DAVID GIVENS INTERVIEW
By Trace Keane
Trace: Can you tell me about the first time you recall meeting or seeing Tommy Bolin?
David: Candy and I met Tommy in Aspen Colorado in early 1968 at the Galina Street East. It was a local nightclub that all sorts of bands played in Aspen at the time. Tommy was there with American Standard, one of our guitar playing friends invited us down and said “you’ve got to see this guitar playin’ kid.” We went down and watched him play a couple of tunes, that was about it.
Trace: What was it like working with Tommy and how was Ethereal Zephyr at that time?
David: Ethereal Zephyr was the band Tommy had with John Faris prior to us all getting together. Tommy and John had been playing with Lonnie Mack in Ohio I think, John was from Cincinnati. I never knew how John and Tommy met, I know they played with Lonnie and later came to Denver and started Ethereal Zephyr. They had a drummer named Jeff Magnamee. Zephyr itself was formed when a mutual friend of ours named Kit Thomas asked us all to meet together at a local club and jam with us. Tommy and Candy and I had a nice jam, Candy and Tommy hit it off especially well. She wanted to join a band with them. Tommy wanted to keep their drummer and John Faris, Candy wanted to keep our guitar player and me. Tommy didn’t want two guitar players so our guitar player got the axe. Then we found a drummer through Otis Taylor. Otis was playing at the Folklore Center in Denver, which was a very tough club. Robbie Chamberlain was playing for him, we kind of put the word out we were looking for him. Candy and I went down and jammed with them, it was the first time we had any contact with Otis. We played with Robbie and invited him to play with us. We were staying at Candy’s mother and father’s place in Brighton, Colorado. Robbie came up to stay with us.
Trace: Tell me your thoughts about what led up to the first Zephyr self-titled album?
David: We really thought we had something. We really liked what we were doing. We wrote a lot of songs right away and we played really well. From the first time we played together we seemed to have an instant rapport. Candy and I had played rock and roll, blues and Rhythm & Blues, but particularly blues stuff and John and Tommy had that, and John of course was particularly interested in jazz and was taking Tommy in that direction with chord changes and whatnot. We liked that, and Robbie was pretty jazzy, we thought we had a fit that was pretty good and we all got along really well. Particularly at that period.
Trace: Were you playing a lot of bigger shows by then?
David: What was going on in Boulder and in a lot of the country at the time was there was a lot of stress in society. The young people had an unpopular war, the baby boomers were growing up and the counter culture kind of came from that. It wasn’t really political, but it was cultural and we all felt we were living in an alternate universe compared to the “straight people,” as we called them. There were a lot of gathering that focused on music and art… and some politics.
Trace: Kenny Passarelli speaks of many “love ins” or “be ins.” Do you recall any of the more significant gatherings that Zephyr played?
David: Some friends of ours helped promote… they had access to the student government at Colorado University and had access to the Glenn Miller Ballroom. It had a beautiful bar and a big stage, and they put on a series of these shows called “Balls For Peace.” We played a lot of those, we also played for free at the band shell downtown, it might even still be there in Central Park in Boulder. We played there a couple of times, we played on flat bed trailers. We played at Denver University, they had a student revolt and we played for them. There was a whole series of those, we identified with that and we were sort of a focal point for that. When we played gigs in those days, Candy would invite people from the audience to come up on the stage and they would come. It sounds stupid now, very naïve and idealistic, but idealism is good when you are young.
Trace: One of the memories Otis Taylor had of Zephyr was a show at the Fawcett Room when the crowd carried Candy out of the building on their shoulders. He described Zephyr as the people’s band, they brought a lot of people from different walks of life together.
David: Absolutely, it really was, we had lawyers, straight people, engineers from IBM, hippies from the street, college students, artists and activists. That description is real accurate. That show is sort of our first show together, getting our songs together, and the show at the Fawcett Room downstairs from The Sink, was our first show together, it was an electric moment. That was the first time Barry Fey saw us play live with an audience.
Trace: Was that the performance that brought Barry Fey into the picture?
David: He had seen us, we had auditioned for him at a club called The Shake down on Colfax Avenue in Denver. It was owned by a guy named Nate Felt who was one of Barry’s partners. It was the typical sort of night club at the time, but there was nobody there. Some of the other musicians who were playing there, and I don’t know if this is true, but I was told it was some of the guys who became Earth Wind and Fire. They loved John Faris. The guys who put us together Kit Thomas and Marty Wolfe took us down for Barry to see us and get us in some shows. Barry knew Tommy from The Family Dog, Barry sort of eliminated Marty and Kit and came in and said “I’ll take care of you kids, I’ll be your manager because you’ve really got something going on here.” But he never saw us play until that night in the Fawcett Room.
