The Ballad of You
New York City 1985. Jorma Kaukonen students Jody Salino and Mike Slater form EarMen. Based in lower Manhattan at the infamous Nancy Whisky Pub. The building was owned by John Coltrane drummer Rasheed Ali. Also based at Nancy’s are Steve Farzan and Steve Sacher, keyboardist and bassist of Jorma’s then touring band, There Goes The Neighborhood, which featured Ali on drums.
EarMen performed as a duo, opening up for Jorma and There Goes The Neighborhood on many occasions. As Jorma’s students, they got calls to sit warm up and in at Jorma gigs.
When There Goes the Neighborhood wasn’t touring Farzan, Sacher and Ali would join EarMen as a five piece.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, Chico State University students Peter Harris and Jay Young are performing with Bay Area band The Webs.
Coincidentally, The Webs originally included Farzan, who left temporarily to go on tour with Jorma back east.
This would be the first of several cosmic occurrences leading ultimately to the formation of Grateful Tuna.
When Salino made the move to the west coast he became roommates with Nevin Kane, whom he met through Nevin’s brother Lachlan. The Kane brothers were friends with Harris and Young. It was through Nevin that Salino and Young first met in the mid 80’s. After losing contact, Salino and Young would not see each other again for almost 35 years.
Meanwhile, Pete Harris was very busy in the Bay Area. Through a long time friendship and partnership with David Freiberg, Pete worked with Jefferson Starship and Quicksilver. Similarly with Freiberg’s wife Linda. When Jerry Garcia passed in 1995, Pete was hired by Melvin Seals to play guitar and sing in JGB.
At the same time, Salino joined forces with Phil Lesh publicist JC Juanis, to reignite Juanis’ country rock alter ego JC Flyer. Juanis, a long time rock columnist, was bringing a lot of talent into the Lesh and Friends fold. Through those connections and by incorporating other local talent, Juanis and Salino recorded Movin’ On.
At about the same time, Pete’s brother Charlie began studying bass with Jack Casady.
When Pete came off the road from a three year stint in JGB, Salino got a call for a job that would move him to the east coast. JC Flyer needed a new guitarist. Pete Harris took Salino’s slot. At that point Salino and Harris knew of each other but were not acquainted.
After JC Flyer disbanded, the Harris brothers formed The Django Project and subsequently Django Obscura with Farzan, who had long since returned to the Bay Area.
Fast forward to the mid 2010’s. Farzan became very ill. The Harris brothers and Young started a weekly jam session at Pete’s place in order to provide Farzan a weekly escape from his treatments. At least for a few hours.
Farzan continued to decline. Pete asked Steve if there is anyone Steve would like to invite to join the jam. Steve asked Pete if he knew Salino. Pete was able to contact Salino through mutual acquaintances. Salino agreed to join the weekly jam sessions.
It was at that very first jam the Salino and Young were reunited after so many years; where JC Flyer alumni Jody and Pete finally got the chance to collaborate; and, where Jody and Charlie got a chance to play Hot Tuna music together. You see, Charlie had been attending classes with Jack Casady at Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch.
Farzan told them, this guy (Salino) was ‘one of Jorma’s (capable) students. He can play those parts!’
Ultimately Farzan became too weak to play and his life sadly ended. But the jams continued as a tribute to Steve Farzan.
Just then the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. Social distancing. Shutdowns. No live music. No friendly gatherings. The jams ended for nearly six months. Then the friend pods. The guys reached out to each other and the pod was cemented.
The jams started again. Slowly at first. Then ultimately, weekly. The group got better. To the point where the question was: Is This Gig-able? The pandemic began to wane.....