by Charlie Frick

There’s always big excitement in the air when a bunch of the slick English pop heavies come blasting into town, lock, stock and fuzz tone. They show up with their multi million dollar productions and their thousand dollar a month talent, and rockers of all kind flock like sheep to hear them play.

Something super charged the street where rock and roll lives last week. Something that was coming that was coming on a 747 for a couple of days’ stay in the big time. Something with a magnitude, stature and staying power. Something with ten thousand watts RMS. Something with commercial appeal, over a product sociological spectrum. In the stock market they call product like this a blue chip. In rock and roll they are called Deep Purple.

Rock heavies from across the sea, electric guitars, pounding drums, screaming vocals and a good road show. Purple a group that at one time almost faded from the public spotlight. After the super success of their single “Hush” they became like Mott The Hoople, Dave Clark Five, and others, waiting for the one thing that would transform them from one hit flash in the pan phenomenon, to heavily supported superstars. They needed that one bit of good luck to crystalize into one of rockdom’s immortality . It came in the form of a song called “Smoke On The Water.” The tune went gold and dominated the national AM/FM charts for a long long time. For many people it was “the” heavy song of the year.

With the smoke rising high, their popularity and commercial success was more firmly established. They had America in the bag. Next step was to take their brand of rock and roll to the rest of the world. In 1973, they managed to sell an amazing 12 million units, world wide. Their three of heavy metal were elevated to the status of international classics. Their manner of putting the music across was so forceful (read aloud) that it was able to cross most any language or cultural barriers between them and their worldwide audience.

Their international success was documented in a double album set recorded live in Tokyo in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. Success comes and so do changes in those who succeed. The bigger the success, the bigger the changes. The musicians wanted more freedom with their material. Now, that they were successful as artists had the power and money to follow their dreams, the original core of Purple started to disintegrate. Rod evens left the group to join the underrated Captain Beyond. Jon Lord, keyboard wizard expanded also but struck with the group. His exploits on the side however took him deeper into the realms of so called classical rock. His work with Ashton, Gardner and Dyke was received with indifference by most of the Heavy Metal kids.

Ritchie Blackmore, the guitar player with the group, had a stage presence and performing ego that sooner or later would outgrow the confines of Deep Purple. People who saw him with them were always impressed. He was heavy metal. As a guitar player he was always acrobatic, extremely as a composer, commercial to to a fault. As an instrumentalist he came up with some of what were to become the standard rock licks every teenage guitar player learns before he graduates high school. Blackmore’s talent was wild and individualistic. He said of himself:

“When you’re on top it always goes by too fast. I’ve always gone on stage feeling I was nobody, when you’re nobody you can go out there and play better because you’re angry.”

One day he got so angry that he left Purple, walked out on what was 100% solid gold. His next venture was into the realms of solo adventure. Blackmore’s Rainbow was the new splinter group. His album was released and later he made a tour. When he played New York, I was out of town, so I cannot say what happened.

To replace the departed Blackmore came Tommy Bolin. From seemingly out of nowhere, he stepped in to fill the shoes of one of the premier heavy metal rock guitar players. Bolin, for a long time played with the James Gang, graduated that scene to the ranks of in demand session guitar man. Bolin, in the past year or so has played solo electric guitar on albums by the two fastest drummers in the world. Alphonse Mouzon used him on the Mind Transplant album and Billy Cobham used him in sessions on the Spectrum recordings.

In the middle of those sessions he was hit from both sides of the musical fence at once. A new label co-owned by Nat Weiss and Atlantic asked him if he wanted to do his first solo album for them. At the same time the call came for the Purple gig. This was just about when I caught Tommy for the first time.

A handful of the best talent studio or otherwise, from the east coast was rounded up and brought into the city. Dave Sanborn arrived with his saxophones. Synthesizers, organ, piano and incidental keyboards by ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra Jan Hammer. Dark Horse recording artist Paul Stallworth was on bass, and a handful of other cats whose names are synonymous with the best talent money can buy. Blocks of time were reserved at the record plant and Electric Lady studios. The Tommy Bolin solo album was in the works. After one of those sessions I had a chance to talk with him.


Charlie Frick: How did you wind up on Nemporer Records?

Tommy Bolin: I had been on Atlantic when with the James Gang, then when I left them I was free to do the recording things I wanted to do. I was going to go with (Frank) Zappa’s label but something didn’t feel right. Nemporer gave me a much better offer they’re really behind me all the way.

CF: Did they ask you to produce anything in particular, a specific kind of product? Singles? Albums?

TB: No, that’s one good thing about the label. The way they work with artists is really good. They’re really happy with the way about the way things are happening. The thing with Purple is good too. What’s good for Deep Purple is good for me and what’s good for me is good for Deep purple. As far as the records go, I have two companies pushing product. Atlantic and Warner’s have their own little people running around doing things for me.

CF: What about the solo material on Teaser?

