JIMMY HASLIP CONVERSATION | JUNE 2023
More of a conversation than an interview, Jimmy Haslip took time out of his busy schedule to discuss various aspects related to his time with Tommy Bolin. Jimmy played bass in the last incarnation(s) of the Tommy Bolin Band, September – December 1976. The band consisted of; Tommy Bolin (guitar/vocals), Jimmy Haslip (bass), Norma Jean Bell (sax/vocals), Mark Stein (keyboards) who was replaced by Max Carl & Johnnie Bolin (drums) who was replaced by Mark Craney. The band played their final gig at the Jai Alai Stadium, Miami 3 December 1976 supporting Jeff Beck (playing with the Jan Hammer Group), after which Tommy died of an overdose the morning of the 4th December.
The following is more or less snippets of our conversation, not necessarily chronological and some quite random, but all – in some way, related to his time with Tommy, or thereabouts.
Although your time in the Tommy Bolin band was brief, what was your experience like?
We had a good time. Tommy was great and he was a great band leader. I loved his material and I loved his guitar playing. I got to meet all of his family – we really did have a good time...
... When Mark Stein left the band and Max Carl came into the band – that was a good band as well. We had a lot of fun, playing and touring together. It was really great.
Not a lot of people know this, but one day I was on the bus – we were on a little bit of a bus ride and Tommy and I were talking. Tommy was excited about bringing that band into the studio – Mark Craney, Max Carl, myself and Norma Jean Bell. He said that he had an idea for a record and I don't know if he had started writing songs or not, but he had an idea for the title of the record. He wanted to call it ‘I Gotta Dance’.
There is actually a recording of ‘Gotta Dance’, but probably recorded during the ‘Private Eyes’ era...
Yes, I'm not on that demo, I think he might have done that before I joined the band.
But MAN, I was so excited to go into the studio with him, and then of course what happened, happened!
But it was a good band and if we had gone into the studio, we would've made a nice record for Tommy – it was tragic, we were all just so sad.
Any particular songs that stand out?
There's that song ‘Marching Powder’ of the... what was it called? ... Oh yes, the ‘Teaser’ record.
Hmmm – interesting title?
Yeah, unfortunately that's the tough story. But still, the song is really cool.
That's one of Stan Sheldon's favourite tracks, he played on that track and said it was quite challenging. I think he said ‘People People’ was his favourite Tommy Bolin song that he was involved with.
Well tell him he did a good job (haha). ‘People People’, I love that song!
Give Stanley my very best and I’m a fan of his as well.
Were there any gigs that stand out?
There was a bunch of gigs. But there was one we did in his home town, Sioux City, that was INCREDIBLE. He was like a matinée idol in his home town and the place was jam packed. His parents and other relatives were there, Johnnie was there (by this time, Mark Craney had replaced Johnnie) – it was just an incredible night. It was a GOOD gig!
...and there were other great gigs – there was a chain of clubs, the Agora and the... hmmm, the Roxy – that was a good one!
I'll never forget ‘Mile High’. That was my first gig with the band – and Johnnie's.
That was pretty large scale?
Well, like I said (earlier discussion), prior to Tommy, I was touring with Harvey Mandel and we were playing big places opening for Jeff Beck, but I think Mile High was about the biggest place I have ever played in – that was 60,000 people. When we were opening for Beck with Harvey Mandel, we might get 10,000 seaters, but nothing compared to Mile High – that was SURREAL!
Were you nervous?
Actually, to be honest, I LOVED IT, and again, like I said, it was so surreal that it was hard to even wrap my head around just how huge the place actually was. There I was, playing with Mark Stein, Tommy, Johnnie and Norma Jean, and we were well rehearsed, it was just a BLAST! What an experience!
I don't have a problem with being nervous playing to large crowds, or even small crowds – but the only time I would get nervous is if my Mom or Dad were there, and it DIDN'T happen often (haha) – but it DID happen I WOULD be a little bit nervous. You want to have a good show and you want your parents to be impressed.
(Photos below are from ‘Mile High’)
I was going to mention the Agora clubs, there was one in Cleveland, and I think there was one in Ohio – and on those gigs we opened for ‘The New Tony Williams Lifetime’ with Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua and Tony Newton. I was a big fan of that group. I had seen them do a concert in New York while I was visiting my parents, so I was already hip to the band. I actually became good friends with Alan Pasqua which led me to play with Pasqua and Allan Holdsworth doing a tribute to ‘The New Tony Williams Lifeline’ (haha).
What are your memories of Jai Alai?
(The band's last gig on 3 Dec '76, just before Tommy's death)
That was a good one... and that was part of the beginning of another run. I had done a tour with Harvey Mandel opening for Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer Group – and NOW I'm going to start a run of dates opening for Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer Group with the Tommy Bolin Band (haha).
I had met Jan Hammer, and I met Fernando Saunders and Tony Smith, but I didn't meet Jeff at that time. We were looking so forward to doing this run, it was going to be 3 or 4 dates opening for that band.
But obviously it wasn't to be.
When Johnnie (Bolin) left the band, his replacement was Mark Craney...
Funny you bring that up. I saw Mark play with Jean-Luc Ponty a couple of months before he joined the Tommy Bolin Band – with me in it.
