TOMMY BOLIN

by David Givens

We all know Tommy was a very gifted musician. He used music like most people use language. He could understand and adopt anything he heard without much effort and he was equally capable of consistently creating coherent musical statements on the spur of the moment. A major component of our success as an ensemble was his ability to take whatever context the rest of us produced and express himself fluently without any prior knowledge of what was coming at him. Then we, in turn, would support him as he explored the music world.

One time, Tommy and I went into Manny’s Music in New York looking for an acoustic guitar. Manny’s was the top music store in New York and they were comfortable with having the best musicians in the world come through their doors. We went back to the acoustic guitar counter and talked to the salesman, a laconic New York type of guy, about guitars. He looked at us like a cat looks at sparrows. But, when Tommy started playing, something happened. People came from all over the store and stood around listening. Tommy played for a couple of minutes, looked up at his audience, came back from wherever he had gone, smiled and handed the guitar back to the clerk. The people were all agitated, chattering about what they had just witnessed, and the clerk had been transformed into Mr. Friendly Helpful. Talent like Tommy had is hard to ignore.

In addition, he was tough, stubborn and strong willed. Back in the fall of ’69, we used to play football in Boulder’s Central Park. Tommy liked to run the ball and tackling him was hard and often painful. He didn’t give up, he didn’t stop, and he hated to lose. He was like that with most things.

Tommy made up for his gifts by lacking in other areas, for instance his ability to judge character. His mastery drew many admirers, but it also attracted men and women who wanted to exploit him. He was susceptible to any kind of flattery and often made judgements based not upon actions, but rather on how he felt about a person. He made major mistakes that first cost him his gift and finally, his life. Both Tommy and Candy were tragic figures in the classic sense: the very gifts that brought them admiration and position were the agents of their destruction.

Candy and Tommy had a complex relationship which was evident in the music and in our performances. You can hear a little of it on this recording. They both supported and competed with one another. Each of them came from situations where they had dominated their respective groups, and when we began playing together, they had to share. This was not easy for either one, but I think their love for each other was what overcame their hate for each other. At the end of Zephyr, there was no love lost between them, but they were cool with each other by the time of this performance. They understood each other, perhaps better than anyone else. At their best, they were something unique in the history of rock ’n roll.

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