TB: Most of it was written by John Teaser, Jeff Cook or myself. I did all of the music apart from one tune. It’s basically rock and roll but I used a lot of jazz cats on the dates. Most of them were friends of mine. It was good that the label let me swing it that way.

CF: Do you work from charts

TB: No, not at all. I can’t read or write music. I did a tape of the songs and they had some cat write them up for me. Just the basic tracks, the rest of it was just spur of the moment stuff. I feel real good about how the sessions went. I don’t believe in taking a long time to record. Most of the tracks were done in a couple of takes, otherwise I just feel it’s a waste of time. You can lose your perspective. A lot of heavy rockers on the west coast take a long time to record. Many of the people I worked with stretched out too far . Groups like Poco or Joe Walsh take a year or 18 months. I can’t figure out why. I couldn’t do that. I would completely space it out and loose my perspective. We did Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album in two days. We did the first James Gang album in a week and spent 8 grand. Poco takes a year and spends a hundred thousand.

CF: Do you think that jazz is becoming more acceptable to younger audiences that you play for?

TB: Yeah I think so . Some of the things that I am working up with Purple, they’ll like it. Look at how many people go out to see John McLaughlin. The whole thing that he did last year, the tour with Jeff Beck. All the instrumental stuff that happened between the two of them helped identify some of the rock people with newer jazz things. It went over pretty good. The kids out in the country know what’s happening. They liked it.

CF: Is there good future for instrumental music because of the music or were the kids into it because of the music or were the kids into it because of the names of the headliners?

TB: Yeah, I guess that’s true to a certain extent, but the kids at those concerts went nuts over McLaughlin’s more far out stuff. I’m talking about real young teens 14 and 15 years old. That kind of response gives me the kind of freedom that I want when I sit down to write the instrumental things.

CF: What do you mean by freedom? The changes or what?

TB: Yeah, everything, the changes, the solo’s, the sounds, people that I use to do the material, everything like that. I think the young kids definitely know what’s happening.

CF: What determines the strength of the musicians that you’ll use in a studio situation? Are there special qualities that others find in you that make your playing so much in demand?

TB: I was talking to Andy Newman last night about the same thing. There was this guy I was gonna use on the sessions, a real famous studio player, but his enthusiasm for the date just wasn’t there. I don’t want that kind of stuff. I would just as soon use Joe Schmoe from off the street if he could put his heart into it. It’ll come out twice as good.

CF: Did you find this true with the musicians on the solo album

TB: Yeah I think they all really gave whole heartedly to the sessions

CF: Do you see any difference in the way that you project in the studio as opposed to the live gigs?

TB: Yeah mainly in the overdubs and the leads. For that I’ll just invite everyone to come over, we’ll all get polluted, really smashed, you know? Then I’ll turn the lights down really low and imagine that we’re in concert. I just play better in front of people. I guess that everyone else does too. I get a lot of energy off the audience.

CF: How do you relate to the kids out there? Do you have a good idea of the level of awareness they have of what you are trying to put across?

TB: First of all you can’t see them; second, the only time you know is when they come backstage to talk to you. People aren’t giving the younger kids much credit; they’re all more technically minded than people think. There are really some sharp kids out there who can understand some of the deeper more instrumental stuff. When I was with the James Gang, we used to do a Billy Cobham tune, “Stratus.” It always got a good reaction. It made me feel real good The whole art of making yourself happy is by making them happy. If you can do both it’s great. There’s a certain sense of compromise as far as the material is concerned. I don’t think that 10 or 11 year olds out in the audience are going to go and start digging on Thelonious Monk,; I’m not saying they’re crazed into it, but they know what’s happening. The kids know that there’s another kind of music happening besides straight ahead bashing Brownsville Station or something like that.

CF: What about European audiences. Do they differ very much?

TB: I haven’t been to Europe to play live yet. I was supposed to go twice, but it got cancelled both times. I was supposed to do the second Cobham album there. I was in the James Gang at the time. Billy was using a lot of horns, a throw back to his CTI days. The things he was getting into I wasn’t interested that much.

CF: What about the new material you did for Deep Purple?

TB: Well that stuff we worked out is much like earlier Purple, but with much more up feeling. The last couple of things have been going through some changes. We’re doing some instrumentals. I wasn’t sure they would go for it, but it got accepted wholeheartedly. That was good for me, they’re all great musicians.

CF: Why did you decide to do the album in Germany?

TB: They can’t record here for some reason, and to record in England is just a waste of money with the taxes and all. We went out to do Come Taste The Band. The Stones and ELO used the place. They’ve turned out some really nice product.

CF: When you play live, what about all the effects that you use?

TB: I use the fuzz and Echoplex a lot. In the studio they had a gadget called the boomerang. Basically all the sounds I use are echo or phase. I’m having some people check on different ways of bracing an acoustic guitar so I can get a good sound live with no feedback. I want to run it through the amps so I can use it like an acoustic but have the effects of an electric guitar.