Carmine Appice and I were hanging out and Jean-Luc Ponty was playing in a little club in Los Angeles called ‘The Starwood’ and we decided to go down and check it out, because Carmine liked fusion music. So we got down there and we didn't know anything about the band, we just went there to see Jean-Luc, and he had this great band, with Daryl Stuermer on guitar. Tom Fowler was playing bass, which was great. Tom played with Frank Zappa later. I had already met Tom years before in New York, he was playing with some friends of mine.
...and then there was Mark Craney – and we said “WHO'S THAT GUY?” We were so impressed with him.
So, I was BLOWN AWAY when I came to rehearsal a couple of months later for Tommy's tour... and there was Mark Craney (haha).
So, you only found out at the rehearsal?
Mark and I became really good friends, and for me, it was another sad experience when he started getting ill.
(Mark Craney died of complications from diabetes and pneumonia in Sherman Oaks, California, 26 November 2005 at the age of 53).
You & Mark Craney tried to get Tommy healthy?
Well, Mark was in good shape and interestingly enough, a common deal that we had was that we were both vegetarians. When we'd pull into town, we'd jump on the Yellow Pages and try and find a health store :)
Actually, there's a very short period where we tried to get Tommy to be vegetarian (haha). We tried to get him into these healthy treats and one thing that we turned him onto was ginseng. That was for energy and there was this ginseng paste that we'd get from health stores and we'd eat a lot of it to keep our energy levels up, because we were travelling and making sure we had a lot of energy for the show – and Tommy really got into the whole ginseng thing.
But the unfortunate thing was that wherever we went, there were all these people from his past that would show up and they weren't giving him ginseng!
We had to compete with that contingency and of course that made it almost impossible.
Did you stay in contact with the band after Tommy's death?
I was in here in Los Angeles and Mark Craney was here also, so we ended up doing a bunch of things together, including Gino Vanelli's ‘Brother To Brother’. Mark got me into that gig. But Mark and I played with a bunch of other people around town and we were also doing a bunch of sessions in Nashville, of all places. The producer would fly Mark and I into Nashville to do sessions from time to time – that was interesting.
Max Carl – I did a record with Max. That was pretty cool. It was called, ‘The Circle’ and I played on the whole album. You can find it online, on YouTube. Oh, say hi to Max for me (haha).
Norma – I didn't because she was living in Detroit.
The Gift of a Gig?
Since we're doing this interview... I've only told this to a few people, but I'll be happy to tell you. I was contacted be a pall bearer (for Tommy's funeral) and I felt that it would be an honour, so I accepted and fullfilled my commitment to do it.
It was very solemn to say the least. BUT I truly believe to this day that Tommy got me a gig :)
After the funeral the family had a little gathering at a community centre and we had some food and coffee. But to be honest I wasn't in the greatest of moods, and I certainly wasn't hungry. But I did grab a cup of coffee. So, I was sitting in a chair and I was approached by someone who asked if I was the bass player in Tommy's band. When I said I was, he asked for my phone number. I thought it was an odd request at the time, but it seemed genuine. I didn't feel like the guy was weird or anything, so I said, “Sure” and gave him my number. I didn't know who he was, but when I saw him leave with Joe Walsh, I was going, “Gee, I wonder who that was?” I came to find out it was Joe Vitale.
Joe Walsh actually recommended me. Joe Vitale was playing with Crosby, Stills & Nash and I guess they had a falling out with their bass player and they were looking for bass players to come in and record – they were working on their ‘Reunion’ record.
Some weeks after Tommy's funeral, I was back here in Los Angeles and I got a phone call asking me to come down to the Record Plant to do a session. They didn't tell me who it was, but “OK, I'll be there” and sure enough, that's who it was. Joe was there playing drums and I met Steve Stills and Graham Nash. I did not meet David Crosby – he was... ‘somewhere else’
I did the session and played a couple of tunes with Steve Stills and Graham Nash and then did a couple of things with just Graham Nash and Joe, and then it was, like, 2 o'clock in the morning and they said, “OK, we'll stay in touch” – So, I ended up on the Crosby, Stills & Nash ‘Reunion’ record...
AND IN ALL THIS TIME, I TRULY BELIEVE THAT TOMMY WAS LOOKING DOWN ON ME :)
Musically, where do you think Tommy may have gone had he not passed?
Well, he liked fusion and he was a very innovative musician, so I think he would've continued in that path – at least for a while. And having Mark Craney and I in the band would've certainly raised the flag for playing progressive rock.
Any last thoughts?
I think of Tommy often and, I'm still to this day, grateful that I got the opportunity to be able to work with him. When you meet people like Tommy, for me personally, I take it very seriously and I dedicate my work to people like him, people that I have worked with and who aren't here anymore.
Jimmy and I chatted about some very UNRELATED Tommy stuff (well, Oz Noy's name came up when I mentioned Tommy's ‘Great Gypsy Soul’ release lol). I had a wee whinge about my lack of finding a good restaurant last time in LA – to which Jimmy readily gave me 4 goodies to try out next visit. Jimmy mentioned he was doing some stuff with Oz Noy which got us onto a discussion about experimental music, whereby I mentioned my admiration of the music of David Sylvian (played with the likes of Bill Nelson, Robert Fripp etc).
Anyway, as a kind of joke, here is Jimmy's list of LA restaurants to check...
NOTE: There is NO sponsorship on this site lol :)
8222 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA, 90048
8284 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90046
Real Food Daily
414 N. La Cienega BlvdLos Angeles, CA 90048
Bulan Thai Vegetarian Kitchen
4114 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029