By Jim Sheridan for “Discoveries”

Fans of the late great Tommy Bolin have much to celebrate these days. Thanks to the CD revolution, there has been an outpouring of previously unreleased recordings by the Sioux City axeman, deceased some 20 years as of December 4. No less than 5 CD’s have hit the public in the past six months, and all are worthy of investigation.

The Tommy Bolin Archives is an ongoing project that seeks to find, clean up, and make available to the public as much of the work of Tommy Bolin as possible. Mike Drumm and John Bolin have been searching far and wide to collect the various pieces of Tommy’s musical puzzle. Their quest, aided and abetted by Producer-Engineer Bob Ferbrache, has born sweet fruit. Tommy Bolin: From the Archives, Vol. 1, on Rhino Records, has been the first result of this odyssey. Incredibly thorough liner notes wrap around a disc that includes a treasure trove of material; five warm, intimate acoustic-and-vocal song versions that Tommy put down on his reel-to-reel tape deck - “Wild Dogs,” “Evening Rain,” “Teaser,” “Meaning of Love” and “Jump Back”; three live tracks - “You Know, You Know,” “San Francisco River” and “Shake The Devil” and one demo, “Wild Dogs,” with the Tommy Bolin Band or Tommy Bolin & Friends; one demo - “Sister Andrea” with Jeremy Steig, and two with Energy - “Red Skies” and “Heart Light”; and perhaps most interesting, an instrumental tour de force called “Crazed Fandango” that was left off Teaser. The sound quality is very good, but what may be more surprising is the musical consistency of the disc; despite the fact that it is a collection of outtakes and unreleased pieces, culled from very different line-ups, the flow from song to song never lets up in its delivery. A Rhino follow-up is in the works.

Hot on the heels of this project come three offerings from The Archives themselves:
Tommy Bolin & Friends Live At Ebbets Field 1974, The Tommy Bolin Band Live At Ebbets Field 1976, and Tommy Bolin - The Archives’ Bottom Shelf Vol 1. Some of the material that appears on these discs may appear familiar from bootlegs, but here they are taken directly from the master tapes or highest quality source, cleaned up, and presented in a complete package. One of the goals of the Tommy Bolin Archives is to put the bootleggers out of business. Their argument is: why pay $30 for a single disc that may be incomplete, poorly recorded and remastered, chintzily packaged, incorrectly labeled, over-priced, and fattening the pockets of someone not connected with the Bolin family with Tommy’s brother John Bolin, the legal heir to all things Tommy, getting zero money? The Archives look to reward the long-waiting Bolin fans with high-quality, never-before officially released material, and also to inform those not familiar with Tommy’s work of the diversity and innovation to be found within.

The Archives’ Bottom Shelf is a collector’s dream. It contains material deemed too uncommercial for the Rhino Archives releases, but still of such high quality that they are desirable for the Bolin faithful. Bottom Shelf includes such goodies as Energy performing Dr. John’s “Loupe Garrou” in 1972; an 11-plus minute version of The Good Rats with Carmine Appice and Tommy performing “Stratus,” from Spectrum; Tommy with bassist Stanley Sheldon jamming on Bob Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin’”; a live “Whiskey-Headed Woman,” from the Tommy Bolin Band; James Gang demos of “Oh Carol,” which became their “From Another Time,” and of “Journey,” which became Tommy’s “Marching Powder.” In addition, there are two different acoustic versions of “Meaning of Love” that is very different than the one on Rhino’s Archives Vol.1. Most interesting is the inclusion of a track that features Tommy playing electric rhythm guitar, with his Moog synth leads dubbed over the top!

All of the tracks are cleaned up to an astonishing degree; the live Energy track, for example, originally had quite a loud hum, and had been mixed with all of the guitar on one side and EVERYTHING ELSE on the other! This has been remixed to a remarkably high degree of fidelity.

After these three releases, more work is to follow with the same attention to detail. Carter Allan of WBCN in Boston provided a Bolin Band concert originally broadcast from Northern Lights Studio in Maynard, MA; while this show has been bootlegged before, it has never been released from a pure source, master tape to DAT to CD. The Tommy Bolin Archives plans to change that, and more, especially with the help of further contributions of this type.