Bobby Berge | Interview

Interview with Scott McIntosh 
A massive than you to Scott for letting us use his archived interviews from over a decade ago.
This is an abbreviated version of Scott's full interview. To see the complete interview go to Scott's website...

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(Scott McIntosh): Where did you play your first and last Zephyr gigs?

Bobby Berge: I know the very last Zephyr gig was a reunion at ‘Art’s Bar and Grill’ May 2, 1973. The night was recorded and a CD was later released of that performance in 1997 by the Tommy Bolin Archives. That was an extraordinary night and that gig was an exceptionally good one for the whole band. Everybody played great and we totally kicked ass. What a great way to end the ‘Zephyr’ band as it had been from 1970 till ‘71. Before the reunion, I can’t recall the first or last gig before we actually broke up but some of the early and most memorable concerts included ‘Mammoth Gardens’ in Denver, in front of the CU campus library in Boulder, and also a couple outdoor concerts at the Boulder band-shell and Hancock Park in the foothills of Boulder.

How did Tommy do things differently as a recording artist between ‘Going back to Colorado’ and ‘Private Eyes’?

Generally speaking, the songs Tommy recorded on ‘Going back to Colorado’ were rock but at that time there seemed to be some country, country rock, and blues influences on a few of the tunes that he helped write. Of course Tommy loved Jazz and the recordings during the ‘Energy’ period reflected his versatility in the Rock, Jazz, Fusion realm. We all listened a lot to the top Fusion-Jazz groups of the early 70’s and loved to cop some of their grooves and jam out on them. Following Tommy’s lead, we all had the opportunity to stretch out quite a bit and do a lot of improvising. As we all know, Tommy also showed his remarkable Jazz-Rock-Fusion capabilities on Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ album and Alphonse Mouson’s ‘Mind Transplant’. From the time of the recordings with the James Gang till the ‘Teaser’ and ‘Private Eyes’ albums, to me, Tommy definitely matured as a person and a recording artist and he seemed to be leaning more towards main stream ‘Rock’.

I heard a lot of funk influence on the James Gang stuff, and then a lot of versatility on ‘Teaser’ and ‘Private Eyes’ with Funk, Reggae, and Jazz mixed with Heavy Rock. This is kind of a tough question tho, because like I’ve said before, technically I can’t tell you what he was doing. I never tried to analyze what Tommy did, I just listened, dug it, and played along with him. Tommy, since the early days till later, always played great, whether it be live or in the studio. He never failed to surprise you and would come up with unique, creative, and beautiful melodies that would blow your mind. His dazzling technique and command of rhythmic syncopation and odd time signatures was mind boggling.

You were with Tommy and recorded a lot with him - from the afore-mentioned Zephyr’s ‘Going Back to Colorado’ all the way through his final recorded work, ‘Private Eyes’ (An amazing legacy!) How would you describe the differences in the recording experiences?

‘Going back to Colorado’ was done early fall of 1970 at Electric Lady Land Studios in New York City and ‘Private Eyes’ was recorded at Cherokee Studios in L.A. in June of 1976. When I listen to how I played during the sessions for ‘Going Back to Colorado’, I’m struck by the way I played then, which was much busier on the drums than the ‘Private Eyes’ sessions. I used to think ‘More Was Better’ in the earlier days and I practiced incessantly developing a lot of ‘Chops’

This by the way tied over into the Energy recordings and gigs where I was in great shape and could play very fast but also intricate jazzy licks. I can’t recollect well enough to go into detail about the actual studio sessions in N.Y. but a general overview of the month spent there would have to include staying at the infamous ‘Chelsea Hotel’ and going down to this little cafe every night after recording for late night cheese-burgers.

It was fun hanging out in the ‘Village’ and Tommy, John Faris, and I went to see some Jazz Greats like Charlie Mingus and Mose Allison. I also remember some late night pool and Heineken tournaments between Tommy, John, and me resulting in some nasty hangovers which we would walk off the next day in Central Park. The studio itself was very nice and was named after Jimi Hendrix’s second album. Jimi had passed away earlier that year. Man, Tommy and I both loved Jimi and he was such a big influence on us!
We worked and hung out with Eddie Kramer, a great engineer. I guess the main difference in the feel of each recording period was first, the N.Y. sessions were focused pretty much on Zephyr, although I did get to play on a couple tracks for Carly Simon who also was recording. I’m not sure if Tommy or anyone else helped out on her songs.

I did very much enjoy the Zephyr days and the sessions in N.Y. For me this was part of the hippy, Psychedelic Era. Our sound did get pretty tight as we had been playing together a lot since May of that year. Now 1975-76, the ‘Teaser’ and ‘Private Eyes’ sessions were a whole different story, like on another planet you might say. It was 5-6 years later and now it’s ‘Party Time’ out in Big Bad L.A. ‘Teaser’ was done at the Record Plant in L.A., and this place was incredible!