Trace: When you look back to the first studio album you did, did you feel it captured the sound that was Zephyr?
David: No, no, I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of the writings I did on this subject, but it was a disaster. In a lot of ways it was sort of the end of our careers instead of the beginning. Up until that time we were pretty united, we had a point of view, we really knew what we were doing. They put us in a studio with this guy who was producing our record and we recorded everything we knew the first two days we were there. According to Bernard Hypeman who was our sort of chaperone or big brother guy thought it was great. It was what we did play live and jam hard. You’ve got to remember Tommy was 17, Robbie was 18, John was 20, I was 20, and Candy was 21. So there wasn’t a lot of adult supervision here. What we did do is we had a lot of energy and we all played pretty well. So we did what we knew was right and we played it right. This guy had produced a lot of L.A. sessions and he was more of an engineer than a producer, although he presented himself as a producer. He had worked on some Cream recordings, some Crosby Stills and Nash and some Tom Jones. He tried to treat us as if we were seasoned musicians, he was a horn player by trade, a trombone player, and came from the big band era. We ended up doing tons of takes of everything that’s on that record, there’s nothing on that record that didn’t have at least 20 takes. Tommy played solos and Candy did vocals over and over and over. We hated that record, it was a real disappointment for us and pretty much everyone else.
Trace: Time would go by and Bobby Berge would replace Robbie Chamberlain, what led up to that?
David: Robbie was difficult to deal with, in some ways he was probably right, but he couldn’t express himself or what he was thinking. He resisted the idea (to his credit) of becoming rock stars which particularly Candy and Tommy were drifting into. He just didn’t have the energy onstage, we’d look back at him and it was like “what are you doing back there?” Candy really got sick of it and so did Tommy. Tommy knew Bobby from the Midwest and thought he would be a great alternative. Bobby was a show band drummer he played loud and hard. When Bobby first showed up he and I really hit it off. He had played in a dance band, which is sort of where I came from in Detroit. I like dance numbers with a steady meter and more rhythm-orientated. For us Bobby was really a breath of fresh air. There was some personal stuff between Robbie and his girlfriend and Tommy’s girlfriend Karen. It got kind of ugly from a personal standpoint.
Trace: What did Bobby Berge’s playing bring to Zephyr?
David: Bobby was a really strong in terms of training, he practiced religiously. Every day all the time, always studying his drum books, he was always ready. He was sturdy and brought a lot of energy, he was just more entertaining on stage. We kind of lost our way, instead of being musicians first, we started creating a rock show atmosphere. I think that was a real mistake for us. We were kind of doing it in a cottage industry and lost our cohesiveness in the process.
Trace: During the recording of what would become your second album Going Back To Colorado at Electric Lady Studios and produced by Eddie Kramer, wasn’t that the same time that Hendrix died?
David: Started out really good. We had played at The Boston Tea Party with Led Zeppelin, we met Jimmy Page after the show. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant came backstage and were really knocked out, they thought we were the greatest thing. Robert and Jimmy wanted to meet Tommy and Candy. Jimmy Page came up to me and asked if I was the guitar player and I pointed to Tommy and they wanted to talk to him all night long. We went out and partied after the show, I was talking to Page and he said we should work with Eddie Kramer the next time we recorded. We were about to start on our second record for ABC. They were building Electric Lady at the time on 8th Street in New York. Candy and I went down and Eddie was running wires, we were in a construction site. We met Eddie and told him that Jimmy Page had recommended him to us. Eddie came out to Boulder and watched us play, actually sat in with us at Mammoth Gardens and we really bonded with him and he agreed to produce our record. I got a call from ABC, they were doing away with the ABC Probe label and wanted to move us to their standard ABC label. They wanted Bill Szymczyk to produce us who had just produced the James Gang’s last album. That was going to be there breakthrough record as it turned out. I told this guy Jay Lasker, Eddie Kramer… Jimi Hendrix… we want this guy to produce our next recording. He said nope, no, I want you to do this with Szymczyk or beat it. We said okay, we’ll beat it. Kramer called up Mo Austin the head of Reprise records and got us a record deal over the phone with Warner Brothers.
Trace: When you went into the studio to record the second album, what were your feelings on how it turned out?
