VALERIA MONZEGLIO: MY TIME WITH TOMMY BOLIN

First, I have to explain to you, and possibly disappoint you, but until the day I met Tommy, I didn’t know who he was. I wasn’t a fan of electric guitar, but more of keyboards.

In 1976 I took a year off school to travel around. I started from Acapulco, Mexico, because my parents had friends living there. One day, in a private club in Acapulco, Billy Preston gave a concert. I met the crew and I was very interested in the work they were doing. I thought that could be something I could do to earn some money to travel around (that concept was something new to me…a “roadie”).

After two months I left Acapulco and went to Los Angeles (Orange County), where one of the guys from the crew was living. He was a drum roadie and he taught me all about it. Then I moved to Hollywood to try to find a job, and ended up as a waitress at the Rainbow. Being very naïve as I was, and coming from a small Swiss town, it was very difficult for me. I had girlfriends who were groupies. That was another new word and world to me. I didn’t like it at all.

At the Rainbow the famous people were very rude to me. I was a horrible waitress as well, not my job. But through that job I met a really nice, sweet guy. It was Tommy.

As I never told this story to anybody, I had a problem recalling the details, so I went to look in the cellar for my “Tommy memory box.” Great! I found my diary. I never opened it before, as I was scared. I’ll tell you what I wrote.

I didn’t meet Tommy at the Rainbow, but there I met his best friend Phillip Polimeni. In my diary I wrote: July 1976, one night at Phillip’s house arrived a strange, good looking guy. We had some drinks together. They told me he used to play with Deep Purple. He invited us to his rehearsal but I denied the invitation because I didn’t like the colour he had in the hair.

That’s what I wrote! I didn’t remember it, but I remember I’ve always been a bit wild.

A week later I met Phillip and Tommy at the Rainbow. Tommy said that he liked me and wanted to invite me to dinner. I didn’t care at all, but anyway, he never called me. Two weeks later Tommy was at the Rainbow with his girlfriend (Karen Ulibarri). He was quite drunk and didn’t even recognize me.

For a month I didn’t see him anymore, but I heard he had a problem with his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Tommy moved out of Karen’s place and went to live with Phillip. On the morning of August 25 my girlfriend (who also knew Tommy and Phillip) called me from their house and said that Tommy wanted to see me. After one hour they arrived at my apartment, and there I met his brother Johnnie. Tommy was quite drunk and I wasn’t that friendly to him, so he left. In the afternoon he called and invited me to his rehearsal. I finally accepted. With my girlfriend we hitchhiked to the studio. We got a ride from Joe Cocker. Wow! We arrived at the studio and were amazed at how good Tommy played. I liked it even though I never liked electric guitars. Pity that he was always attached to the whiskey bottle. From then on we began seeing each other a lot. He was unhappy and was trying to leave his girlfriend, and I was a good listener.

My job at the Rainbow wasn’t going so well. I had never been a waitress before. I didn’t know the drinks, and with all the noise, I had problems understanding the drink’s names. Someone once ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. I had to get a piece of paper and let the client write it down for me. The boss didn’t like that at all, but the worst thing happened when one night I had the band KISS at my tables. I went to the table and very shy I asked, “What would you like?” He replied, “I want your pussy.” I got very upset and treated him badly. The next day I got fired.

That was the beginning of September. I was jobless and with very little money, so Tommy wanted to help me, and promised to get me a job on the next tour that started the 18th of September.

From my diary: Tommy had to fight to keep his promise. His manager, his road manager, the crew, and part of the group were against it. They even voted and everybody was against it except for his brother and Jimmy, the bass player. At that point Tommy refused to start the tour without me. So they had to take me along, and on the 18th we started the tour.

I don’t remember exactly what I was doing as a job. I was helping to unload the truck and helping to set up Johnnie’s drums, I think. Maybe he remembers. I was taking drinks, towels, and cigarettes on stage at the right moment.

I was travelling with the crew, and I knew everybody hated me, but after a few days they changed their mind and apologized to me. I think they felt sorry for me. At first I wasn’t the groupie type. Most of the time I was dressed like a farmer and Tommy didn’t care that much about me. I shared the room with him, but only because they didn’t know where else to put me. One night he picked up a girl after a concert, and I had to move to somebody else’s room. I mention that to explain how much he cared about me in the beginning.

We did the first tour, but Tommy had problems. He was always thinking about his last girlfriend. We had to stop the tour after three weeks. He had a problem with his voice.

In my diary I wrote only the dates:

  • SEPTEMBER
  • • 19 show with Blue Oyster Cult in Albany (Albany Palace Theatre)
  • • 21 show with Bailey Bros. in New Haven Connecticut (Shaboo Inn)
  • • 23 NO SHOW we went to see the Outlaws/Charlie Daniels concert in Chicago
  • • 24 show with Rick Derringer and Blue Oyster Cult in Chicago
  • • 25 Tommy had no voice so we went to Mike’s ranch. Mike Lancaster was the bus driver and had a ranch in Wisconsin. We stayed there three days and had been horseback riding (see pictures).
  • • 27 went to New York
  • • 29 show in Long Island (My Father’s Place)
  • OCTOBER
  • • 2 show with the Outlaws in Philadelphia
  • • 3 show with Earl Slick Band in Youngstown, Ohio (Tomorrow club)
  • • 4 show in Cleveland Ohio (Agora Club)
  • • 5 show with Paris in Detroit (Ford Auditorium)
  • • 6 back in L.A.