There was Studio A, B, C, and maybe D. It was all spread out, separated by long hallways, where it would branch out. There were also sauna’s, hot tubs, and back rooms hidden away for extra-curricular activities. Man, I saw more ‘Stars’ than Carters got little liver pills. There’d be Bad Company in Studio C, Buddy Miles in Studio B, and Tommy in Studio A. It wouldn’t be unusual for somebody like David Bowie, Joe Walsh, or Stevie Wonder to pop by, even the late George Harrison. The list goes on and on.

I just have to mention the ‘Teaser’ sessions before ‘Private Eyes’ because of the totally awesome scene that was going on. I was doing sessions with Buddy Miles at the same time that I was recording with Tommy for ‘Teaser’. I’d play a track or two in Studio B with Buddy and literally run down to Studio A and get going on some drum tracks for the ‘Grind’ and ‘Lotus’. It was exciting and quite a surprise to also get to do an unexpected late night Jam w/a couple Bad Company guys and Robert Plant!

Now, recording w/my main man Tommy Bolin on ‘Teaser’ and ‘Private Eyes’ was a dream come true. I loved Tommy’s music ever since the first Zephyr album and now I was actually playing on his records. The sessions at Cherokee Studios for ‘Private Eyes’ were done about a year after the ‘Teaser’ sessions. This was a smaller place w/a big studio and a smaller one. We used the smaller one. My drums all got ripped off in L.A. so I had to rent some tubs which were huge see-thru Vistalites. I thought Dennis MacKay made them sound even bigger and really beefed them up though the board. There was some heavy partying going on at this time but can you imagine ‘Rock and Roll’ with out it? Now I can, but it was part of the territory back then and it did cause some up’s and down’s, not to mention the in and out’s, HA! Compared to ‘Going Back to Colorado’, my drumming now was more straight-ahead and I would bash it out w/simple, solid grooves. This is what both Buddy Miles and Tommy encouraged me to do, so I went for it, and it was fun to not think so much about what to play and just concentrate on laying it down heavy.

It was a blast in the studio playing w/the ‘Private Eyes’ line-up and Tommy’s variety of tunes gave me the chance to express myself on the drums in a few different ways. Like on ‘Gypsy Soul’, I did this fast sweeping thing w/my right hand using a wire brush, while clicking a Bossa Nova beat w/my right stick. From funk, ballad, and reggae to ‘Balls to the Wall’ Rock, it was a Gas! I did finally succeed in capturing on record what I wanted to do for so long and that is on the last part of ‘Post Toastee’ where we start jammin out and I’m bashin the hell out of the drums and cymbals. Reggie is right there with me and we are ‘Locked in the Pocket’! And of course Mark Stein, Norma Bell, and Reggie McBride are great on the whole album. But Tommy plays so damn good, it makes you want to cry!! He never ceased to amaze me!!

What was your impression of various Tommy Bolin Band versions?

To me the first main Tommy Bolin Band was with Mark Stein, Reggie Mcbride, Norma Bell and Michael Walden. They were fantastic! But let me back up and go through some earlier versions.

When Tommy was still w/the James Gang in 1974, he would come back to Boulder once in a while and he’d get some close friends together and play in Boulder or Denver. We did an informal Tommy Band at the Good Earth Club in Boulder which consisted of Russell Bissett and myself on drums, Stan Sheldon on bass. This was 1974 and later that year this same line-up including Jeff Cook on Vocals and Archie Shelby on Congas, played at Ebbett’s Field Nightclub in Denver/hence the ‘Live At Ebbett’s Field’ gig of ‘74.

This was a great gig and you might call this the first Tommy Bolin Band although it wasn’t official. Tommy was in rare form and just played some awesome things on the guitar. There was so much excitement surrounding Tommy and his music, you can hear and feel it when you listen to the CD released from that performance!

Next thing I know is Tommy is calling me from LA (January 1, 1975) of all days and asks me if I want to come out and play in his own band which I guess you could call the first official Tommy Bolin Band. It was an attempt anyway as it didn’t get off the ground. That band was me, Stan Sheldon, and Ronnie Baron on Keys/Vocals. Had an impressive audition w/Record Co. but nothing happened and the band fizzled out.

Around this time, I hooked up w/Buddy Miles, an old friend from Sioux Falls, and started recording and playing live w/him. Stanley hooked up w/Peter Frampton and Tommy took Ritchie Blackmore’s place in Deep Purple. Throughout ‘75-’76, tho, we would get together and hang out, jam, or do demos occasionally.

The next version which I always felt was the first main Tommy Bolin Band as previously mentioned was simply incredible! In ‘76, another gig at Ebbett’s Field was recorded w/this line-up. This band had amazing players! Reggie McBride has to be my all time favorite bass player as I never played w/anyone who could play so ballsy and funky. I always loved Vanilla Fudge and Mark Stein’s strong, huge keyboard sound always impressed me. I had nothing but total respect for Norma and Michael, who’s drumming is extremely intense! I’m not sure what happened w/ Michael Walden, but I became the next drummer in the band and started recording ‘Private Eyes’ w/Tommy, Mark, Reggie, and Norma.

My impression of this version - What can I say? I was in 7th Heaven to say the least! It was absolutely fantastic to be playing w/Musicians of this caliber. Of course, there were some ups and downs, but I believe ‘Private Eyes’ speaks for itself and I know we had some Great Moments!

NEXT, Johnnie Bolin takes over on drums, a man I admire as a person and a drummer. He’s very solid and driving and can ‘Bash Out’ w/the best of them! The last version which included Norma, Jimmy Haslip, Max Carl, and Mark Craney was another awesome combination of talented players. I listened to the last ‘Miami’ gig recently and was blown away! They were really stretching out and Kickin Ass! Pushin the Rock, Funk, Fusion thing to the limit! I had the privilege of playing w/Max in Energy when he became our Singer/Keyboardist. His soulful singing style was so cool. Had the chance to play w/Jimmy Haslip earlier that year for an audition w/some Columbia Record people. We both played w/a guitar player, Phil Brown who writes some great material!

Mark Craney, who is a fellow Sioux Falls native has always been an inspiration to me, what a great drummer! And of course, I loved Norma’s sound and stage presence. That double horn thing was pretty cool! Technically, I can’t explain what these musicians played, but I DO KNOW what sounds GOOD and they sounded fucking great and it was a REAL TREAT to be able to play and record w/them!

How do you think Tommy changed as a person between his time w/Zephyr and ‘Private Eyes’?

Well, We’re talking about a 6 year span from 1970 to 1976. Basically, Tommy kept his good nature and humor throughout this period. He came from a very loving family so was able to keep an upbeat attitude thru good and bad times. In fact, this always impressed me about Tommy. He always seemed up, positive, and could always crack silly jokes. Of course there would be a natural change in a person who moves from the Boulder, Colorado mountain setting to Big City L.A., and who also would naturally mature as a man during this 6 year period. There most definitely would be a lifestyle influence on Tommy as a person including increased alcohol and drug use.

When I joined Zephyr in 1970, we all lived in Boulder and these we’re still the hippie-dippie days. Tommy was pretty health conscious and didn’t eat any red meat. Just stuff like fish, rice, and he was really into granola. I stayed w/him when I first moved to Boulder and slept on his couch, till I could find my own place. Compared to later on, Tommy was relatively pretty straight, and would only smoke a little herb in the evening. I think there was more of an innocence about him during these earlier years but that’s probably true about all of us! I’d have to say, that during this time, he was Naturally more outgoing, friendly, and funny.

After Zephyr, during the Energy days, Tommy always kept his high spirited enthusiasm and made the opportunity to play w/him a real joy! He never was demanding or pushy. His gentleness and politeness made it easy to follow his musical directions and he always treated everyone w/the utmost respect. What was great about the Energy days was the seemingly effortless and natural way our musical ideas and abilities developed. In my mind, this was directly influenced by Tommy’s relaxed leadership. He made you feel extremely comfortable. This feeling extended thru 1974 when Tommy was w/the James Gang, and we would still throw together a band once in awhile and play in Boulder or Denver.

After moving to L.A., I didn’t see Tommy as much as in Boulder, and gradually saw less and less of him, the busier he got. It was just a whole new ballgame out in L.A. and you might say Tommy and I started drifting apart on a personal level. Understandably so, as he personified the typical ‘Rock Star’ and would be gone a lot, flying all over the world w/ Deep Purple, or just busy doing his own thing in L.A. As I mentioned before, Tommy was always a kind, warm, and friendly person but something happened between 1975 and 1976. I’m sure the hectic lifestyle and alcohol and drug use played a part in this change.

I know it changed me and I saw how it all went from, you might say ‘Uptown’ to ‘Downtown’. I noticed how ‘75 was a year of excitement and high energy connected w/the release of the ‘Teaser’ album. But there was a lot of coke and alcohol usage and spirits were HIGH to say the least! Then the whole mood changed in ‘76 as I think some burnout seemed to creep in to the picture. I feel the change in Tommy is reflected in the darker flavor of his music on ‘Private Eyes’. Still Great Music though, but just a whole different type energy than the previous year. I think heroin use contributed to this new sound and darker mood. Although I saw him very sporadically during ‘76, Tommy was still lovable Tommy and I always believed in him and was very happy for his success!

I must be honest tho, and admit that due to my own over-indulgence, 1976 was a hazy period to try to recollect and there is the fact that it was all starting to catch up with me also...

The Tommy Bolin Memorial Fund was originally established by Johnnie Bolin in memory of his brother, in association with the Siouxland Community Foundation. The Ultimate mission is simple... To preserve the music, the memory and the legacy of Tommy Bolin.