Rock music has been one of the branches of the creative arts that has interested me since late childhood. Aside from The Beatles and Bob Dylan, whom I worshipped, I just enjoyed whatever music came my way. Most of my tunes were on tape, so I didn’t always know who comprised the bands nor wrote the songs. I later found out that one particular guitar player belonged to several bands, I liked a lot.
His name was Tommy Bolin. I found out he was born in my neck of the woods in Sioux City, Iowa, on August 1, 1951. As a kid, Bolin displayed his prolific talent as a member of garage bands and a local group called “A Patch Of Blue”. He often appeared around the Siouxland Area of Iowa, Northeast Nebraska, Southeast South Dakota and Southwest Minnesota.
Bolin relocated to Boulder, Colorado by his mid-teens. He soon joined a band called “Etherial Zephyr” that was named after the passenger train that travelled between Chicago and Denver. When record companies became interested in the band, the name was shortened to just “Zephyr”. Soon, Zephyr became the opening act for major groups like Led Zeppelin who played in large venues.
In 1972, at the age of 20, Bolin founded the fusion-jazz-blues-rock band named “Energy”. The band recorded songs for several albums but none of them were released while Bolin was still alive.
The next year, Joe Walsh left James Gang. Walsh was replaced by Domenic Troiano. Troiano’s former position was then filled by Tommy Bolin. He appeared on two of James Gang’s albums, “Bang!” and “Miami”. After a couple of years, Bolin decided to quit James Gang in order to focus on becoming a session musician for hire. For instance, you can hear Bolin on Alphonse Mouzon’s “Weather Report” album “Mind Transplant”.
He was soon encouraged to record a solo record of his own, “Teaser”. Bolin decided to hire several session musicians with whom he had networked over the years. The notable talent included Jan Hammer, David Sanborn, Phil Collins, and Glenn Hughes. During the recording of the album, Hughes recommended that Bolin replace Ritchie Blackmore in his band “Deep Purple”.
1975 witnessed new work with the Canadian group “Moxy”. Tommy Bolin fans especially seek out copies of their original vinyl LP debut album for their collections. At the same time, Bolin continued to tour with Deep Purple. The band showcased one song per night from his Teaser album.
The tragic nature of Tommy Bolin’s personal difficulties soon became hard to disguise at this stage of his life. People found out that he had a serious heroin addiction. There was even a wide-spread rumor that Deep Purple’s Japan tour suffered because Bolin was incapacitated. Supposedly his left arm had been temporarily paralyzed from a bad injection. The audiences and critics disagreed with this view. In fact, they praised his musicianship and skill during the concerts. He did not appear to suffer any sort of paralysis.
In 1975 Bolin was dropped by his record company because executives saw the highly intoxicated Bolin fall off the stage during a concert. This worked to his benefit, because he was then signed with CBS Records and was contracted to record the album “Private Eyes”. The album was less than stellar because Bolin’s substance abuse interferred with his sessions.
Deep Purple broke up in March of 1976, so Bolin began touring again with his own group. He started plans for a second solo album. Some of the musicians included: Norma-Jean Bell from Frank Zappa’s group, Reggie McBride, and Tommy’s younger brother, Johnnie Bolin, playing drums.
Tommy Bolin’s drug addiction problems coupled with the work needed to manage a band tour on the road took its toll. Bolin’s band was forced back into the role of a supporting act. On December 3, 1976, Bolin’s band opened for Jeff Beck. The final number for his appearance was a momentous version of “Post Toastee”. Bolin later posed for photos with Beck. The night concluded with hard partying that included champagne, beer, cocaine, and heroin. By the next morning Bolin’s girlfriend feared for his life. By the time the paramedics arrived, Bolin was pronounced dead.
Tommy Bolin is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Tommy Bolin. “If you’re not having fun it’s not worth doing.”