I have a note in my diary about Mike the bus rider (see pictures) who was the guy from the ranch. I remember that once Tommy brought a groupie along. I had to move out of the room for the night. The day after, she was on the bus. I don’t remember if it was the same bus, but the girl got dropped off in the next city. I remember I gave her some money to go back home. I’m not writing in my diary all the time because for me that was not a nice time, and not for Tommy either. This is like therapy for me, it’s right to let somebody know about it, so I won’t be scared any more. Tommy’s memory box laid unopened in my garage all these years, but I couldn’t get rid of it.

From my diary: For about 3 weeks we stayed in L.A. Tommy and I didn’t see each other that much. He was very nervous. He was trying to stop drinking and forget about his girlfriend (Karen).

The 27th of October we started a new tour and we started to get along well. He started to like me. Every day he was nicer. He even let me travel on the airplane with him. (It’s the first time I re-read my diary, unbelievable I was that naïve?!?)  Anyway, then I stopped writing for a while. I only put dates down and I have some pictures.

  • OCTOBER
  • • 28 show in Seattle with Rush
  • • 29 drive to Tacoma, show with Rush, drive to Portland
  • • 30 show in Portland with Rush, drive to Spokane
  • • 31 day off in Spokane
  • NOVEMBER
  • • 1 and 2 fly to Roseburg and show with Rush (4 pictures of backstage)
  • • 3 drive to Medford
  • • 4 fly to San Francisco
  • • 7 drive to Sacramento
  • • 8 back to San Francisco
  • • 9, 10 and 11 fly to Tulsa Oklahoma, show with Foghat (2 pictures on the airplane)
  • • 11 show in Denver
  • • 13 Denver to Dallas
  • • 14 New Orleans, days off in New Orleans
  • • 18 fly to St Louis and Peoria (Illinois)
  • • 19 drive to Davenport Iowa
  • • 21 Davenport to Sioux City

From my diary: The 21st we arrived in Sioux City, where I met Tommy’s family, luckily they liked me. Tommy was suddenly all in love with me, especially after his mother told him I was a nice girl. (It is written in my diary…)

Tommy was telling me all the time he was going to buy me a plane ticket to come back next year because he couldn’t live without me. (I had a return ticket to Switzerland before Christmas). I didn’t know what to do, Tommy was scared to lose me, so he was thinking of coming to Switzerland after Christmas and fly us back to the USA together. He was planning to record a new album and wanted my picture on the front cover. (This was from my diary. I don’t remember a thing, but am sure it was the truth).

After Sioux City we flew to Miami.

From my diary: Tommy and I left for Miami, where we spent a week alone waiting for the group and the next concert. We had fun by the seaside, but Tommy was often unhappy, he had a lot of problems with his manager in Denver who was taking his money away, so every night he was drinking a lot to fall asleep. (That is what he was telling me. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was also too shy to ask questions).

The 3rd of December Tommy had the concert with Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer. After that we went back to the hotel. There were strange people around him, he told me to wait at the hotel bar. He said he had to talk about a limo deal with those people, and went to his room.

My diary stops here. I remember that after a “long while” I was tired of waiting and went up to the room. I entered the room and there were many people around from the group and the crew. Tommy was unconscious. They even dragged him under the shower but he did not respond. They put him in bed and did mouth-to-mouth. I was scared. I asked to call a doctor and they told me not to worry, that I didn’t understand anything about drugs, and that this happened before, and that in the morning he would be okay. They left me alone with him and told me again not to call a doctor as it would only create bad publicity for the band. I watched him all night. Around 6 or 7:00 I was scared to fall asleep so I went to somebody’s room and asked for a line of coke to stay awake. When I came back 5 or 10 minutes later he was dead. Of course, I felt guilty and I know there are people who blame me. It took me years to get over it. Now, I think that the 5 or 10 minutes could not have changed anything. I was only 20 years old and inexperienced. I should not have listened to anybody, and called a doctor immediately.

The 15th of December I flew back home, sad and in love with a great person who was not around anymore. Fortunately my parents took care of me without too many questions about what happened. I hope I didn’t disappoint you with the sad end of the story.

Additional photos: one of the last taken at the Newport in Miami, picture with dedication, picture of his telephone book which I would like to give to the museum or to Johnnie. Let me know if Johnnie is interested. I can make a copy for myself and then I’ll send it to him. There’s a photo of a backstage pass, if the museum doesn’t have one, I’ll send it. Let me know because I like it myself, but first comes the museum. Take care, Valeria.


SPECIAL THANKS

Our sincere thanks to Valeria Monzeglio for sharing her story and photos. Thanks to Dar Horwath for establishing contact and friendship with Valeria, and whose conversations helped develop the narrative. Thanks to Sal Serio for proofing and consolidation of the information.