TOMMY BOLIN: ALL-AMERICAN ROCK STAR
ROCK MAGAZINE, JANUARY 1977
by Jim Green (submitted by Lady Jane Key)
“This girl really fucked me last night.”
Tommy Bolin entered the office in CBS’s monolithic grey building (a/k/a “The Rock”) on Sixth Avenue. An All-American rock star clad in jeans ’n T-shirt, leather jacket and platforms, streaks of gold in his long, dark, brown hair. And shades which he didn’t remove for the entire time he was in the office.
He smiled, shook hands, slumped into a chair and, at that point, tiredly but bemusedely commented on his night’s, er, activities. Then, after coughing he cleared his throat as best he could and apologized for the hoarseness which at first sounded more than a croak. He’d been on tour see, and “I blew my voice out and the doctor said don’t even talk for a week” but here he was doing an interview. From behind a pair of sunglasses yet.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that Tommy Bolin lives almost a stereotypical good times rock ’n rollers life. But strangely enough with few airs or pretensions; he’s just a regular guy who’s talents helped him go places and who enjoys all the benefits his abilities reap drugs, sex, money, the buzz of meeting neat people and playing with top musicians. In a nutshell, Tommy Bolin is an avid hedonist, and for him life’s one long party, money allowing. A typical rock jock.
Tommy first made waves with a band from the southwest called Zephyr, matching his speedy guitar slinging with the piercing voice of one Candy Givens (who’d made Noddy Holder of Slade and David Surcamp of Pavlov’s Dog sound like Simon and Garfunkle). Next stop was the James Gang, where he made a brief impression in one of the series of Joe Walsh replacements that the band has searched for without satisfaction. He’d committed the most attention grabbing performance yet on vinyl with Billy Cobham on the latter’s post Mahivishnu solo debut (Spectrum), and was even given his own solo spot with the Gang.
After leaving the James Gang, he unsuccessfully tried to put together and maintain his own band, camping out in LA with May Ling, gorgeous ex-secretary to Hugh Hefner. Having squandered almost all of his royalties, Tommy began writing and singing, and was picked up by Nemperor records to do an LP. Shortly thereafter, Deep Purple snatched him up to become Ritchie Blackmore’s successor.
It was quite a change for Purple to lose Blackmore, a focal point of their sound, and replace him with a guitarist from outside the pale of the strident English heavy metal idiom. Quite a novelty for Tommy as well; in fact he admits “I never saw Purple, I never even heard them before I joined the band, except for Smoke on the Water and also Hush, but that was eight years ago.
“So I came in with a completely new perspective. I would write songs and they would pick tunes they felt were in the Purple vein.” The band went out on tour almost immediately after Tommy joined, playing in Europe, Asia and the US.
“The first gigs were the best. They got progressively worse.” By the time the group hit the states, “It was not much fun anymore, and if you’re not having fun it’s not worth doing.”
Looking back from today’s vantage point, Tommy is of the opinion that Purple should have broken up when Ritchie Blackmore left the band. “They didn’t need to do it, they didn’t need the money and talent-wise they could do anything.”
“A lot of things just got distorted, like stories about each other. After the tour they never called and we never talked. I don’t know, but I believe a band should be a band. But I think Purple became frustrated and wanted to do more ‘Smoke on the Water’-type, straight-ahead, kill-their ears, beat- ’em-to-death music.” Glenn Hughes, who joined the band to replace Roger Glover, was very distant from Ritchie, and Tommy, when he joined was very different from Ritchie.
“Teaser (the first solo LP) also got much more airplay than Come Taste the Band, and I had to do interviews for that and for Deep Purple too, because the others were kind of ‘anti-interviewish.’” Jon Lord and Ian Paice now have their own group, and Glenn, after a one-off tour UK tour with with his old band Trapeze, is mixing a two-record set of solo material and “laying back in LA, going out with Linda Blair!”
After Teaser Tommy switched over to Columbia and solidified a band context for himself with his second album, Private Eyes. Well sort of. “Norma Bell (sax) and Mark Stein (ex-Vanilla Fudge, organ) are stable. But I’ve gone through several drummers Michael Walden, Bobby Berge (who’s on Private Eyes) and now my brother Johnnie. Reggie McBride (bass, ex-Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton) isn’t with us any more, but nobody leaves with bad feelings. For instance, Reggie left cause he’s doing an album with Van Morrison in England and those sessions were booked long ago. Jimmy Haslip, who was with Harvey Mandel, is now playing bass.”
Tommy most definitely wants his own band: “I gotta spring my cookies somewhere. I replaced Walsh, I replaced Blackmore, now I just gotta be me.” The slick licks and funkily rockin’ riffs that coalesce on Private Eyes are a potent brew, better than Teaser in so far as its having been recorded both by a band (rather than session players) and the artistic maturation on Tommy’s part. But what’s good for one of them, says Tommy, is good for him, and if somebody wants to leave, well, “How do you stop somebody from growing?” Bolin, the humanist?
One parting exchange though:
Rock: You know, you have quite a rep as a “raver.”
TB: (Grins) Yeah, uh, well, I . . .
ROCK: Are you Mr, Drugs, Sex and Cheap Thrills? Hmm?
TB: (Struggling) Uh, I, um... (giggles) I guess I am!
Archives note: This article was published shortly after Tommy’s death, and his death was acknowleged in an editor’s note.