by Jim Sheridan

JS: Prior to getting the job as the bassist for Tommy Bolin Band, how familiar were you with Tommy Bolin’s career and material?

JH: I knew quite a bit about Tommy prior to working with him. I was a fan of the group Zephyr and had two recordings of the band, which I knew were based out of the Denver, Colorado area. I had the first Billy Cobham recording Spectrum which had Tommy playing with Lee Sklar on bass and Jan Hammer on keyboards. I had thought that he took the place of Joe Walsh in the James Gang and at one point also joined Deep Purple after Ritchie Blackmore left the band. I had also met several musicians that lived in Denver and spoke about him and his group Energy, like keyboardist/guitarist/singer/songwriter Max Gronenthal, and drummers Steve Fitzgerald and Bobby Berge, and guitarists Phil Brown and John Lowery.

I actually spent a little time in Denver in 1974 and played at a local showcase nightclub called Ebbets Field with a band called Street Punk. I believe that place was owned by Tommy’s manager’s company, Feyline, or had something to do with them, and I know Tommy had played there often.

JS: How did you get the Tommy Bolin Band gig? How had you heard of it or been contacted? Did you audition? If so, what was it like?

JH: I had been living in Los Angeles for about year, it was 1976, and I had been introduced to keyboardist/singer/songwriter Mark Stein by drummer Carmine Appice, who actually was responsible for me coming to Los Angeles after meeting him in Louisiana. I did some recording with Mark for a possible solo project, and as I was playing out in Venice Beach (at the 4H Club on Lincoln Blvd.) with a cover band, I was called to the pay phone there and spoke with Mark. He wanted to hook me up in an audition for Tommy’s band. Drummer Narada Michael Walden and bassist Reggie McBride had both left the band after recording Private Eyes for Columbia and Tommy was looking for new musicians. Mark Stein recommended me!

I auditioned at SIR on Santa Monica Blvd. We jammed a bit and I had learned a couple of tunes from Private Eyes… I got the gig along with Tommy’s brother Johnnie Bolin on drums. I think we rehearsed all the new tunes and some of the music from the Teaser recording for just a few days after that. Our first gig was as the opening act at Mile High Stadium, in Denver, for Gary Wright (the Dreamweaver), the Steve Miller band, and Peter Frampton, in front of 60,000 people! An amazing experience after playing an 80 person capacity club in Venice Beach!

JS: Have you gone back and heard most of the Bolin catalogue since? Have you heard the TBA material?

JH: I have almost all of that material from the Archives and heard most of it. I’m sorry to say that through the years, I’ve lost most of my album collection which included the Zephyr LPs, Private Eyes, and Tommy’s first recording for Nat Weiss’ Nemperor Records, Teaser, and Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. I haven’t updated my catalog as I’ve been interested in getting the Tommy Bolin box set, but that’s hard to find now!

JS: How much rehearsal was done for the 1976 tour? Did you guys jam much? How was the set/set-list regimented?

JH: Now your really testing my memory! We did rehearse some at a place in Hollywood called Pirate Sound with new drummer Mark Craney, and shortly thereafter, when Mark Stein left the band and was replaced by Max Gronenthal. We did some jamming and we really got the music sounding great with a whole new line up. It was a really great time and we were excited about touring and playing the music! Tommy was motivated and talked about doing the recording, which he told me he wanted to call “Gotta Dance”!

The set-list included songs like “Marching Powder,” “Teaser,” “People People,” “Wild Dogs,” “Post Toastee,” “Homeward Strut,” “You Told Me That You Loved Me,” “Shake The Devil,” and “The Grind.” I don’t remember the order, but those were definitely songs we played.

JS: What was Tommy like as the band leader, both musically and personally? Was there a musical mission?

JH: In the short time I spent with him (about 8 months), I think he was a good band leader and as we were touring he seemed more and more excited about recording this band. It was a really good band and I believe a follow up to Private Eyes was really on his mind. He loved playing and we always enjoyed performing the music! A fun-loving atmosphere was the norm for this band.

JS: How was the band interaction? Did you socialize much with Tommy?

JH: We only really socialized on the tour bus or plane flights, backstage, dressing rooms, etc. An occasional hotel bar. We really enjoyed playing music together, and when we did hang out it was great fun as we all had a good sense of humor and enjoyed each other’s company.

