GREG PRATO | JULY 2023
What prompted you to write ‘TOMMY BOLIN | TOUCHED BY MAGIC’?
Having been a fan of Tommy’s music since 1990/1991 (after picking up ‘The Ultimate’ box set), I always wanted to read a book that detailed Tommy’s life and career…but one never arrived. In the early 21stcentury, I wrote an article about Tommy for Classic Rock Magazine. By doing that article, I became friendly with Tommy’s brother, Johnnie. Just before the end of the 2000’s, I decided to make the jump to doing books, and since I realized I had a good head start for a Tommy book re: contacts for people I could interview from doing the earlier Classic Rock article, I decided to go for it! ‘Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story’ would be released in December 2008 (originally as just a paperback, and has since been issued as a Kindle version, hardcover version, and an audio version narrated by yours truly).
Love the title ‘Touched by Magic’ – any other alternatives, or was this the obvious choice?
This was the obvious and only choice (it was from a quote in the book by keyboardist Jan Hammer, describing Tommy’s guitar playing).
The cover shot of the James Gang era seems to be a popular choice. Again, how did that choice come about?
I was lucky to work with several great photographers for the book (which touched upon all eras of Tommy’s life). The cover photo was snapped by Jim Summaria, and when I saw it, I automatically knew it would make a great cover shot (I also had never seen that photo before).
The concept of writing the book as a series of interviews is an interesting alternative to the more common standard narrative...
Yes, people refer to it as the “oral history” format. Meaning that for each chapter there is a topic (for instance, “Zephyr” or “Energy” or “The James Gang,” etc.), and it is comprised mostly of quotes from people that I interviewed for the book, plus some quotes via previously published interviews from people I could not interview. As a result, you’re getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth
Getting the interviews put (relatively) in chronological order must have had its challenges?
It was sort of like a giant jigsaw puzzle to get the quotes to fit just right chronologically, and to all make sense. But by golly, I pulled it off.
It must have been very satisfying having an input from the varied and quite famous contributors? I assume you had to spread a fairly wide net, and no doubt some couldn’t come to the party for various reasons...
Nowadays, it is much easier to locate people via social media, so if I was doing the book today, I would have probably been able to interview even more people. But then again, I was able to speak with several key members of Tommy’s story that had never gone on record until this book – so, it all worked out in the end.
Any personal highlights/revelations to come out during the writing of the book? On a personal level...
Tommy’s brother Johnnie had a lot of interesting insight concerning all eras of his brothers’ career and he was very candid and honest concerning his memories and observations. I also enjoyed hearing Jan Hammer’s recollections of Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ recording sessions. And although it is quite disturbing to read, I was also curious about what happened to Tommy on the night he passed away, and I feel this was the first time that several people that were eye witnesses went on record with what they saw and what occurred.
What’s your favorite Bolin song?
It’s impossible to just name one, but if I had to narrow it down to a few, I’d go with “Alexis” and “Standing in the Rain” by the James Gang, “Quadrant 4” by Billy Cobham, Deep Purple’s “Gettin’ Tighter” and “Ode to G,” Alphonse Mouzon’s “Golden Rainbows,” and the solo Tommy tunes “Savannah Woman,” “Lotus,” “Sweet Burgundy,” and “Evening Rain,” plus the live version of “San Francisco River” from 1974 is outstanding.
Fave Bolin era?
Again, impossible for me to narrow it down to just one. James Gang was great and I love the live TV footage on YouTube of that line-up, ‘Spectrum’ was groundbreaking (wish that line-up toured and/or recorded more), and Purple too, of course.
Are you surprised that Tommy is gaining new fans to this day, so long after his death?
No, because good music is timeless, and I definitely would put his music in that category. Also, the way it was recorded/produced does not sound dated at all (compared to say, many rock bands from the late ‘80s) – it was always very “live sounding” and without a lot of studio trickery. I remember once telling Johnnie Bolin what makes a song like “Alexis” so special is the way it was recorded, it sounds as if Tommy is in the room with you, singing you the song. Also, his soloing on the song “Quadrant 4” I often point to as the bridge that connected Hendrix to Van Halen.
Had Tommy lived, how do you imagine his career would have gone?
It’s impossible to tell, but Tommy’s career could have taken several turns – becoming a Peter Frampton-esque solo/artist arena rocker with radio hits, doing all-instrumental albums that showcased his guitar work a la Jeff Beck, continuing doing session work, or hooking up with another established rock act as a hired gun. Another possibility could have been Tommy continuing on as a David Bowie type artist (who refused to remain exclusive to one genre, and experimented with many styles from album to album).