THE TOMMY BOLIN BAND: ALIVE ON LONG ISLAND
MAY 22, 1976 AT MY FATHER’S PLACE IN ROSLYN, NY
by Jim Sheridan and Sal Serio, with special thanks to Mark Stein
Not even two weeks after their triumphant stand at Ebbets Field in Denver, documented on the 1996 Bolin Archives release The Tommy Bolin Band Live: At Ebbets Field May 13, 1976, Tommy and the crew arrived at My Father’s Place, a 1200 seat nightclub nestled in a hip business area of Roslyn, on Long Island, New York. The all-star line-up was intact, featuring players hailing from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Vanilla Fudge, Frank Zappa, and Stevie Wonder. This line-up was evolving with each show, and this live set offers an interesting glimpse at how far some of these songs would grow in so short a time. The interaction between the band is psychic, Tommy was in great voice and spirits, and his playing razor sharp.
Mark Stein: Norma, Narada, Reggie, and me… probably one of the best bands I’ve ever been in. A hell of a diverse group of players! The gig at My Father’s Place was a real good night for the band. Tommy’s vocals were great. He had an eerie soulful tone that really got to me, not to mention his guitar prowess!
The show roars into life with “Teaser,” clearly a funkier incarnation than the metallic version on the studio LP of the same name. Where Tommy’s overdubbed leads stole the show on that version, here Norma Jean Bell’s free flowing saxophone takes center stage. Of special interest too is Mark Stein’s keyboard solo over the interpolated funk jam in the middle of the song. If you listen carefully to how his solo begins, and then compare it to how the middle section solo of “Post Toastee” on Private Eyes begins, it is clear that Tommy’s guitar playing was influenced by Stein’s keys!
“People, People” delivers some crisp playing from all, Tommy’s closing solo very succinct and directed here. A forceful version of “The Grind” follows, with each member of the band pushing each other on. Listen to how the bass snaps and the keyboards swirl; there is an aggressive swagger present that transcends the studio version. Tommy playfully switches the lyrics to, “Would’ve swallowed my pride for some monitors!” but this apparent sound system shortcoming does not distract him; unlike other versions of the song from this tour, he does not simply repeat the first verse but gets all of the words in correctly.
After “The Grind” is a magisterial unaccompanied solo from Mark Stein. Many people do not realize, but that keyboard solo/intro was originally used by Stein on an early 1970s recorded version of “The Long And Winding Road”!
Mark Stein: The early 70s recordings were produced by Shel Talmy of early Who fame. “The Best Years Of My Life” and “Long And Winding Road” ended up as a single on the Phil Spector International label. As far as the keyboard intro, I remember I played it for Tommy at a rehearsal, thinking it would be a cool thing for “Wild Dogs” in the live show, and he agreed. My old manager from Vanilla Fudge, the late Phil Basile, came to see me at My Father’s Place, and I recall he said he was wowed by the keyboard intro…
Then, the classic “Wild Dogs” pours from the speakers. Again, Tommy is in great voice and delivers the wistful words with full emotion. His slippery slide is all over the coda, driven by the propulsive bass of Reggie McBride. After some good humored band introductions, Tommy cedes center stage to his band mates. Narada Michael Walden’s number “Delightful” further demonstrates the range of sounds this band was capable of. The live show was just as eclectic and open ended as the Teaser LP was. Mark Stein’s “I Fell In Love” is a soulful torch song lit up by another of Tommy’s shredding solos. Check out how tightly the band members respond to each other, stopping and starting on a dime.
Mark Stein: “I Fell In Love” was a tune I wrote for my own solo project at the time. It was recorded for Columbia in 1979, to be on my solo album produced by Dave Mason. Unfortunately, the effort was never released.
After this soulful interlude, the band returns to Tommy’s songs, specifically with the instrumental “Marching Powder.” As Narada had played drums on the studio version of this song, it is only fitting that he gets the chance to take it up one more level here. Over the driving main riff, Mark Stein plays some wildly weird lead lines with Reggie McBride pumping along beneath. Then it’s Narada’s turn to take his unaccompanied solo, which he does with great aplomb, luring the crowd into enthusiastic participation.
Mark Stein: Narada Michael Walden is an amazing musician and Reggie McBride one of the funkiest bass players around. Norma Jean Bell was a very exciting performer, and of course Tommy… It was through Tommy and Narada that I started to make a serious transition into synthesizers and fusion rock.
Tommy eases back into the song with some ghostly guitar lines sounding like a celestial violin. Then he cranks it up and goes toe to toe with Narada. One can only imagine what the rest of the band thought, waiting in the wings, watching the master drummer and ultimate guitarist alone onstage feeding off each other’s licks. It is a bravura performance, a steeplechase, as each leads the other down several winding paths, loud here, playful there, and then back into a full jam that Tommy flies over. They don’t make ’em like this anymore!
After such a display, where can you go? The gentle Hendrixisms of “Lotus” quiet the charged crowd and let Tommy display his golden voice one last time for the night. The gifted band gives Tommy a full gospel chorus back-up vocal before he and Norma Jean deliver a pithy but perfect solo, guitar and sax harmonizing and winding up into another luscious gospel chorus. Then it’s Tommy’s turn to shout to the crowd, “Get on up!” as the song builds up, Up, UP until he lets them “hear him howl”… on his Strat to wrap it all up.
The tour would roll on, and Tommy would take this band and this energy into the studio to create Private Eyes, his next masterpiece, his final masterpiece, his swansong. We’re very lucky that the power of the man and his band was caught here live on this special night first.
Mark Stein: I just want to say that playing with Tommy Bolin was an overall positive experience for me. It was very educational and helped to broaden my musical horizons. The Tommy Bolin Band was the first important band I was in since the breakup of Vanilla Fudge in the very early 70s. I was both lucky and blessed to have that experience. I can only imagine what Tommy would be like today, musically. I guess the Good Lord had his reasons for bringing his love home early.
POSTSCRIPT: Additional thanks and acknowledgment must be given to Scott McIntosh who allowed us to freely quote from the interview he did with Mark Stein last year. This helped to beef up the more recent quotes that Sal got from Mark. Scott’s great interview, and many other excellent articles, may be found at the Tommy Bolin Fan Page website, which is a priceless resource. There is a link to it on the homepage of the Archives site. To directly access the Stein interview, click here. Thanks for ALL you do, Scott!
To visit Mark Stein on the web, click here.
Also, in researching the show, Sal spoke with former Long Island resident and full time rock and roll fan Cole Markland about his recollections of My Father’s Place. Cole described the area where the club was located as being near head shops, record stores, hair salons, and a leather goods shop. This area was generally frequented by hippies and college students. The venue was more of a large club than a theater, with tables for seating. Cole remembers seeing Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band there, as well as proto-metal hellions the Dictators. We also have proof of the Good Rats playing there, and a soundboard recording of the Dixie Dregs live at My Father’s Place in the early 1980s exists!
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