ZEPHYR IN PERSPECTIVE
by Paul EpsteinSomewhere in the great expanse between the Fillmore East and West lay Boulder, Colorado. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was a pretty wonderful place to be. A huge university guaranteed as many kids as adults, the kids freely explored the expanded consciousness of the day in the pristine surroundings of this hamlet nestled at the foot of a mountain. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were rampant, and many of the inner city ills that plagued the generation seemed distant to residents of Boulder. It was from this idyllic womb that Zephyr was born and matured. Without the notoriety of Haight Ashbury or Greenwich Village, Boulder became the Rocky Mountain center of the counter-culture and Zephyr was the house band.
Zephyr’s place in history has often been relegated to a footnote in the Tommy Bolin story. This is an unfortunate historical inaccuracy. In hindsight, much of Bolin’s greatest playing was in Zephyr, and the band certainly provided his solos with their most meaningful context. As impressive as much of Tommy’s later work was, it is Zephyr’s music which shows the genesis and development of his guitar technique. Zephyr boasted another star as well. Singer/harmonica player Candy Givens must surely be recognized as one of the great blueswailing shouters of her era. She could wrap her rough-and-ready pipes around a song like a paisley boa constrictor. She remained true to the blues spirit that fueled her, yet she mastered the sheer rock-and-roll bravado that post Joplin audiences demanded
As a unit, Zephyr embodied the free-wheeling spirit of experimentation that typified the era. Like all great psychedelic music, in full flight, Zephyr could poke a hole in the gentle fabric of reality and allow a peek into their own personal Technicolor dream state. If the listener was lucky, some of the colors would indelibly stain the mundane polished cotton of the real world, leaving it a slightly better place to live and dream. The band would often begin chugging through what could be a standard blues number but would soon drop into deep musical meditations on the meaning of life morphing into a cacophony of brilliant guitar work and smoky organ then emerging on the other side with the comfort of the chugging blues refrain. Audiences of the time recognized this as the musical equivalent of an acid trip, the finest example of which on the Zephyr Live CD is their epic version of Pharaoh Sander’s composition The Creator Has a Master Plan. Zephyr offers a crash course in Psychedelic Music 101 on this number, blending jazz, rock, blues, and eastern influences together and allowing idioms to careen off of each other with such freedom of expression that the lines blur and the links between all music becomes inescapably obvious. Zephyr’s was big music looking for big answers pretty heady stuff for such young performers and equally young audiences.
As expected, Tommy Bolin’s guitar stings with lysergic precision, revealing what a talented and non-cliched player he was. His control of tone and effects was nothing short of remarkable as he casually tossed off mind blowing solos with amazing dexterity and taste. The influence of Hendrix is obvious; but Bolin never steals or mimics. Hendrix remained a spiritual influence more than a reservoir of licks. Bolin’s works seem more and more impressive as the years go by in that his solos never sound dated; in fact, his attention to noise and texture make his playing more relevant today than at any other time. It is not just Bolin’s show though; the entire band coalesces, confident of their material, yet willing to freely explore improvisational jams.
Zephyr’s music is rewarding for those interested in the telepathic link between like minded musicians, or as a showcase for Bolin’s incredible guitar work, and Candy Given’s over-the-top-delivery. Zephyr can be seen as a missing link between the heavy experimentation of psychedelia and the gutsy energy of blues rock practitioner. At once showman and shaman, their historical significance hearkens back to the glory and power of their era, while simultaneously pointing the way to the future of hard rock and guitar worship. Zephyr successfully straddles two eras of popular music without being a slave to either.
In the fleeting moment that was Zephyr, this band offered a startling new music, casually dressed in the clothes of the familiar. This ability to juxtapose the familiar with the unknown differentiates the merely proficient from the truly artistic. And shouldn’t this be the goal of all great musicians to simultaneously enlighten and comfort?