Begun as an acoustic spin-off of the Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna eventually became the full-time focus of founding members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, emerging as a popular touring act of the 1970s. The two were lifelong friends, growing up together in Washington D.C. and playing in the group the Triumphs.

After high school, guitarist Kaukonen and his government-service parents relocated to the Philippines, but he returned to the U.S. in time for the advent of psychedelia, landing in San Francisco and co-founding the Airplane in 1965.

Bassist Casady joined not long after, and together they helped lead the group to massive success during the late 1960s. Hot Tuna took shape in 1969, while both Casady and Kaukonen were still active members of the Jefferson Airplane. Their first performances were sandwiched between regular Airplane gigs. The group debuted in 1970 with a low-key self-titled LP of traditional blues and ragtime recorded live at the New Orleans House in Berkeley.

The following release, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down, was a more rock-inspired effort. More than 17 albums later, including a 1999 live CD release culled from their summer 1998 performances as part of the Furthur Festival, Hot Tuna is still in the mix.


R&B and soul songwriter and singer, Don Covay, receives WAMA’s 2000 Hall of Fame Award for his contributions to the music world. Born in 1938 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Covay grew up in Washington, D.C. The son of a Baptist preacher, Covay first sang in his family’s gospel group, The Cherry Keys, before joining The Rainbows, with Marvin Gaye, John Berry, and Billy Stewart, in the 1950s. Covay’s solo career began in 1957 when Little Richard recorded Covay (as “Pretty Boy”) with an Atlantic release called “Bip Bop Bip/Paper Dollar.” Covay then started his own band, Don Covay and the Goodtimers in the early 1960s.

While considered a seminal soul singer, Covay is best known for his songwriting. He co-wrote “Pony Time” in 1960, which the Goodtimers recorded, but which became a hit for Chubby Checker. Covay wrote other dance-oriented tunes, including “The Popeye Waddle,” which was a hit in 1962. In 1964, Covay recorded “Mercy Mercy” with the Goodtimers for the Rosemart label. Two years later he recorded “See Saw,” co-written with Steve Cropper, at Stax records, followed by “Sookie Sookie” and “Iron Out the Rough Spots.”

Covay wrote numerous hits for many of his contemporaries, such as Wilson Pickett (“I.m Gonna Cry,”), Solomon Burke (“I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You”), Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Letter Full of Tears”), Aretha Franklin (“Chain of Fools”), Otis Redding (“Think About It”) and Etta James (“You Got It”). The Rolling Stones considered him to be a major influence and recorded his “Mercy Mercy.” (Twenty years later, in 1985, Covay sang background on the Rolling Stones’ “One Hit.”) Covay’s songs were recorded by Huey Lewis & the News, Steppenwolf, The Searchers, Cher, Bobby Womack, Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Raitt, The Kinks, and many others.

In 1993, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation honored Covay with its Pioneer Award. Covay was in poor health, and an all-star group including Ron Wood, Robert Cray, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, Billy Squire, and Jimmy Witherspoon recorded a tribute album (Back to the Streets: Celebrating the Music of Don Covay), released in 1994. Razor and Tie released a 23-track retrospective the same year. Last September, Covay released his first new album in 25 years, called Adlib. As usual, his good friends, including Wilson Pickett, Ann Peebles, Huey Lewis, Frederick Knight, and Otis Clay were there to help.


Singer-songwriter master craftsman Donal Leace has been a fixture in the Washington, D.C. folk community for more than 30 years. During the 60s, he was known as “Washington’s Favorite Folk Singer,” and the famed Cellar Door nightclub was called “The Home of Donal Leace.”

Leace is known for his extraordinary instrument his voice which “resonates and vibrates like a hollow steel drum, then rings clear as a crystal bell.” An engaging performer, Leace mixes soul, pop, and jazz with a dash of humor. He writes about contemporary people, and weaves stories that he calls “little snapshots in time.”

Since his first professional solo appearance in 1959 at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Leace has performed all over the world with such greats as Muddy Waters, Joe Williams, Judy Collins, Big Mama Thornton, and Odetta. He has recorded for Franc, Gateway, JBL, and Atlantic Records, and has toured with Roberta Flack and Nancy Wilson.

Leace moved to Washington, D.C. from Philadelphia in 1960, and put himself through school by playing in bars and nightclubs. He had a steady job at Charlie Byrd’s Showboat nightclub but was lured to the Cellar Door in 1962. That job lasted nine years. Leace said, “There was an apartment above the club where I lived, so the Cellar Door was literally the home of Donal Leace.”

Leace’s mentors included Dave van Ronk, who taught him how to play guitar, and Roberta Flack, who was his vocal coach and helped him get his recording contract at Atlantic Records. Leace has recorded four albums and is working on a fifth.

Leace is a graduate of Howard University, and holds graduate degrees from The George Washington and Georgetown Universities. He teaches theater at Howard University, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Georgetown University.


Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.

Featured image photo credit: Chuck Morse