by Art Connor

Art Connor’s interview with Tommy Bolin as it appeared in Philadelphia’s The Drummer, September 28, 1976.

Guitarist Tommy Bolin has come a long, long way in a few short years. At the tender age of 16, he was already hooked up with the Colorado-based rock band Zephyr. After a pair of albums and a few cross country tours, Zephyr splintered, after which Bolin popped up with his guitar on Billy Cobham’s hot LP debut Spectrum.

Tommy then hitched on to the James Gang’s bandwagon, taking over Joe Walsh’s vacated spot. Bolin had them riding high for a few albums, when he suddenly quit to embark on a solo career. Those plans were abruptly altered when British heavy-metal mongers Deep Purple called upon him to join their ranks after Ritchie Blackmore handed in his notice.

But now that Purple has opted for a permanent split, Bolin intends to go solo full time. His Teaser LP of last winter gave some hint to his ability to carry the whole weight. With a new contract with the prestigious Columbia Records, he looks to do himself one better with Private Eyes. After talking to him about the possibilities, he had me pretty convinced, too.

“I was originally going to call the album Whips and Roses because of the music, the whips being the hard stuff, and the roses being the soft mellow things. I thought it was nice, but everybody else thought it was stupid.

“MOST of the people that were on the sessions with me are in the band now. Norma Jean BeII is in the band playing sax and on vocals. I met her through Michael Walden of Mahavishnu who was my original drummer and she’s just a real gas to play with. It’s the same with bass guitarist Reggie McBride, who’s been with The Stylistics and The Dramatics, and Stevie Wonder.

“Mark Stein is also in the band on keyboards. He’s one of the original Vanilla Fudge, with Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert. Carmine’s even on one track. (“Someday Will Bring Our Love Home”) because the drummer that was on the session nodded out. Like with aII these people, doing the album was great.”

Tommy’s brother Johnny has since joined the band on drums, and Jimmy Haslip is now slapping the bass strings. Unlike Tommy’s first effort, Private Eyes goes a mellower route.

The rockers are there in “Busting Out For Rosey,” “Post Toastee” and “Shake the Devil,” but the majority of the work is much softer and jazzier, unlike the metal thrashings of Deep Purple.

Teaser was great on its own merit. But Private Eyes is more in one direction. It’s different from the last, and I’d like every album to be different.”

With the final break-up of Deep Purple after its eight year existence Bolin had to take a second look at his solo career, whether to go it alone or join another established band.

“No, I won’t be joining any other bands. I’m gonna concentrate on my own. The Purple thing was great for awhile, but it started to get a little too tense. I’m still great friends with them, it was more a management problem. They were hassling me with this and that…money wise it got kind of weird me being an American and them being English, so I just quietly removed myself. I’m sick of diving in other people’s pools.

“Ian and Jon are working on albums, and Glenn Hughes has a double album coming out. He says he wants to put together a soul band or something like that. He’s got the pipes for it, a real incredible singer. David Coverdale’s album should be out by now. I’m as interested as anyone to see what they can do. I thought the album we did together (Come Taste the Band) was a good album. I guess Purple freaks were used to hearing the same thing they had always heard before.”

SINCE Purple is no more, Bolin’s band now has to shell out the dues all over again. Although Bolin and company are all rock and roll vets, they are currently opening for the Outlaws, on a few select concert dates. (Both Bolin and the Outlaws will be at the Tower Theatre on this Saturday). I asked Tommy if it felt strange being an opening act after headlining stadiums so long.

“It bothers me when they only give me three feet to play on and the monitors aren’t exactly what I want and other little things. I mean there are some groups who will let you be as artful as possible. Purple was like that. You do a time limit thing and they allot forty minutes and that’s bull shit with a two group thing.”

“What can you do in forty minutes? You just start to cook, then you have to get off the stage. You leave the kids hanging while they’re still applauding and the house lights go on. The kids think you’re the one that said ‘Fuck You’.”

“As f or the show itself, we usually open with “Teaser.” But most of it is all from the new album. This is really the debut tour for this band. Our first gig was some big festival in Denver. Frampton was there, Gary Wright, Steve Miller, and we killed them all. It was great because we had a lot of room to work on stage, which everybody up there is entitled to and should be.”

UNLIKE other guitarists his age who sound like mirrored images of a more histrionic Jeff Beck or the psychee-delic Jimi Hendrix, Bolin sports a style all his own which sets him apart as a genuine guitar hero.

“I picked up my style from playing with people like Cobham, The James Gang and Purple. When I was a kid, I used to listen to Elvis, Carl Perkins, people like that. I admire Jeff, John McLaughlin. It really doesn’t matter who. You’ll hear something on a Carpenter’s track that really sounds great and you don’t know who the hell the guy is. Now I’m not only influenced by guitar players, but by flute players and sax players as well. I really don’t go out of my way to listen to guitar players anymore.

“You see I can’t read or write music, so I really don’t know what I’m doing. I just go up and fuck around.”

If that’s all Tommy Bolin does with his guitar, then he is certainly quite good at it.

©2014 Art Connor. All rights reserved.


