Hey Folks… pulling into the final gig of this little run, and it’s been really swell. The first two nights of the tour were acoustic at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and the rest of the run was the electric trio and that mostly with the David Bromberg Quintet. I love those guys! It’s been a helluva run. Anyway, the last two nights with David and his pals was at the Boulder Theater, in Boulder. I’ve always loved the Boulder Theater for what I considered to be its generally lovely acoustic properties. I’ve played it solo, I’ve played it with Barry Mitterhoff, I’ve been there as a guest of Nick and Helen Forster’s eTown… I’ve played it with Jack Casady acoustic and electric…well, suffice it to say I’ve been there a lot. It has always treated me well and I’ve always given it my best.

So last night we pulled into St. Louis for our last show today at the River City Casino. I was just heading to the restaurant for dinner when I got a text from Vanessa with this note. Now I’m not including the name of the gentleman who sent this to Ness. This is one man’s opinion and he is welcome to it. I don’t want to set him up to be piled on… I did not sit in his seat… I did not have his experience, this is his and his alone. Here is what this disgruntled soul had to say.

‘Hi Vanessa,

First, let me say I’m a long-time Jorma fan. I’ve been eager to hear Hot Tuna live and I’ve wanted to come to the ranch for a workshop for years. But another day for that.

I finally had the chance to hear Hot Tuna last Friday at the Boulder Theater. Well, I started the show anyway. We left during the third song because the sound was detestable. Way too loud, distorted and poorly balanced. I was clocking 105db (peaks were higher) in the balcony. God only knows how much louder it was closer to the stage. But not just loud. The sound was all thumping bass guitar and bass drum. Jorma’s voice was largely inaudible and sometimes even his guitar was covered. Really unpleasant, distorted and all one dynamic. Bad and unacceptably so.

I love my Hot Tuna albums. I appreciate that Jorma is a craftsman, laboring to select the right guitar, right amp, right mikes for each song. And he sweats the details, frequency balance, dynamics, spatial balance. I just can’t believe that he doesn’t care about the quality of his live sound. If his albums were so poor sounding, I wouldn’t buy another one. I doubt he would be proud of any album that sounded so bad, either.

No, I didn’t complain to management at the Boulder Theater. I have in the past (a Dixie Dregs show that was even louder) and they shrugged, saying “Nobody else has complained”. I can’t explain that. Maybe audiences are just so accustomed to bad sound they don’t know any better. But the lack of complaints is not evidence of good sound. Nor is the lack of complaints evidence that a good sounding concert would not be appreciated by the audience. Boulder Theater is not unique, there’s plenty of bad sound out there. Despite excellent sound systems in this day and age, concert sound has never been worse. The state of the art is awful. I just thought Jorma would insist on better sound. I just thought he would want his artistry to be better conveyed.

A final note on safety. 105db is flat out unsafe for human ears except for very short peaks. A constant level of sound that loud is dangerous to our long-term hearing health. I would think Jorma would have some sense of responsibility about that, too.

$135 down the drain for me. Worse, I can’t imagine risking a repeat of the experience. Too bad, I really like Hot Tuna.’

Jorma here again.

OK… another county heard from.

This individual implied that I don’t care about our live sound. He may have thought our sound sucked, and I guess that is for him to say, but he is way off base when he says that I/we don’t care about our live show. Anyone who has been stuck in the house when we set up to do a show knows how meticulous our sound check is. Our head Tech Guru, Myron spends as much time as it takes to tune the room before a single note gets played. My 1967 50w Marshall Plexi is surrounded by glass as is the Louis Electric TwinMaster. The Firebird or the Les Paul use the Marshall, the Gibson Chet Atkins SST gets the call for the softer finger picking numbers through the Louis. No one in the audience is in the line of fire from those amps. We spend a lot of time making sure the sound is right. We’re an old school band so we don’t depend on subs. Do we use some sub-woofer action? Sure we do, but we don’t depend on it.

