By Trace Keane

Trace: How it was to work with Tommy Bolin?

Russell: We were in our 20’s, and it was hard driving, passionate, exciting, powerful and simply a lot of fun. Tommy was different from a lot guys around during that time. In regards to race it didn’t so much matter to him, what mattered was if you could play and he demonstrated that. After playing with Tommy I stopped playing in rock bands, because of that factor, and found my niche in jazz. He was a very good friend, loved him then, love him still.

Trace: In which recordings or tours did you play with him?

Russell: I’m on the Live at Ebbets Field record, we did some other recording dates which never got released in Boulder, CO. I did quite a few live dates with Tommy in and around the Denver, Boulder area with his Energy band.

Trace: What are your favorite recordings from Tommy, solo and as a member of a band?

Russell: I thought that Tommy played his best on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album, “Stratus” and “Red Baron.” I also liked his first record he did as a solo artist

Trace: How did you meet Tommy?

Russell: We were both the same age growing up in Sioux City. Tommy would come sit in at my grandfather’s club, 711, but we really started to hook up when I lived in NYC. When he came to the city we’d get together, he finally asked me to come play in his band in Colorado. He was the only person I knew there, he said don’t worry about anything he’d take care of it, in which he did. During that time we really got close, I spent a lot of time at his place sitting on the floor listening to music, exchanging ideas, things he wanted to turn me onto, and was very open to my suggestions about jazz fusion tunes we work up and play, “You Know, You know” by John McLaughlin was one, “The Honey Man” by Leon Thomas another, and “San Francisco River” by Flora Purim and Airto.

Trace: What did you think when he joined Deep Purple?

Russell: Tommy wanted to be a rock star, I thought it made sense they were very big.

Trace: Were Purple very big in the USA in those days?

Russell: They were very popular in the states, are you kidding.

Trace: Did you like Purple? Any player in particular?

Russell: You’ve got me there, I didn’t listen to their music, other then in passing.

Trace: Do you think that Tommy’s talent is recognized nowadays?

Russell: Not nearly enough. The people who know him know how good his music is, but he can cross generations if his music had more exposure these days.

Trace: What are the recordings you are most satisfied with from your career?

Russell: I played on some recordings with Billy Preston that were really funky, that should get released. I played on Jose Feliciano’s Como Tu Quires for Motown Records that won a Grammy for Best Latin Artist. I was one of the featured artists on L.A. based keyboardist Wayne Peet’s CD Live at Al’s Bar with G.E. Stinson (Shadowfax) and Nels Cline (Wilco). We have another coming out this year. Hey I’ll plug my CD, Tommy Bolin Tribute.

Trace: Are you recording something nowadays?

Russell: I finished doing a CD of jazz standards soon to be out there, Live At Hiro-San’s. I recorded a CD for a brilliant young jazz bassist Danny Weller two weeks ago for the Theolonius Monk jazz competition in N.Y. In the studio right now recording with my musical partner Mikan Zlatkovich from Belgrade, Serbia, one of the finest jazz pianists in California. We’re going to do some European tour dates this year.

Drummer Russell Bizzett is best known to fans of Tommy Bolin for his drum work on Tommy Bolin & Friend: Live at Ebbets Field 1974, one of the cornerstones of the Tommy Bolin Archives catalog.