That Smell Like Fish? "Keep On Truckin'" and the Origin
of the Hot Tuna Name
The name Hot
Tuna, like the name Jefferson Airplane itself, can be attributed
to a play on the language of traditional blues. In "Keep
On Truckin'," a song Hot Tuna would record on their third
album, and whose lyrics are derived from '20s and '30s blues recordings,
the singer asks, "What's that smell like fish? Oh, baby,
I really would like to know."
Somebody suggested the answer just might be Hot Tuna.
The rest of the story...
On Truckin'" has its own interesting history, notable if
for no other reason than its direct responsibility for the origin
of the name Hot Tuna. The song is often credited to Bob Carleton,
although Jorma has said he hasn't a clue who that isKaukonen
learned the song along with dozens of others back in his college
days from [his guitar mentor] Ian Buchanan.
The reason Carleton is credited with "Keep On Truckin',"
it transpires, is because he wrote a nonsense song in 1918 called
"Ja-Da," popularized first in the stage musical Bran
Pie by Beatrice Lillie and then a record hit for a crooner
named Arthur Fields the following year. "Ja-Da" shares
its melody with the song that Hot Tuna would record, hence the
copyright credit for Carleton that sometimes turns up when this
song is re-released (on Burgers itself it went uncredited).
This also explains why, on the Airplane's Flight Log compilation
album, "Keep On Truckin'" is subtitled "Ja-Da."
words to "Ja-Da," however, are a far cry from those
of "Keep On Truckin'." For the origin of the lyrics
to the Tuna staple, one would have to dig deep into the blues
bag for a handful of songs that were passed around during the
1920s and '30s. A good place to start would be guitarist Tampa
Red's "What Is It That Tastes Like Gravy?," an 8-bar
blues with a melody remarkably similar to "Ja-Da" and
filled with double-entendre lyrics that center on a woman's aroma
and taste during sexual stimulation and the act of cunnilingus.
From there, fast-forward to 1936 and a blues guitarist named Blind
Boy Fuller, a contemporary of [Jorma's main influence] Rev. Gary
Davis. Fuller made a series of recordings for the American Record
Corporation (ARC), among them one that he called "Truckin'
My Blues Away," whose chorus is identical to the Hot Tuna
track. A couple of years later, Fuller returned to the same melody
for another risque blues called "What's That Smell Like Fish."
Jorma, who began singing a version of "Keep On Truckin'"
as early as college, borrowed Carleton's original melody as coopted
by Tampa Red and Blind Boy Fuller, the chorus of "Truckin'
My Blues Away," and the key phrase and a handful of other
lines from "What's That Smell Like Fish" to construct
his own classic.
But where Blind Boy Fuller suggested in his song that the answer
to the question he posed could very well be "sardines but
it ain't in no can," Jorma left the particular kind of fish
out of his interpretation and answered instead with the name of