Said individual said he left during the third song. Now I will allow that on the third and fourth song that night, I brought out my Fender Jazzmaster which hasn’t seen the light of day for number of years. The songs I used it on were Ode To Billy Dean and Talkin’ Bout You. I had some issues with that guitar that night and I will be the first to admit that I thought it sounded nasty and it did not return to the stage again. Mea culpa. Long life the Firebird! The first two songs were Been So Long and Candy Man. These are by their nature not very loud songs and one of the things I enjoyed about these Boulder shows was that I did not have to rely on the monitors… I could work with the sound I heard back from the house. For me this is an almost perfect on-stage scenario.

To get back to our offended patron. From our vantage point on stage I remember that we had a lot of dynamic range to play with. I had no trouble hearing my own voice coming back from the house, and I’m not a loud singer. Now this offended soul left after three songs and I’m not taking issue with what he heard. When I showed the note to Jack, his immediate response was ‘He has hearing issues.’ I can’t comment on that but I thought it was an interesting observation.

Lastly… again from the dissatisfied customer:

‘A final note on safety. 105db is flat out unsafe for human ears except for very short peaks. A constant level of sound that loud is dangerous to our long-term hearing health. I would think Jorma would have some sense of responsibility about that, too.’

OK, I have some hearing loss due to age and occupational hazards but I’m lucky… it could be much worse. That being said, I’m not out there with a db meter. That’s not my job. My job is to put on a good show, perform to the best of my ability and give the folks not only their money’s worth, but an honest artistic experience! I believe we do that every night. We bring it every night we play! We never phone it in! In my opinion one of the major components of Rock ‘n’ Roll, is volume (on the songs that require volume). I believe that many people today have damaged their hearing more by blasting music with ear pods than by experiencing high volumes at shows. (This is an opinion, and opinions are like assholes, everybody has one) That being said, if I were going to be in the audience for any kind of show and I were concerned about the ambient volume, I would bring ear protection with me. When I ride my motorcycle, I wear a full-face helmet and if I’m going for a long ride, I add under helmet ear protection as well. Just sayin’

OK. I’m truly sorry that the writer of this letter did not get the experience he had hoped for. I really am. Again, I wasn’t sitting in his seat and so my experience was obviously not his. I am saying that our collective experience at the Boulder Theater was, ‘Wow, what great sound tonight!’ I even did Genesis as an encore because I liked the detail of the sound so much.

Nuff said!


  1. Comment made on September 23, 2020 by Livemusiclover in CO

    Hate to break it to you… the sound at the Boulder Theater, for any act nowadays that’s not semi-folk or acoustic, is TERRIBLE. It suffers from all the same sins that plague most live venue music nowadays: too fucking loud, terrible or no mix, no dynamic range, drums and then bass mic’d first and overmic’d, boominess, mud, overload distortion and clipping, unintelligibility of vocals, unintelligibility of instruments. I don’t know what it sounded like to you on stage, but based on many tragic shows from some of my favorite acts over the last few years, I trust your disgruntled customer. When I try to talk about this, I have heard many things, like, “Oh these acts are successful enough to bring their own sound person.” That may be true, but then that sound person is drinking the Kool-Aid of poor live sound in modern smaller or mid-size rock venues. For example, in the last several years, two concerts I had so been looking forward to – Cat Power and The Mountain Goats – were absolutely destroyed by the indiscriminate, bulldozing, no dynamic sound “mixing.” These two acts may not be your cup of tea, but I had seen them both a couple of times years earlier in better sound managed venues and they were great. Bad live sound is a real thing and it is ruining even the best artists and acts.

    (Submitted by a 40-plus-year concertgoer who was at CBGBs in the 70s… and Palladium in ’81, though admittedly I wasn’t there so much for the music 🙂 And the sound at CBGBs was good, that was part of its appeal not many today understand – loud but clearly defined… most of the time.)

  2. Comment made on March 23, 2020 by charles newman

    @Greg Martelli
    Hey Greg I remember girls who would sit next to the bass bins and lay their heads against the cloth.