JS: What interaction did your band have with the headliners, and which ones do you recall? Posters and anecdotes mention Robin Trower, Rush, and Blue Öyster Cult, for example.

JH: I actually remember opening several times with Rush. They were great guys and we actually did some hanging together at the gigs. They were very friendly folks! I also remember Pure Prairie League, Redbone, and Riders Of The Purple Sage. They were all cool with us, and we were all there to play music and have a good time. It seemed to me that there was always a great vibe around the gigs with other groups. We had a great and very caring road crew as well! That always helps things out. They work so hard for you and always make you feel comfortable.

JS: Did you do any studio recording with Bolin? One studio demo called “Kid Shuffle/Gotta Dance” is in trading circulation, though that may be with Reggie McBride. According to an interview, Tommy said the band was set to go into the studio after the Christmas holidays. Do you recall any track titles, or musical styles, that Tommy and the band were working on?

JH: Nothing really, other than the idea of calling the recording “Gotta Dance”! I know we did some jamming, and Tommy could tell that we would be ready to play anything, especially with the monstrous drumming of Mark Craney, having Norma Jean there; a veteran of his band, and an extremely talented keyboardist and vocalist like Max — the confidence level was sure to be secure.

JS: Do you recall if any studio was booked, and what the name of it was?

JH: Nothing like that was ever discussed. We just knew that shortly after the tour we would be recording some music for a new recording.

JS: Do any particular gigs stand out? Radio shows? Do you recall the last gig?

JH: Well, most definitely Mile High Stadium sticks out! I remember the Paramount Theatre gig in Seattle, Washington, as being good, The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago with the Rick Derringer Band, and our last gig in Miami at the Jai Alai Center with Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer Group as being excellent!

JS: Do you have any recordings of gigs, jams, etc.? Are you familiar with what is out there — like some of the bootlegs and tapes in circulation?

JH: I am familiar with the material that’s been circulating and I don’t really have any bootlegs myself. I only hope that the Bolin estate is being compensated, and that Tommy’s fans are well satisfied with the job that the Archives is doing to keep Tommy’s legacy alive and well.

JS: What do you know about the Seven Seas Lounge jam? This was a jam Tommy did with the house band at the hotel the night before the final show. It is out in bootleg circles.

JH: I never heard anything about this one!? News to me! Of course, Tommy loved jamming and playing, so I’m sure it happened!

JS: How do you account for the topsy-turvy nature of 1976? What drove Tommy?

JH: I think he had some deep rooted problems, most likely business related, but also there were some personal things he was dealing with. He never wanted to discuss his personal problems, and I knew at times this put a damper on his joyous attitude towards the tour and performing, but he usually seemed to rise to the occasion. It was a great tour, but unfortunately some very mysterious things ended the tour in Miami. I was basically in shock from Tommy’s passing, and as I really don’t like talking much about it, in respect to him, I will always think of him, the tour, his wonderful family, and his music!

JS: How did you hear of Bolin’s death? What do you recall of the immediate actions following? The band’s reaction, and subsequent actions? What of the reputed free-for-all regarding Tommy’s tapes and equipment?

JH: All I know is that I was woken by a knock on my hotel door about 7 a.m. in the morning by one of the crew. This was about two hours early for lobby call and I was perplexed as to who it might be. As I opened the door, I saw my crew person (I can see his face and sorry to not remember his name) he was crying and not able to speak clearly. I sat him down on my bed and he told me that Tommy had passed away early that morning and that we were to get our things together quickly and move out of the hotel and head to the airport! I was devastated on one level, and on another, I was just numb. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I found myself in a van heading out to Miami Airport, flying back to Los Angeles and soon after, flying back to Sioux City, Iowa, to attend Tommy’s funeral as a pallbearer. I had just met Tommy’s Mom and Dad only a few weeks prior to that and it was a solemn, deeply saddening event for me to witness. I just couldn’t believe it.

JS: Prior to Tommy’s death, what had been the band’s sense of what was to happen next? Had you seen yourself as working with Tommy for a while longer?

JH: Most definitely working on a new recording and hopefully supporting the project on the road. This was an exciting thought for me!

JS: What do you feel you contributed to Tommy’s music? This could be live on stage, and/or what was forthcoming. Incidentally, your CD Red Heat covers Latin ground; had you ever gone in this direction with Tommy? A few of his songs like “Savannah Woman” and “Gypsy Soul” have Latin rhythms in them.

