By Jim Sheridan

Glenn Hughes: the voice. Tommy Bolin: the guitar. As fans of both artists know, the two talented musicians met in 1975 to work on the Deep Purple album Come Taste The Band together. Hughes had joined the band before Bolin, debuting on Purple’s Burn. Seven years younger than Ritchie Blackmore, ten years younger than Jon Lord, he had made a name for himself playing with Trapeze, but accepted the invitation to join Purple and step to the upper echelon of rock stardom. He brought limber bass playing, an unusually strong self-tutored voice, and a penchant for soul music into the hard rock band.

Two years after Glenn joined, Tommy Bolin was brought in to replace Blackmore. Like Hughes, Bolin introduced new sounds to the band; his jazz and blues ideas were from a different universe than Blackmore’s classically influenced Eurorock riffs. The band felt enough confidence in Bolin’s capabilities that Tommy ended up writing or co-writing the majority of the album’s tracks. Bolin and Hughes clicked together instantly, uniting on funk breakdowns like those found in “Gettin’ Tighter” and “I Need Love.” The eloquent “This Time Around/Owed to G’” started with Glenn’s vocal showpiece and ended with Tommy’s instrumental extravaganza. Onstage, the two would continue to pull Purple in their own direction. Glenn had even lent his vocals to the majestic “Dreamer” on Tommy’s Teaser album, uncredited. The two were musical soulmates.

After Tommy’s death, Glenn Hughes continued to make music on his own terms, playing with an astonishing variety of musicians from Black Sabbath to Earth, Wind, and Fire, as well as leading his own bands. He never forgot the Come Taste The Band era, however; that album’s haunting closer, “You Keep On Moving,” would appear in Glenn’s sets, and he offered some pointed words for the King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Deep Purple CD liner notes in 1995: “I didn’t really dig playing with Deep Purple, with the exception of the period with Tommy Bolin. That was a special version of the band.” Last summer, Glenn made the pilgrimage to Colorado to pay tribute to his musical soulmate at the Bluebird Theater in Denver. The results — already bootlegged, but presented here in pristine quality — finally get to speak for themselves.

Guitarists Ralph Patlan and Rocky Athus kicked off the set playing the slow, moody demo version of “Teaser” which appeared on Tommy Bolin: From The Archives Vol. I. Glenn’s vocals are instantly unmistakable; unpredictable, sensuously bending around each note, a mix of passion and control honed over the decades. And the crowd goes wild... band introductions go around, including Johnnie Bolin on drums, and it’s into the snappy crunch of “Shake The Devil.” The electricity on this one is positively lethal, as the twin guitars weave a sharp-edged web around Hughes’ voice. Pick slides and Echoplex whoops ensue and summon Tommy’s spirit on the solos, which take Tommy’s original licks and then soar off into the heavens over Johnnie’s furious bass drum rumble.

Some more bump ’n grind rock from Private Eyes follows these words from Glenn: “I’d like to dedicate this whole thing to Tommy Bolin. He is my brother. He’s not gone, he’s right here tonight. I’d like to dedicate this to Barb, Richard, Pudge Bolin, dear family. Up we go — ‘You Told Me That You Loved Me.’” Glenn’s silky soul stylings are all over this version, and the band sounds particularly chunky and funky behind him. The guitar tone is on that dangerous line between distortion and what lies beyond, and “what lies beyond” is exactly where the closing solo goes. This is fiery sonic exploration of the finest kind, right where the imagination could see Tommy Bolin venturing to in the ’90s.

The set takes a turn for the mellower with “Gypsy Soul.” Glenn explains “The songs I’ve chosen to do tonight, that Tommy wrote — right when he joined Deep Purple, Tommy lived at my house in L.A. and we sat around one night and I can remember these songs he played on acoustic guitar for me. I very vividly remember these songs he played, and this next song I’ve had a few tears over, and I still do...” The beautiful Latin chords kick in, and Glenn’s voice once more slides forth, seductive and warm, whispery and reverent. Homage is paid to the tender singing of both Tommy and Stevie Wonder, another of Glenn’s idols. The band builds the tropical tempo to a peak and then ends it just as swiftly. “Alexis” from the James Gang’s Bang (and more recently from Tommy Bolin: From The Archives Vol. II) follows in the same vein. The ballad flows seamlessly into the thunderous coda which features the dueling guitars screaming over a rock-solid rhythm.

Glenn takes over bass duties to perform one of his solo classics, “Coast To Coast.” In many ways, this is the centerpiece of the set, with its lyrics expressing heartfelt longing for one who has departed. The jazzy, relaxed song is clearly one that Hughes lives and breathes, and it takes on epic stature as Glenn unleashes his vocal acrobatics, scatting and soaring, and the band responds, exploring many directions. The guitar solos that erupt recall the moments of epiphany that Tommy would often reach during songs like “The Creator Has A Master Plan.”

The set then returns to the Purple rock ’n roll on which Glenn and Tommy’s most famous interactions occurred. “Gettin’ Tighter” is fast and furious, belted out like it was written yesterday. The whipcrack funk midsection jams like mad, and some of the riffs that used to be added to the live Purple versions surface here as well. “You’ve got to dance to the rock ’n roll” indeed! The tight interaction between all of the players is a joy here, give-and-take leaping from drum to guitar to keyboard, and then traveling out to Glenn’s heated whooping, where his voice becomes the main instrument. Upon return to the main riff, Tommy’s joyful explosion of a solo is nailed perfectly and expanded as well. No fan could ask for more.

However, more is what comes next with a new introduction to another Come Taste The Band classic. Sioux City’s Terry Brooks unravels some rippling keyboard runs as Glenn delivers some more of his soulful midnight crooning, sending out his heart through his voice to the awed crowd. The ominous bass notes of “You Keep On Moving” kick in with jazzy guitar filigreeing over the top. The audience gets a chance at contributing to the verses before Hughes takes command. The rest of the song is simply over the top catharsis as each musician gives his all to every note. The eerie closing solo is done to perfection, and then Glenn takes the mike to deliver the high-pitched vocal extravaganza which only he and very few other mortals are capable of.

To the delight of the Colorado audience, and now the listener at home, an encore rewards the cries of the fans, and, as the set began with a number from Teaser, so too it ends that way. The delicate “Dreamer” is the perfect number to wrap up the evening’s joyful tribute, mourning one who is gone yet celebrating that he was ever here. Moments of extreme tenderness are contrasted with the high energy output of Rocky Athus’ lead guitar and Johnnie Bolin’s hard-hitting drums. Glenn Hughes puts extra energy into the same lines that he ended the album version of Tommy’s song with: “Someone like you can’t be replaced.”

The 1997 Tommy Bolin Tribute thus finds one musician reclaiming his peak level of artistry, and using all of his creative powers to honor another who is no longer with us. Glenn Hughes will undoubtedly continue to move in a variety of musical directions, but the performance he put on in a small theater in Colorado on a hot Friday night in August will prove difficult to top.