  3. Comment made on March 18, 2020 by Judge Jim

    Guess he never went to the Palladium in the 70s –

  4. Comment made on March 14, 2020 by Tarmo Tarvainen/Erkki Tarvainen

    Dear Jorma, I was sitting with my father who is 2 years younger than you discussin relative and past times when he meantioned that we are actually related to a very famous american musician. Keen as i was i wanted to hear more. He told me that he was 12 and his friend 14 years could not speak finnish or swedish. My father was not very comfortable with the english language at 12 years old but he said you came along very well. It seems that his father and your father are cousins. What i want to mention is that he reminds this and are very happy to have met you and the weeks you played together in this young age is highly appreciated. He sends his regards.
    The son of Erkki Tarvainen says hello on the behalf of his Father

  5. Comment made on March 10, 2020 by HOGAN

    OMG!!! I bet Myron got a good chuckle out of that…
    Please keep doing what you guys are doing, it means so much to so many…


  6. Comment made on March 7, 2020 by Rob

    @Tom NY

    I don’t have any suggestions. I don’t have one. I don’t use a lot of effects generally. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting an Echoplex but I doubt it’ll sound like the real thing. Of course if I could find the real thing in good shape for a reasonable price, I might go for it. But I can’t recommend anything from personal experience.

  7. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by Angelo Grippo

    Well Jorma, You know everybody is a critic.

  8. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by Howard Wade

    @Tom NY
    Get the TC Ditto. 1 knob and one foot switch. Works and sounds great. Reverb has ‘em used.

  9. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by Joel McBride

    I was at this show. All I can say is, Thanks again Tuna! You never disappoint. As my wife says “They are a class act!” Come back soon please…

  10. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by eaglesteve

    Ya can’t make everyone happy.
    But you make me happy.

  11. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by Tom NY

    I thought so Rob…Thanks

    Any recommendations for the most simplest looper effect and where to get one, like Reverb.com? I say simplest because I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles….Looking for simplest one – Just push a foot switch to begin and end.

  12. Comment made on March 6, 2020 by Dr Rob (NYC)

    I have seen Jorma and Hot Tuna since 1971 and have studied at the ranch for 10 years . I just saw Jorma and the boys at Town Hall in NYC and they sounded great.I do not think there is anyone in rock and roll who cares more about their sound and show more then Jorma and the Tuna family.For the guy who did not like the show get over it bro and do not come back.Who is perfect ? i look forward to the next Hot Tuna show !

  13. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by Keith Knobler

    Hey Jorma,

    I mixed your recent shows at The Fillmore in SF. After the first night, I received a message from an irate couple who had very similar complaints to this person. They also mentioned that they had complained about poor sound at other concerts (oddly enough they complained about too much low end at 3 different bluegrass / string band shows). I asked if they ever had their hearing checked? The guy took great offense to that question. Jack was most likely correct. You guys sound so awesome. And Myron is very careful about the FOH mix. Please don’t change a thing. 105a is totally fine with me. Hope to see you soon.

  14. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by Ham Neggs

    Is Garrett Morris available?

  15. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by Mark Frydman

    My ears are still ringing from the Commack Arena show on Sept 11 1976. Best Tuna show ever. I have pics but i am not sure how to post here, or even if i can

  16. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by mikie

    Nothing like coming to a rock n roll show with a dB meter and an attitude, I guess. Press on, gentlemen. m

  17. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by Alan R.

    I was at the show Saturday night (not Friday night). I’ve seen Hot Tuna before at the Boulder Theater and I’ve seen them in a million other places, going all the way back to the Fillmore East in 1971. The sound in the Boulder Theater was fantastic as it always is and Hot Tuna played a great set. It was anything but loud. My goodness, they ended with Water Song then Embryonic Journey, both played delicately and beautifully (as I’m sure Genesis and Sea Child were the night before). I’ve seen Tuna play loud and this was not one of those times. Long live Jack and Jorma, the best musical duo on the planet!

  18. Comment made on March 5, 2020 by carey georgas

    @John B
    Is that Yiddish for “bless his heart”?

