by Andrew Wissing

This interview with Games Gang drummer Jim Fox took place early in 2005, before guitarist Dominc Troiano had passed away.

AW: I know its probably been a while since you thought about Tommy Bolin…

JF: It’s funny. I think about Tommy a lot. I liked him a bunch, he was wonderful. But its been a few years since I revisited those days.

AW: I think that the work that you guys did was really great and unfortunately very under-rated.

JF: I like a lot of it and I think is under-rated too. I can tell you this much as far as having fun goes it was right up there. Playing with Tom was an absolute ball. “What I like about Tommy’s talent was, he was pure. Maybe more pure than anyone else I’ve worked with in my life. There was nothing to Tommy except music. It was that simple. There was no politics and there were no games, just give me a guitar and give me a stage and I loved it. It was a very contagious feeling. It made us want to play more. We had a lot of great guitarists in the band but Tommy was special there’s no question about it.

AW: My research tells me that Joe Walsh recommended Tommy for the band after things with Dominic just weren’t clicking.

JF: That’s very true

AW: Did he want out of the band. Was it that it wasn’t going where he wanted it to go?

JF: It was a completely mutual agreement. I think I misjudged Dommy’s talents. To this day I think he is a brilliant guitarist. I’m not sure he was right for the Gang. And unfortunately that came out in the music. And there wasn’t a lot of satisfying music being made at that point. And a change simply had to come. I’m not sure if Dommy resigned before or if we got the phone call from Walsh saying you gotta talk to this guy. But it was right at the same time.

AW: I saw a picture of the Bang album cover with Dom’s face on it. Was it too much trouble to re-shoot it?

JF: (Chuckling)… it was impossible to re-shoot the cover again because the props had all been disposed of. We couldn’t go back. We had no choice. It wasn’t Tommy’s choice to appear on Dom’s body. I can tell you that! We had a wonderful photographer in California named Ed Caraeff. This was a concept of his and we shot it with Dommy and the record company shot it down. ABC wouldn’t use it. They refused to use it. They said it was too risqué. So it went away When we changed record labels and went over to Atlantic and had Tommy in the band we wondered if we could get away with that cover. We thought that was a great title for an album. So we went to Atlantic and they said it was no problem. We went to Ed and said can we shoot this again? He said no way all the props were gone, but I bet I could get your new guy’s face on to the old guy. Tommy saw the mock up and went ”Oh, God!” Dom was a pretty hairy guy (and Tommy wasn’t.) We were just glad it was Tommy and not us that had to take Dom’s body!

AW: Did Tommy have an audition?

JF: It wasn’t an audition as much as it was a meeting. The problem we had with Dommy was he was more focused on R&B than Rock ’n roll and it was kind of frustrating to us because we all love R&B music but it wasn’t who we were. He was just heading that direction and there was no hope of changing that. Dommy playing rock and roll was almost pretending. It just wasn’t in his heart I don’t think. So, when Joe called and said he knew a guy who would be just wonderful for the band you need to talk to him, his name is Tommy Bolin. As far as I’m concerned that was enough for me. I didn’t need to know much more. Tommy and I had a conversation and we arranged to fly Tommy in to meet us on the road. I don’t think it was an audition but we had a meeting, and we were going to sit down in a hotel room and talk about it. We sent our road manager who was this a French-Canadian character named Roland and one of the great characters surrounding the Gang I might add. We sent Roland to the airport with instructions to go pick up Tommy. We tell him you can’t miss Tommy he’s got funny hair. Well he’s got a half hour with Tommy all alone which he spends telling Tommy that if you want this job, you have to impress upon Jimmy and Dale how important Rhythm and Blues is to you and that you can tell them that your favorite artist of all time is Al Green. It totally worked. Tommy played it perfectly. Dale and I looked at each other our and jaws dropped. We were immediately suicidal! And then Roland started laughing. It was really a great moment. We lost our minds for a split second. Tommy really thought he was doing what he needed to do. It was completely hysterical and caught me, and Dale completely off guard. Completely. 5 seconds after that Tommy was in the band. He was okay with me at that point.

AW: Tommy was capable of playing just about anything, wasn’t he?

JF: No question he could play virtually anything, Joe was too, for that matter was capable of playing anything on the guitar, and so was Dommy, too. But the difference was meaning it. Tommy played it like he meant it. Dommy was playing it because it was requested. Dommy had a certain style and he played better than anybody else but it wasn’t a Gang style. When Tommy joined the band we went straight to rehearsal. Tommy said he had a bunch of songs and we just rolled up our sleeves and started playing. We started practicing some of the songs and we tinkered with some of them and you try to get them somewhere where you think they might be yours. We went to the studio very shortly afterwards. We were if anything not over-rehearsed.

AW: Dale mentioned that you were not a band to rehearse a lot.

JF: Not at all. We were very funny in that regard. We barely rehearsed which was good for Tommy because Tommy preferred to play rather than rehearse. We would rather do than practice.

AW: The songs were not overly complicated.