David: It was pretty much fine, we were having a good time for the most part. Eddie was also recording Carly Simon’s first album at the time and Carly and Eddie were having an affair, which meant from a practical standpoint Carly got preference for studio time and attention. That kind of pissed us off, we kind of liked the material we had and liked the sessions we were doing, then Jimi died. He was supposed to come back to New York and we were looking forward to meeting him again. Of course instead of coming back he OD’d in London and everyone at Electric Lady went crazy, you can imagine that not only did they love him as a person but he was the core of their business. Everything fell apart, Eddie was devastated emotionally. He was trying to finish Carly’s record and ours and Cry Of Love at the same time. Cry Of Love wasn’t finished, Jimi hadn’t finished his guitar solos or vocals, all they had were pilot tracks. He had to try and make a record of that under tremendous pressure. He and Mitch Mitchell were trying to put it all together at one time. Jimi’s girlfriend was down there drunk yelling at Candy and it turned into a nightmare. Studio time suddenly evaporated, we couldn’t get studio A any more. Eddie sent us to Studio B, which was run by Eddie’s apprentices. It was no where near the same as working with Eddie in the big studio. So things degenerated rapidly. We were not too pleased with the results.
Trace: I’m looking at some of your studio credits, and you are listed as being on Carly’s 1971 LP. What was your part in that?
David: I just played bass on a couple of tunes. He liked some of the stuff Bobby and I were doing so we laid down some work. Bobby’s was later lifted and someone else recorded his part.
Trace: Years later Zephyr would do a reunion show in May of 1973 at Art’s Bar & Grill. I’ve always felt that recording captured the sounds and feeling of what Zephyr was live. It really showed Candy to be more that a Janis Joplin clone.
David: Yes, I agree. Tommy, Candy, John and I were all playing in a band called The Legendary 4Nikators. We had become friend again and we were playing well. Marty Wolfe who was working for Barry Fey asked about recording the performance. We had played the same songs many time and we had a reunion of sorts. Candy always sounded better live than in any of the recording sessions we worked on. The third album Sunset Ride really showed Candy’s vocal range better.
Trace: Tell me about the making of Sunset Ride, I know you brought Jock Bartley in, what was it like?
David: Jock Bartley, Danny Smyth and Michael Wooten were all in a band called The Children and they opened this show for us in a club in Denver. Candy and I really sort of liked them, they were real tight, almost like a country rock band. We sort of really wanted to get away from all the hyper stuff Zephyr had become. She wanted to sing and was tired of yelling. We talked to these guys and they wanted to play with us. We originally were going to be called The Bees, not Zephyr. Candy and I firmly believed Zephyr was Candy and I, Bobby, Tommy and John. Warner Brothers had a different opinion and it became a Zephyr album. We got together and rehearsed every day in a bar on Arapaho Road a few miles from the mountains. We recorded everything live, sent it to Warner Bros. and they liked it very much.
Trace: What did you think when Tommy originally joined Deep Purple?
David: Sort of the same thing I thought when he joined The James Gang. Tommy and I had a conversation when we played with The 4Nikators. When Tommy got the gig with The James Gang they were the example of everything we didn’t like in music. They were too commercial and synthetic. So when Tommy joined the Gang he was kind of embarrassed. He said that Barry told him if he did it he could get a solo record deal, and I said “you’ve got to do it then. We understand and won’t hold it against you.” So when he joined Deep purple we figured he was just doing what he had to do to get his own record deal. Tommy as far as I could tell wanted to be more than a rock star, but a serious musician and to be taken seriously. I always felt joining Deep Purple was step in the wrong direction. When he came back to Boulder after Deep Purple, he had never been a drinker all the time he was with Zephyr ever. His personality had changed and his outlook on life had changed strikingly and not for the better.
Trace: Why do you think Tommy’s music is being recognized today?
David: Management. We went to California and played the Whisky A Go-Go on Sunset and Barry Fey had people from every record company there to see us. He knew how to create a buzz in the music business, I’ll give Barry credit for that. We got offers from CBS, Atlantic, Epic and an offer from ABC. I’ve said this before… Barry didn’t know much about music but he could count, ABC offered the most money, he took the most money. But they had no guidance for us. If we had gone to Atlantic we would have worked with Tom Dowd and Ahmet Ertegun. People who knew music and could make something out of us. We needed adult supervision. Fey would make every decision based on money. Never went for the long term art. He takes credit for finding Led Zepplin… we told him about Zepplin because he didn’t know about music. He was a business guy period. He recognized talent and charisma. I hold him responsible for Tommy and Candy’s deaths. He made all kinds of promises and only thought about the money.
Trace: Where do you rate Tommy amongst the guitar players you’ve played with in your career?
David: By far the most talented, very fluid, most fun and creative. When we were playing and the band was clicking we were the best jam band I ever heard! I loved what we did. We were a great ensemble, we created some great energy.
Trace: What are you working on these days?
David: My wife Anna and I are working with a jazz group and are playing and recording with a guy named Johnny O’Neal who played the part of Art Tatum in the movie Ray. And they just recorded a bunch of tunes and I’m working on those recordings. No name for the band or the album yet.
David Givens was bassist and a major creative force in the band Zephyr, which featured founding member Tommy Bolin on guitar from 1968-1971.
Special Thanks to Mark Andes for helping to book this interview.