  19. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Rob

    @Tom in NY: You read it right; I wrote it wrong. I meant the reverse: “Anyone that plays an electric guitar (or bass) knows that the sound you get at LOWER volumes is way different (and inferior) than the sound you get at LOUD volumes.” Which is why I liked when bands would use stacks of amps and turn them up all the way and just mic the vocals and drums through the PA. The music had more power. Of course it isn’t cheap to transport and set up all that equipment.

    @Greg M.: Hayward was in Fraternity of Man, not the HMR.

  20. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Howard Wade

    I’ve been debating whether to respond to the fellow who wrote the letter. After all he may not even read this but what the heck. I think he may suffer from some common miss conception about sound in an enclosed space. First let’s deal with decibel issue. I practice with a 5 watt amp. It’s not tough to produce 105 db with that little amp in my 20 by 20 room. An unamplified snare alone can produce 100 db in a medium size club. Rock is loud, partially simply because drums are loud. Further more sound quality can be worse and even louder in the nose bleeds as opposed to the floor. This has to do with how sound behaves in a room. Places like the balcony or far corners can have a buildup of low frequencies called standing waves. So the db reading on a meter in the balcony doesn’t necessarily match the sound at the mixing station. There’s not a lot that the sound engineer can do about these kind of issues other than get the best sound from where he’s sitting. Tuning the room helps but it won’t solve all the problems even in a good sounding room. It’s also important to realize that the guy standing on the stage has very little control over what the audience hears. So be careful when you accuse Jorma of not caring about sound quality. As far as sound equipment sounding better now than say 40 years ago it ain’t necessarily so. Amplifiers and speakers haven’t changed much. A Macintosh 2300 is still one of the best sounding power amps and JBL PA cabs still sound terrific. Sound now is highly processed and often digitized at the board. This introduces distortion and artifacts potentially. This is why those of us in the “old school” prefer no sub-woofers and no digital boards. Sadly the digital board battle is pretty much lost these days. I totally agree that you should bring ear protection to rock concerts. All the musicians that I know use them. I don’t know how much experience the writer has with live sound but no matter what a live rock concert is not going to sound like a studio album and it’s going to be loud. Going to a show and expecting it to sound like a record in your living room at medium volume is unrealistic. Just my 10 cents.

  21. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Steve

    I was going to say just what Jack did-he has hearing issues. 2 things-I have been at a Tuna show at the Beacon in the lodge and the sound to me was abysmal for whatever reason. I asked about it here and the general consensus was it must have been me. I can buy that-must have been an off night from where I sat. Number 2-recently saw Robbie Krieger of the Doors and the sound down close to the speakers was excellent. My friends in the balcony said it was so loud they all had to wear ear plugs!!! Go figure on both points-it’s as subjective as hell. Jorma can’t be responsible or possibly know what and how it sounds in each seat. FYI see below for 100db. Not like he did the early AND late show at the Palladium.

    Jet take-off (at 305 meters), use of outboard motor, power lawn mower, motorcycle, farm tractor, jackhammer, garbage truck. Boeing 707 or DC-8 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing (106 dB); jet flyover at 1000 feet (103 dB); Bell J-2A helicopter at 100 ft (100 dB). 100 8 times as loud as 70 dB. Serious damage possible in 8 hr exposure

  22. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Tom in St. Louis

    The St. Louis show sounded AWESOME!!
    Just loud enough, every note clear as a bell.
    More on that later…

  23. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by John B

    Oy Vey……….

  24. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Greg Martelli

    I believe Richie Haywood was in the holy Modal rounders.

    Roll another one
    Richie was a hugely underrated drummer.
    Listen to him on Fat man on waiting for Columbus

  25. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Mike Anderson

    Jorma, been a fan of yours since about 1974, been to many of your shows and have even had the opportunity to talk with you before you went on. I’ve also seen Jack out there too. You and your crew are nothing but professional. I’ve seen you set up, I’ve seen what you’ve done to provide a great show and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bad Jorma/Tuna/acoustic/electric. I have severe hearing loss form jet noise from when I worked on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, I play marginal guitar as my hearing inhibits my ability to tune the darned thing and my VA hearing aids just amplify my tinitis so I live with it. Keep up the good work and I hope your answer satisfies your disgruntled fan. I would personally thank you for supplying an in-depth answer such as you have here. He/she may not see it but you taking the time to address one person’s perceived bad experience shows you care about your fans, other band musical should be so lucky. Keep up the great work!

