by Jim Brodey (submitted by Bill Peterson)

With the exit of Ritchie Blackmore as lead guitarist of Deep Purple, many fans and friends thought the band might flounder, disband, or merely go on making albums that were not quite as heavy as they used to be. Time passed, Blackmore put together his Rainbow group, and vocalist David Coverdale was looking around for a new driving force to front his Purple on guitar.

Enter Tommy Bolin. An ex-James Gang guitarist, he was once the perfect replacement for their lost Joe Walsh. Bolin — one of the most promising of the rising new crop of super-heavy, fast guitarists (a la Mahavishnu and definitely post-Hendrix) — exploded onto the scene via ex-Mahavishnu drummer Billy Cobham’s excellent first-LP jams. Coverdale had heard the Cobham record and was naturally very impressed. He got in touch with Bolin, and found the lad drifting between recording studios, not officially with a group, and just jamming when and where he could. The guitarist was flown to England, where the group met him. It was probably love at first sight because Bolin really fits in with Deep Purple. In fact, he makes them sound like the whole new band they really are.

Come Taste the Band, the first Deep Purple disc featuring the complete, whirling, furious, hurricane-pitch tempos of Tommy Bolin’s plunging guitars, is a fine record, easily worthy of the band’s past recordings — and a pretty solid reply to anyone who still thinks that Purple without Blackmore ain’t Deep.

Not only is it Deep, it’s also dense. There are so many guitar tracks that it sounds as if Bolin is doing everything. The guitarist makes mincemeat out of his solos, continually bombing in from behind Coverdale (who reacts to the new push by really getting in not only on, but under, and pretty high indeed). The group backs Bolin very well. His favorite guitar effect is a low, growling whine that sails on top of the backup vocals. He then opens this up into a frightening rage that encompasses everything in its majestic stride. But while Bolin’s force breaks down the walls of your mind, there’s a mellowness here, too — something for which Blackmore had no use.

The album’s major surprise is the lone instrumental, Bolin’s own “Owed to G,” a jazz-rock cut complete with some contemplative John McLaughlinesque riffs that must have sounded very far out while being recorded, booming out of a West German studio.

If the Blackmore daze are gone, it’s just something we’re going to have to forget — or at least remember only when listening to the old LPs. Bolin is clearly in control now, having written or collaborated on all nine tracks of Come Taste the Band, thereby taking over another position Blackmore held so dear, that of chief composer. Even though the whole band makes the music, the spotlight will be on the guitar player. And most of the pressure. But if this album is any indication, we’re going to be getting a lot tougher records from the new Deep Purple.

While the Purples wail away as a group, Tommy Bolin launches Teaser, a solo album. It is the debut of a new crown prince of flaming, space-age, blues guitar, orbiting somewhere in the common universe of such well-established heavies as Rick Derringer, Joe Walsh, and Peter Frampton on the rock side, and such giants of the guitar as John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix with whom he shares several tendencies.

If Come Taste the Band follows the usual super-tight pop format of Deep Purple’s previous English (loud) blooze material, Teaser aims for far wider realms, demonstrating that Tommy Bolin can not only rock hard and heavy, he can also fly. Released from the constraints of Purple’s formula, Bolin literally lifts off from Mother Earth with an excellently recorded item sure to plug up any remaining holes you might have about him deserving Ritchie Blackmore’s position in that band. On the strength of his own LP, we’d have to say he probably won’t be with any group that does not bear his name for very long.

“The Grind” opens Side One. Perfect English blues mutation riffs, akin to Leslie West’s old “Mississippi Queen.” There’s an underrecorded vocal that seems to be coming from some great pit in the very center of the gigantic rhythm guitar groans. The vocal backgrounds are by “the Sniffettes.”

“Homeward Strut,” my favorite track, is one of the two instrumentals, both of which are the second tune on each side. It’s some perfect cosmic funky disco, like either Herbie Hancock or Stanley Clarke, only it’s very tight and has some faint echos of “Foxy Lady” towards the end. And closes with a runaway conga by Sammy Figueroa.

“Dreamer” features an elusive melody, enhanced by lovely synthesizer, organ and other associated astrals, including a guitar solo that tears it up, wailing right off this record.

“Savannah Woman” is built upon straight jazz changes, reminiscent of Wes Montgomery (the late, great jazz guitarist), and maybe meant as a tribute of sorts, with Bolin tripling up his two-chorus moderate-to-very-fast speed guitars. Bolin is “innovating” when he applies this kind of thing to rock music and it’s something he ought to concentrate on more in future albums.

“Teaser,” the title track, and the last on Side One, returns to the all-out rocking side of his musical personalities. He can pull off charming, quiet moments and then charge right in again to the heavy stuff without appearing labored or unreal. He uses his powerful speed to boost and support his own solo noodling, creating (even here on the LP’s only trio-format cut) a fascinating, overdubbed, throbbing fiesta of textures moving out toward the edge. The strong, supportive playing of Stanley Sheldon (electric bass guitar) and Jeff Porcaro (drums) helps considerably.

Side Two opens with two tracks produced by recording engineer Andy MacKay. (Everything else on the record was produced by Tommy himself.) “People, People” isn’t the Jimi Hendrix blues of the same name, but does bear some of that legendary guitarist’s incendiary flare, despite the fact that it quickly becomes a very jolly, tight reggae tune. Jimi, to the best of my knowledge, never did a reggae tune. However, if he had... Dave Sanborn inflates the track with some piercing, sparse saxophone lines, and ex-Mahavishnu pianist Jan Hammer does almost a one-man band jam on piano, drums, synthesizer and organ.

“Marching Powder” is the other instrumental. It’s the longest track on the album and features more Hammer synthesizer, plus another Mahavishnu graduate, Michael Walden, on drums. Jan Hammer’s unusually melodic ARP work has enhanced many an LP; his work on the first Stanley Clarke record, for instance, contains some of the same power and clarity he adds here. It’s the old wall-of-noise, given a brand new face-lift.

“Wild Dogs” sounds a lot like Rick Derringer’s dramatic ballad style, with majestic guitar, orchestrations and some swirling sea gull cries rising out of Bolin’s ARP synthesizer and running around the edges. Tubes drummer Prairie Prince lays down some minor miracles from his kit. An alternate title for this track could’ve been “Ode to Chuck Berry.” It rocks.

“Lotus” finishes off the side and the album. It’s got more of the first track’s Leslie West riffs, intermingled very nicely with some multi-tracking guitar, and Bolin’s best vocal.

If Bolin picks at already well-established riffs and pieces of other people’s music, he uses them in ways which are new. Clearly, his utilization of harmonics puts him high above the Joe Walsh, static-as-melody school of playing, but as yet he hasn’t developed a strong personal style. The crowning glory of the Cobham sets, the thing we remember most — his incredible speed — is underplayed here.

When Tommy Bolin begins to come out of his shell, growing as his progress thus far indicates he surely can, we’ll really have something to scream about. You can bet on it.