JF: Well rock and roll is not complicated, at least the kind I know and love. I for one always wanted some spontaneity. I just always loved being able to contribute on the spot with what’s on your mind and Tommy was certainly that way it worked better for us we were bored by rehearsals and I always looked for people that could do that.

AW: Tommy didn’t read music what about the other band members?

JF: Well, I’m about 13 quarter hours short of a music education degree, so I’ve got the legitimacy not that I can remember very many times that I actually used it in popular music, but I trained on all the instruments I do read but its been a long time. I’ve done arranging in the legitimate sense and the Nashville sense or in a rock and roll sense where you just dish out parts or in a beach boys sense where it’s a short hand also had I ever been called on to, I could have written out a chart. Joe was the same way. Joe could write I had Joe taking theory classes at Kent. In the rock and roll that we played we never saw the need. When we did the 3rd album we wanted to participate in the string arrangement we could have written it and handed it out, but we ended up singing the parts to them and you trust that you have a good conductor and you go from there. I don’t like to make rocket science out of it.

AW: Was the band democratic?

JF: Yeah. When Bolin was in the band we had four though and there wasn’t always a clear majority. I hated that. When we were a trio we always played “minority rules.” instead of majority rules because we always wanted to hear what the other point of view was. If someone felt strongly enough to go up against the other two we always listened. It served us well for a long time.

AW: Some bands have a strong leader who makes all the decisions.

JF: Well with Joe was never that way but his talent dictated that. Joe wasn’t the kind of guy who was going to say we’re going to do it this way. When Joe laid out an idea for a piece of music or a certain segment it was easy to make sense of it. If Dale or I had a comment that we thought might enhance something like that we were never shy about it. Because his talent was so pure he would have fully formed ideas that were so strong. Sometimes it was breath taking and it wasn’t hard to see the value in that.

AW: Did you use a fixed set list?

JF: When we went onto the stage there was a fixed setlist, but it may not have been the one we played the night before.

AW: You might not like the way a song went over the night before, or you got tired of playing one?

JF: Exactly there are a number of reason the not least of which is to avoid boredom you make changes from night to night you’ve got a few songs you can plug inhere and there. The setlists were not carved in stone and it we very often made detours on stage. We weren’t very well scripted.

AW: Do you remember a typical setlist? Was it a mix of old and new?

JF: Yeah it was a mix of old and new. I don’t think I could remember a setlist I can remember when we used to open with “Walk Away.” With Tommy we would occasionally open with “Standing in the Rain.”

AW: Was Tommy ever reluctant to play Joe’s songs?

JF: If he was he never ever showed it. Never. Whereas with Troiano one of the difficulties he had was being Joe. And of course there’s certain parts that are required. Tommy understood that immediately we never even had the conversation. Tommy understood that (the crowd wanted to hear the old songs) and I think Tommy appreciated Joe’s playing and was more than happy to play that.

AW: Did you improvise much?

JF: Yes. We left room in every set we played to improvise. Certain songs lend themselves, songs as simple as “Funk 49” where there’s an extended percussion part in the middle, you could do it for 8 bars 16 bars or 5 minutes. it was strictly eye contact as for when we were going to come out of that middle. That left lots of room. Then there were other songs like “Lost Woman,” a cover of ours from the Yardbirds song that was deliberately conceived to leave room to stretch for each player in the band. There was a guitar solo, bass solo, drum solo and it differed every time we ever played it. It was wide open and again it was eye contact and little cues between us on when to bring the band back in. Any time we played blues it was no rules. Play until you’re done and pay attention.

AW: Any really memorable shows where things just clicked or where Tommy was really on fire?

JF: Tommy was on fire a lot! In the Tommy era there was a show at Central Park that I really enjoyed. I don’t really remember too many details, other than I came off the stage thinking we really nailed that. Ahmet Ertegun was at the gig, and getting a chance to spend time with him was always a good time. I believe Peter Frampton was also on the bill, and he had a bass player named Stanley Sheldon who used to play with Tommy. Most nights with Tommy were an adventure. I really felt that way. I looked forward to getting on the stage when Tommy was in the band.

AW: Tommy never really played anything the same way twice did he?

JF: Joe was that way too. That’s how you learn. You learn to be open for anything. It was the way we preferred to play. In my background comes in part with a love of jazz. The freedom always felt natural to me. That you needed it. If it was too scripted it became contrived. We were never much for that, we were fully cognizant that the audience expected a certain amount of familiarity. You want to do a song in a way it can be recognized, but we didn’t push for note for note ever.

AW: You toured a lot?

JF: Yes we did. In the almost two year time period we… (AW: it’s actually just about one year not two..) is it really? it seemed to me longer. Whether it’s one or two years I know this we were a working band and didn’t feel like a band unless we were working, and Belkin was only too happy to keep us busy. Tommy was always in favor of playing.

AW: Did Tommy jam with other bands on the bill when you were touring?