  26. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Tom NY

    “Anyone that plays an electric guitar (or bass) knows that the sound you get at loud volumes is way different (and inferior) than the sound you get at lower volumes.

    Rob, I am not sure I read your comment right. Do you mean loud volumes are inferior?

    For me, loud volume (potential or kinetic energy) allows for so much more tonal control with both the left and right hand fingers. And just because the volume is up on the amp, it doesn’t mean you are running at 105db… TONAL CONTROL… Nuanced atmospheres can be created w a little reverb tank and delay…and warmed up tubes as well.

  27. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Sweetbac Jr.

    I prefer my electric Tuna louder and longer(my problem is the stale setlist)
    but that’s just me

  28. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by TJH

    Why is this offended concert goer addressing his issues with your wife?

  29. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Brett Richardson

    I’ve seen to so many Jorma and Hot Tuna shows over the years I’ve lost count. Your live shows are always top notch – both the performance and the sound quality. Can’t wait to see you again – hope you are in the Richmond, VA or Washington, DC area soon!

  30. Comment made on March 4, 2020 by Rob

    I just learned that the magnificent Steve Weber of Holy Modal Rounders fame has died. I actually thought he might be one of the rare contenders for potential immortality. Criminally under-publicized as an outstanding country blues guitarist of the highest order with an unmatched abundance of stage presence. Lesser titans would have withered away after doing a fraction of what he’s done.

  31. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Art

    “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

    — Christopher Hitchens

    I for one, attendee of at least 25 Tuna and/or Jorma solo shows, can say that the sound quality of these performances is A++. Very few performers are as good. It is exactly the right soundboarding and musician dynamics for this style of music. It is clear, not muddy, has great acoustic latitude, and while I have been to some loud shows, I have never found it painful. Just loud enough for the appropriate aesthetic effect. Actually, I’d say that one needs quite a bit of sensitivity to achieve the sonic subtleties we enjoy at a Tuna show. Jorma and Hot Tuna need not feel the need to defend themselves here.

  32. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Joey Hudoklin

    After all these years, I’m still a “turn it up Jorma!” Advocate.

  33. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Philip J Nola

    keep on keeping on!! I like your comment about opinions. I always like to say “opinions are like assholes, everyone has one…and they all stink!LOL

  34. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by carlo pagliano

    Rock Them All High Tonight, Jorma!

  35. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Bernie

    Brother, I have been enjoying your live shows since 1980 and you always deliver the goods and then some. I live in the NYC area and manage to catch most of your tri-state shows. Even made it down to the Caverns in Tennessee! In fact, just the other night, my wife Tracey and I were discussing how going to Hot Tuna shows is our favorite thing to do (of course we also catch a nice meal before the show which enhances the enjoyment!). Keep on truckin’ Jorma.

  36. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by AndyK

    Like many of us I’ve been attending rock shows for more than 40 years. While on rare occasions I find the volume too high or distorted, there was only one (out of several hundred) show that I actually left because of the sound being too high and distorted . It was at the Capitol theater in Port Chester New York. Nevertheless, I’ve attended more than a dozen other shows there with no issues whatsoever. Could there have been a problem in Boulder? yes. Could the problem have been with the listener ?
    Yes. Only the other attendees at the show could tell us the answer.
    PS I recall another too loud experience
    New Year’s Eve at the Felt Forum seeing Mountain circa 1974
    But I was in the 3rd row directly in front of the speaker and my senses were chemically sensitized!

  37. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Joe from VA

    Jorma, gracious response. Dissatisfied Boulder Theater Hot Tuna Concert goer: PULLLLLLEAZE—get over your bad self!!

    Been rocking with HFT for 47 years and well over 100 concerts—never encountered any of this ever to include some pretty crazy venues with not even close to the acoustics of the Boulder Theater (lived there in the early 80s). Also have had the pleasure to witness several sound checks over the years, and the care that Jorma describes is what I observed (witnessed a sound check for an electric gig at the Birchmere in the mid-2000s).