In time the Purple album came out to great acclaim and distain.

Some of the greasers, the die-hard heavy metal rock and roll fanatics, were pissed off at the choice of Bolin as the new guitarist. On the one hand, there are those like me who see the new combination as a positive step in the opening up of the usual confines of the rock and roll structure. More than likely from the sound of some of his more obscure recording dates, Bolin is a jazz cat. If enough of his inner influences are communicated through Deep Purple, we may have an entirely new category of English pop music — Heavy Metal Jazz Rock.

With the help of Ron Delsner, Purple managed to sell out two shows at Radio City Music Hall, filling a couple of thousand seats at $7 a clip. It was a good two days work for all involved. After the concerts a party was thrown for the English rock stars, visiting dignitaries, friends and hangers on. It was a party to celebrate the conquest of the finicky, fickle, New York pop market.

On the 64th floor of the RCA building, they all savored the sweet smell of success. Nothing new for DP. They’re used to the very best money can buy. It was another one of “the place to be — everyone was there” type of affairs.

The crowd included Deep Purple and their opening act Nazareth, their body guards, the promoters and the money counters, the under assistant west coast etc., etc., etc. Roadies, slick chicks, snappy flicks, nice fins with good pins were everywhere. Paparazzi? Yeah they were there too, representing the rock media.

The industry representatives mingled with the groupies. They were smart looking men who with clean shaven faces, well scrubbed complexions, dollar signs in their eyes, corporate lawyer types. Brooks Brothers buttoned down ties, gold cuff links, shoe shines, the whole nine yards.

Then there were the groupies. I haven’t seen of the hard core type in quite a long time. I guess the good old rock and roll machismo brings them out of the closets, wherever they are.

Rock stars spend in their offstage, or so the story goes, are known to spend their time with some of the most beautiful bubbleheaded buzz bunnies in the world. This night was no exception. The higher you are in the commercial stratosphere, the more desirable you are. There was a bevy of hard core, soft core types with stringy hair and see through clothes, flecks of glitter dangling in their hair, expensive looking imitation jewelry adorning their nubile young and willing bodies.

They all looked so complete, true to the stereotyped image that I wondered if they hadn’t been catered for the party from central casting like the rest of the decorations. The hard core types knew who they wanted from the moment they set foot in the place, and neither account executives, record company presidents, or newspaper photographers were going to stand between them and their quarry. The sharks moved deliberately, manoeuvring themselves within a few feet of the stars.

Around the head table sat Jon Lord, Tommy Bolin, and a couple of other members of Purple. An empty chair sat next to Lord. Right on cue, the surprise mystery guest of the evening arrived with his entourage, walked over to the table and sat down assuming the position with other superstars of the culture. It was none other than Robert Plant (throb throb), singer and spotlight man for the tremendously lucrative Led Zeppelin.

His power and influence in the business ranks among the top 10. He is one of the founding figures of English pop sound of the late sixties. He was looking good, photographers snapped away, others pressed closer. There had been some doubt as to Plant’s state of health after his auto accident. His appearance at the party and his willingness to be fawned over by the media dispelled any rumours of horrible disfiguration or crippling.

He looked well ready to go out and earn another couple of million dollars. As he sat there drinking heavily with his countrymen, rumours of a group collaboration of Plant, Bolin and Lord and some unnamed co-conspirators circulated around the party.

The usual back slapping and hand shaking went on between the stars and the industry representatives. Autographs were gleaned by well dressed vice-presidents for their little daughters at home. The overwhelming air of successful joviality loosened up those present. The concert had sold well, the albums were in the charts and on the air, the tour was off to a good start. The booze was flowing freely. Over in the corner there was an indoor snowstorm raging, sales figures were on the rise and the New York publicity machine was scoring another one in the plus column.

Drunk and loose, the partygoers were treated to a disco dance of sorts. A portable dance floor and a DJ had been catered for the party and there was a contest to find the best dancer. Girls danced with girls and boys danced with boys, a bunch of transplanted west coast two ninety nines cruised the boards and mingled loose with a flock of Andy’s gang (and I don’t mean Andy Devine). The party dragged on, the buffet table was emptied, writers and reporters, groupies and groups alike filled their bellies and sinus cavities with the best that money could buy.

The profits from all the gold albums that Purple sold, were being eaten up. The music got louder, the people got looser, their raps got boring, the smiles got broader as it dawned on everyone present, that English rock and roll had come to town and put another one over on the unsuspecting and unwilling teenage rock audience in the big apple.

Soon it was back to the limos, back to the hotel rooms for off the wall scenes, fulfilling the groupies’ dreams. I think it is they, the groupies I mean, who make the best of all of us on these deals. They have their dreams, their scenes and rock stars wrapped in infatuation with their loveliness. The stars themselves?? They got their bank accounts back home and a jet plane waiting on the runway. All aboard! Tomorrow it’s another town, next stop Middle America. Heavy handed loud pounding rock and roll is on the way.