JH: I felt a gave the band a good solid foundation and we rocked hard! As far as the Latin direction… I never really thought about that with Tommy. Red Heat is an accumulation of many years of listening to and studying Latin Music. Its a dedication to my life and relationship with my father.

JS: Did you feel that the final lineup of the Tommy Bolin Band was the best lineup you worked in?

JH: It was a great band and I can only say that the chemistry was excellent and we loved to play together!

JS: Do you recall if, when Johnnie Bolin was replaced by Mark Craney, the Tommy Bolin Band with Mark Stein still on the keys, performed any gigs?

JH: I don’t recall that… I think Mark Stein left right at the time that Mark Craney joined. We might have rehearsed a bit at Pirate Sound, But I think that was it with Mark Stein. He was then replaced by Max Gronenthal and we toured with that band.

JS: Has any music that was composed by anyone in the band (final lineup), whether bass lines, drums, keys, sax, ever been used in later songs?

JH: That, I don’t remember either. Possibly Max, who is and was a very prolific writer, had been collaborating with Tommy. I could see that it would have been a great combination of styles and Max and Tommy knew each other from the past as well.

JS: You have worked with Mark Stein, Narada Walden, Max Carl, and Mark Craney on various recording projects. Have you ever worked with Norma Jean Bell, Bobby Berge, or Reggie McBride on any recording projects?

JH: I played a little with Bobby Berge and Phil Brown in a trio setting once. Nothing was recorded though, with that or with Norma Jean. I know Reggie, but being both bass players, we wouldn’t have recorded together. Possibly though, we might be on a recording on different tracks…

JS: At the NAMM show last year, it was reported that you performed with Max Carl and Mark Craney. Are there any future projects in mind?

JH: I don’t recall that one. I saw Mark Craney and I have recorded some music with Mark on a CD for him that you can acquire through Gino Vannelli’s website or by calling Diane Ricci at 818-889-1000. I’ve also recorded with Max a bit, including a wonderful solo recording he did for MCA Records called The Circle, now out of print.

JS: It was also reported at the NAMM show you had a reunion with Johnnie Bolin. Was there any jam with him?

JH: I’m sorry, but I don’t recall that either. Was this some kind of rumor? I have been in touch with Greg Hampton on a number of occasions, to record a piece or two for a Tommy Bolin Tribute, and through him, I understand that Johnnie was touring and recording with Black Oak Arkansas. Please send him my very best wishes and I hope that one day we can see each other in person and maybe even have a jam!

JS: There have been tribute concerts as well as both cover versions and new songs played in memory of Tommy. Would you ever consider performing at a Bolin tribute concert?

JH: I would love to join in, and/or record something for a tribute recording. Just say the word and I’ll be honored to participate, schedule allowing! I actually performed in a tribute concert right after his passing at The Roxy, here in Los Angeles, with Mark Stein, Carmine Appice, Glenn Hughes, Peter Banks, and Eddie Money! I wish I had that jam on tape! It was an honor for me to play for Tommy.

JS: Years after it all, how do you regard your experience with the Bolin Band? What kinds of things did you learn? How do you rate that music?

JH: I learned a lot about being on the road, although I was and am a vegetarian and always health conscious, as the road definitely can take it’s toll on you physically! I loved playing with the band and my experiences traveling with Tommy are for me, joyous memories in the beginning of my career. I will always have good thoughts and fond memories of Tommy. I am honored to have been a part of his legacy. Thanks so much.

PRIVATE TIMES EDITOR’S NOTE: It is completely understandable that a few things may be hazy in Jimmy’s memory considering the years gone by and the excitement of those old times.

The reference to Narada Walden and Reggie McBride leaving the band after the recording of Private Eyes is somewhat deceiving. Narada had already left the band by late May to early June, 1976. Narada’s last gig with the Bolin Band was at the Bottom Line in New York City, May 26, 1976. Reggie stuck around to record the album in L.A. in July, with Bobby Berge on drums.

As far as Jimmy playing with Tommy for eight months, it seems more likely that it was about half a year — mid July to early December, 1976.

The Private Times was published by Sal Serio and Art Connor, and was dedicated to providing news for the fans of Tommy Bolin’s music. Story used with permission.