    “Trouble, trouble at your door, the stork has left your chimney bare. Your best friend thinks you’re out to lunch and satisfaction just ain’t there. If life ain’t worth living and it ain’t no fun, you betta jump out the window and run.”

  38. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Greg Martelli

    In college I saw a kid sit with his head in the horns at a Steppenwolf show.
    I attribute my 80% hearing to :
    Too many Who shows
    Vance pipes on softails
    Constant concussion and whine on construction sites

    Long live rock
    Be it dead or alive

  39. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Brendan Carroll

    I’m hesitant, as I’ve been reading and posting here more frequently than I would suggest to a friend. That said, I’m in McDonald’s wearing headset ear protection. I’m in very quiet environs most of the time and sounds I used to ignore really rattle my cage. Also, I’m using exclamation marks, which is unusual.

  40. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Rob

    I’m glad but not surprised that Jorma hit on the main points that jumped out at me when I read the complaint letter:

    1) Bring ear protection. I’m a musician. I play and go to a lot of shows. I always have earplugs; I’d probably be half deaf if I didn’t. If I weren’t around so much loud music, I might be more selective in when I wear them but I’d always have them with me just in case. After experiencing one show that’s “too loud,” it should be apparent that they should be on hand in case they’re needed. After that Dixie Dregs show, the writer should have bought earplugs so he never had to “suffer” again.

    2) People do more damage using earbuds than they do at concerts. I’d add surround-sound home entertainment centers for movies and video games, too. I think Pete Townshend said that his hearing loss came from listening to recording playbacks through headphones and not from the loud concerts The Who used to play. He should know. Concerts get a bad rap but most people’s daily exposure to loud sounds comes from movies, gaming, iPods, hunting, subways, dance clubs, etc. Do people really go to enough concerts to damage their hearing? Some do but most don’t.

    3) If it’s worth playing, it’s worth playing loud. I think I saw a photo of Mickey Hart wearing a shirt with that on it. Anyone that plays an electric guitar (or bass) knows that the sound you get at loud volumes is way different (and inferior) than the sound you get at lower volumes. Preamps and Line 6-type products have made lower volumes seem a bit more “present” but it’s still not the same as turning up a good tube amp and if you wanna sustain a note using feedback, forget it when the volume is only a quarter of the way up. There’s a reason why amps go to 11.

    The complaint writer doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word “subjective”. “Too loud” is not universal; some folks at that HT show were probably wishing it were louder. When you’re in a group setting, everything can’t be to your liking. How old is this writer that he doesn’t understand this yet?

    Some folks really do need to stay home and listen to records. That way, they can set the volume the way they like it, they can stand up and sit down as much as they want during a song, they can talk to their friends or use their cellphones during a song, etc. People have lost the ability to enjoy a concert in a way that doesn’t interfere with other audience members. This person’s urge to impose his sound preferences on the rest of the audience is just one more example of the sense of entitlement and lack of empathy that many people have nowadays in group settings. It’s probably related in some way to social media and mistaking it for real interaction but saying this probably makes me sound like an old fart.

  41. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by Tom NY

    I am sure many of us can easily imagine Jack delivering that line about the guy having hearing problems… Jack is a quick wit, and he doesn’t suffer fools I presume. I never was at a Jack class but I hear he is a task master.. God bless Brother Jack.. Long live Jack….until it’s time to head toward home.

    Sounds like the 3rd or fourth song blew the Hot tuna fan out… maybe he didn’t like his seat too. Must say, so many folks have no idea what good sound/tone is, they wouldn’t know whether it was too loud or distorted or not.

    If it was good enough for an electric Genesis, it must have sounded fine on stage. Heck when was the last electric Genesis? Anybody know?

    I agree peeps should have ear protection.

  42. Comment made on March 3, 2020 by carey georgas

    Don’t look like he hung around for the encore. Sounds to me like it’s either a case of auditory snobbery, or full on codgeritis. Bless his heart.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *