there. It all ends with a bang on the cymbals and the ‘whooooosh’ of an amp turned way up. “Sunrise Dance With The Devil” starts up as the blues, though fed through the ugliest wah-wah, winding up into an extreme jam for the rest of the album side. Several overdubbed guitar tracks sail over the ridiculous drum fills of incredible length and more precision Casady bass lines until the fade. But it is side two that holds the most drama and where the blues is shown the door. “Song To The Fire Maiden” opens it all up with an over-sustained lead, drum interplay while Casady rumbles beneath, above and leads to the bridge where an unprecedented psychedelic guitar solo takes root not once, but twice and it’s so WAH-WAH’ed, heavy and dripping funk you can’t believe it until the song ends where they throw all their instruments into a strung out, feedback’n’hyperspace rave up they used to do live to ‘end’ numbers: invariably stretching them beyond their allotted time in the process (During a 1976 Thanksgiving Day concert at The Palladium in New York City, it took this same power trio nearly six minutes to end a Chuck Berry song.) “Half/Time Saturation” would be heralded as a funk masterpiece if Kaukonen’s playing wasn’t so damn raw and fed through all manner of foot pedals, but the Casady/Steeler rhythm axis is on time every time. It’s not precision playing by any means, but it’s one powerhouse of a track and ends on a burnout of all time. The album ends with the instrumental phase-shifter-abused “Surphase Tension,” where the frequency wave on Kaukonen’s guitar is so high, you fear it's gonna throw the rest of the band off balance, but no way: it ends the perfect album side to a record that’s not altogether perfect but is so damn churningly raw, it stands as a severe original trapped midpoint in the seventies that sounds like nothing else. Except, of course, for its Quadrophonic version: but with so much remixing, boosted guitar lines and panning on EVERYTHING it’s like a psychedelic parallel universe on black plastic.