JF: Sure, sure, plus Tommy had a habit. if there was a rock club in the city he’d be there after the gig.

AW: Did Tommy talk to you when he was leaving the band?

JF: No, he didn’t.

AW: Was it done thru management?

JF: Yes, exactly. He talked to Belkin, and I actually felt I had to make peace him after that. Obviously he was hurting. He had things he wanted to do. It was a general consensus after the Miami album that we weren’t where we wanted to be. And it did center around the singer. And we tried a whole lot of singers out. I mean a whole lot of singers, every one we could think of, including some of Tommy’s close friends. And in the end it just didn’t work we could find someone who could do the job we were hoping to get done. The singer Roy Kenner was having some personal problems, some distractions and it wasn’t working out.

AW: Did he leave before Tommy.

JF: No, I guess we sort of let him go After Tommy was gone.

AW: Did the band break up at this point?

JF: No. Its interesting. I’ve read that said about us but its completely not true. We went immediately on. It didn’t take long to find new musicians We went and formed a really interesting band that never came to be. We had a really interesting band. The first thing Dale and I did was go to England to find a guitar player, and we must have listened to 75 players over there and did not find anyone who made sense. We had decided that Bubba Keith and Richards Stack would be the nucleus of the next version of the Gang, but I felt we were missing something. We needed a true lead guitarist, but weren’t sure Richard was up to the task . We had tried 75 guitar players, this guy Jimmie McCullough was helping us find people. He had been in the Thunderclap Newman band and was at a that time playing with Wings (Paul McCartney), and Jimmy was a friend and played for Paul so we never thought of offering him the job. He called when we returned and asked if we would consider him? In a year with McCartney, he had never rehearsed, toured or cut a record. He was frustrated, and he wasn’t getting paid. They agreed he would join, but Paul caught wind of it and Linda called him and talked him out of it, and Jimmy made what turned out to be the right decision. He stayed with Paul. We would have a very interesting band with 5 people, Bubba Keith, Richard Stack and Jimmy. James Gang would have been a quintet! So we didn’t break up because we embarked on that very quickly after Tommy left.

After Mike Belkin mentioned that Tommy had left I let it sit for a few weeks. I called to talk to Tommy on a personal level to let him know I wasn’t angry with him. So I waited a few weeks, called and Karen answered the phone and we talked for a few minutes. When Tommy got on the phone I said “Hey, you’re missing rehearsals every fuckin’ day, man! What’s wrong with you?” We had a big laugh and went on from there. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him before his death because we were busy and he was busy. We got together only maybe a few times between his leaving the band and the time he died.

AW: Even if you tried to reach him it would be difficult.

JF: yeah he was always in motion, you know. If he came anywhere near Cleveland we always got together. If we happened to be near where he was we would get together, but he got real busy real fast and we never stopped.

AW: I’ve heard a story about Tommy being real mad at a TBB show in Cleveland.

JF: I don’t remember that (him being mad) as much as I remember being concerned for his health. I don’t remember him being that angry.

AW: Had he visibly aged?

JF: Yeah, he didn’t look good to me, and he made a comment. I don’t know exactly how it came about but it led me to think he had discovered heroin. Something to the effect that “I had found something so much better,” or something like that. And I remember leaving, feeling troubled. I mean we were no angels, but heroin wasn’t something that was ever normally around the Gang at any stage. Bottom line, the stuff we were doing tended not to kill people. I think we made a distinction between heroin and almost everything else. When it became apparent that Tommy was messing with that it was a very sad thing because Tommy was an addictive guy. It was always as much as possible. If one joint was good two joints was better, four joints was better still. If a drink was great, 5 drinks was better…

AW: Was there ever a concern that Tommy would mess up because of his behavior?

JF: Tommy was an amazing guy. For all the indulging he did I never saw it get in the way. He was unusual in that way. It didn’t matter how loaded he was, he still went out on the stage and he just absolutely tended to the task at hand. I can remember other silly things. He would not wear glasses because he didn’t like how he looked on stage in glasses, and it was before the contact lens days and there were times where Tommy could not see on the stage at all. So it led to some fumy things like he didn’t know where the end of the stage was. But the crazy things didn’t really have anything to do with substances. Tommy used to joke that he couldn’t even go to his room unless he had 4 joints just to go to sleep, but I never saw it as a concern on my part. Maybe that was naïve but I never saw it as a concern.

He was playing well and we weren’t into dictating lifestyles. Look there were plenty of times where Joe was too high to do the job and we got over it. And that would be true of me and Dale silly old straight me. I can remember in the very early days where Mike Belkin booked us into 4 proms in one night on Long Island, and I can remember Dale and myself literally falling asleep on stage, but it was never substances that got in our way. It was being too tired or sick we would be too stupid to say we were sick. We were troopers and we would go on no matter what because there were people who paid to see us play.

©2005 Andrew Wissing. All rights reserved by the author.


Jim Fox 2013 Interview by John Herdt (Tommy Bolin Archives)
James Gang History Page (Tommy Bolin Archives)