Back in 1976 when I interviewed Tommy Bolin, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would still be read and talked about some thirty eight years later. It still makes me smile when I think about that warm September afternoon sitting in my parent’s bedroom, a nervous wreck with my Panasonic cassette recorder with the suction cup microphone waiting for the phone to ring. God, I was so young.

As John Bentzinger wrote in the extended liner notes for the TBA release, In His Own Words, David Fricke (yes, that David Fricke of Trouser Press, Circus and Creem magazine, VH1’s Classic Albums and Behind the Music shows and now Senior Editor of Rolling Stone magazine) was my editor and mentor when I was a young aspiring music writer for Philadelphia’s The Drummer newspaper.

The Drummer was a weekly news publication that hit the streets everyday Tuesday morning for the whopping price of twenty five cents and the features and entertainment section was distributed for free to the Philadelphia area college campuses as The Daily Planet. David set up the interview for me with Columbia Records for that fateful Tuesday afternoon in September and as they say the rest is Rock and Roll history.

Ironically, the audio portion of my interview with Tommy, which was only supposed to be for my reference for the written part, has been around for years. It was officially released on the TBA In His Own Words CD, and I had 100 cassette tapes professionally prepared by a local recording studio that I distributed privately via Goldmine magazine back in the day. I realized that the actual written article from The Drummer has never ever been posted on any web site or blog. Only the nice high resolution photo-copies that I sent out with the cassettes have been around. So before it got to be too many more years gone by, and with the fantastic help and encouragement from John Herdt, we thought it was time to get it set up properly on the Web.

In getting this prepared, I actually re-read the interview for the first time in many years. I resisted the temptation to edit the original piece, it wouldn’t have been right. David Fricke was a great editor and teacher and for the most part, the interview came out pretty much as I had written it. But he did tweak a few lines and tighten up some things that needed it, because that’s what good editors do.

Being a huge Deep Purple as well as a Tommy Bolin fan, I would never have written DP as “heavy metal mongers.” I believe my original line was “heavy metal masters.” And David playfully changed the line “psychedelic Jimi Hendrix” to “psychee-delic Jimi Hendrix", and my original line “a more moody Jeff Beck to “a more histrionic Jeff Beck.” Back then I didn’t even know what the word histrionic meant, I had to look it up when I saw it in print! Ha ha. But all in all, David with his gentle massaging and subtle changes here and there, did make it an even better piece.

One more thing I'd like to clarify and correct about my interview with Tommy. The interview took place on Tuesday, September 14, 1976, not September 20 as it is listed in the TBA CD. The original organizers of the "In His Own Words" project insisted that's when I did the interview. For reasons I won't go into, I agreed to let them use that date, but have regretted doing so for many years. First off, they weren't there — I was. It was the biggest piece I was to write in my young music journalism career, I most certainly would remember the correct date, the time, even the weather. All of that stuff was so important to me, I was interviewing one of my guitar heroes!

Secondly, written hard copy had to be in by 12:00 noon Friday of that week for any feature articles to be used for the following week's edition, so I worked like a fiend from Tuesday night straight on through to Thursday transcribing the tape, writing the drafts and fine tuning it so it would be ready for September 21 issue. Now wait, this story gets even better!

After all of that work and sleepless nights, and running out the newsstand early in the morning, the interview didn't appear in the September 21 issue! I was so devastated and heartbroken thinking David hated it and killed the article. When I ran into him later in the week, he knew I was pretty down. He came right over to me and with that famous “Fricke grin” explained to me he pushed it back a week so it would be closer to Tommy’s concert date at the Tower Theatre with the Outlaws the following week. Not only did it appear in the September 28 edition of The Drummer, it was the lead feature story that week and the cover story for Daily Planet. I went from total despair to walking on the clouds in less than a week.

So that’ it, thirty eight years later here we are today. From that interview with Tommy I’ve have made many nice friends from all over the world, such far flung places such as Japan, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Great Britain, the US, anywhere in the world that Tommy’s music has been heard and made an impact, someone has contacted me at one time or another. It is a bit humbling to think about.

Is it the best piece on Tommy Bolin ever written? Not hardly! There have been far more better articles and interviews written over the years about Tommy. But it had its unique moments — Whips and Roses was Tommy’s original title for what was to become Private Eyes. That was never brought up in any other interview but mine.

And his mention of the great guitar line he heard on a Carpenters track, which years later Jim Wilson was able to narrow down to possibly being “Goodbye to Love,” a song that turned out to be the prototype of the Rock Power Ballad surprisingly. Tommy may have been referring to Tony Peluso’s guitar solo on the track when he said that to me.

Tommy Bolin’s music to this day still means so much to so many people. New fans discover him almost every day. I was just a young twenty year old who was extraordinarily lucky to become a small part of his legacy on that warm September afternoon all of those years ago. And Tommy’s legacy still lives on.

My special thanks to David Fricke for being there for me back in 1976, and to John Herdt, who has been a huge support to me over the last few years in this century. And of course to Tommy Bolin — Thanks for all of the great music and memories over the years. Someday we’ll bring our love home….