In the early Seventies Tommy Bolin was the ultimate Rock Star/Guitarist. As an artist his skills were right up there with the greats. His star burned very brightly and was extinguished way to early.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, U.S.A. Dropping out of school at the age of sixteen (There was far too much talent contained in that body to be trussed up in the education system). He moved to Denver where he at first joined a band called American Standard, before quickly being enticed away to form the freeform jazz/rock band Zephyr, who released two albums of psychedelic tinged music with Tommy Bolin playing some very impressive guitar. Leaving Zephyr behind in 1971 Tommy Bolin joined Energy who although they did not have a record contract as such soon built up a huge reputation on the live circuit. During this time Tommy Bolin did the sessions for the Billy Cobham album Spectrum, as soon as this album was released in 1973 the world of rock music could no longer ignore this precocious talent. Tommy Bolin then left Energy to replace Joe Walsh in the James Gang now although this was a huge rung up the ladder of fame and glory, it was still an unexpected move as the James Gang were really just a straight ahead rock 'n' roll band, a very good rock 'n' roll band, but really Tommy Bolin's talents were a little under used in this situation. Must of been great fun though, as in the James Gang used lots of pyrotechnics, dry ice, and a lot of lighting, with the stage show requiring a lot of running around and throwing shapes. Whilst with the James Gang Tommy Bolin appeared on two albums 'Bang' (1973) and Miami (1974) with Tommy Bolin having a hand in writing most of the songs, and jolly fine albums they are too.
After the James Gang Tommy Bolin did some session work, and then when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple, Tommy Bolin at the tender age of 23 was invited to join as his replacement. Deep Purple at the time were still one of the biggest names in Rock 'n' Roll. At the same time Tommy Bolin had been offered a solo recording contract, and such was the ability and confidence of the man that he decided to accept both offers. So whilst recording his upcoming solo album Teaser which was released in November 1975, Tommy Bolin was also rehearsing with Deep Purple, and recording with them a new album 'Come Taste the Band 'released in October of 1975. Tommy Bolin wrote all the songs on his solo album, and had a hand in writing most of the songs on the Deep Purple album. Teaser is a fantastic album that played today stands the test of time, it is definitely a rock album, but not the same sort of heavy rock played by Deep Purple. The Deep Purple album is also a good album but not the sort of album that you would expect from Deep Purple (Far better though than their terrible previous album the contemptible 'Stormbringer'). The trouble was that the mark four Deep Purple, had divided into warring factions The two original members, drummer Ian Paice, and keyboard player, Jon Lord were still into playing hard rock and dare I say it, were a little older, (This is all irrelevant really as the band were all still all in their twenties). David Coverdale who had been scooped from obscurity two year before, but was essentially a blues singer, Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals had come from funk rock band 'Trapeze' and was determinedly pushing Deep Purple in a funky direction as well as harboring hopes of becoming lead vocalist too. When you drop the young talented Tommy Bolin into this mix, it is time to light the blue touch paper and stand back. With the albums waiting for release Deep Purple embarked on a massive world tour encompassing, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, America, and finally Europe. The set list comprised of Deep Purple standards with a couple of new songs thrown in, and even for a time some of Tommy Bolin's solo efforts. But everywhere they went all people wanted to talk about was what had happened to the previous guitar player, putting the young Tommy Bolin under enormous pressure. Deep Purple though still had great drawing power and were therefore in a position to take advantage of all the excesses of the rock 'n' roll life style. Tommy Bolin was a party animal and what is a party animal supposed to do under those conditions. Party! By the time the band got to Japan they realized they had a serious problem with their new guitarist. The gigs in Japan were a disaster, and although things were straightened out for the American leg of the tour, the evil ways were back by the time the band came to play Britain, where during Tommy Bolin's solo spot at Wembley the poor guy just froze. As soon as the tour was over the band broke up and for eight years there was no Deep Purple, until the mark 2 line up got back together again.
Meanwhile Tommy Bolin got a new Tommy Bolin Band back together again recorded another fabulous album 'Private Eyes' and went back on the road again. But unfortunately the dye had been cast and on 4th December of that year Tommy Bolin passed away after a gig in Miami Florida. He was only 25.
Thirty year later his music still lives on, in 1989 there was a marvelous double CD box set called 'The Ultimate' released with tracks from all over his career. Such was the brilliance of the man that there have been regular releases from the archives over the years all of them worthy of your attention.
In 2005 we were given this collection 'Whips and Roses'. The music is stunning. Tommy Bolin's singing and guitar playing is simply jaw droppingly good. The album opens with a rockin' version of 'Teaser' which fairly rocks out of your speakers whilst retaining that trademark Bolin funky backbeat. A lot of the other songs are works in progress for the Teaser album, this does not mean that they are inferior versions in fact I think every song on this album is absolutely at it's zenith, and the title of the songs is irrelevant. Second track on the album is 'Fandango' which was called 'Crazed Fandango' when the studio version was released. 'Cookoo' is a jam based on the Tommy Bolin classic 'Homeward Strut', but boy what a jam. The version of 'Wild Dogs on this album is the best I have ever heard, and is worth the price of the album alone. Starting with it's downbeat vocals of a drifter on the road, before Tommy makes the six strings howl as the song builds to a shattering climax. Why this song has not been covered by other bands I do not know, but somebody like Bon Jovi could do a cracking version. There is also Jeff Cooks beautiful ballad Dreamer here. Tommy Bolin must have burnt his fingers his playing is so fast on 'Marching Powder'. You can almost hear the sweat running down the fret board. The fifteen minutes of Flyin' Fingers speaks for itself. The album finishes with two jam work out's with Tommy Bolin letting the music carry him away. 'Just Don't Fall Down' clocks in at nearly eleven exciting minutes, the aptly titled 'Blowin' Your Cookies' was recorded the night before Tommy Bolin passed away, when Tommy got up and played with the house band at his hotel in Miami. It is a twelve minute drop into what was obviously a longer jam, but the guitar work is staggeringly good. There is no information on who played what on what track as most of these recordings have been taken from unmarked boxes, but whoever they were they were very good. The album comes with a fine booklet with some informed liner notes by Simon Robinson. The production was handled by Greg Hampton in association with Tommy Bolin's brother John. The work they have done should be applauded, a second volume of 'Whips and Roses' is promised for early 2007, I personally will look forward to that.
Mott the Dog.