A collection of quotes gathered by John Herdt and Trace Keane in 2006 for the 30th anniversary of Tommy’s passing. John Herdt and Trace Keane © 2023

Bobby Berge

Drummer for the Zephyr, Energy, the Tommy Bolin Band, Buddy Miles, and the Teaser and Private Eyes albums.

“Basically Tommy was a Kid at heart. Besides his mega-talent, he was full of life, love, and humor! My fondest memories of Tommy were during those carefree, easygoing times of the Energy days, and how Tommy used to love to cut-up and goof around. None of us in the band took anything too serious and we’d crack each other up by just acting downright silly. Maybe it would be driving to a gig like the “Library” in Greeley, Colorado and we’d have the radio blasting and Tommy, riding shotgun of course, would be banging on the dash to whatever was playing. Then he’d bust out singing in his infamous redneck truckdriver accent, real gravel toned voice singing out of the side of his mouth, with all of us soon joining in.

Or there would be our visits to the local ‘Bonanza’ restaurant where soon after entering Tommy would make up some silly song to the TV western Bonanza theme. To the amazement of a few onlookers he’d start making up words and singing outloud, “You gotta right to picka number nine at Bonanza” — picka number 2, number 3, number 4, and some cottage cheese!” We’d all be cracking up and of course join in on making up the next verse. Of course, there was the little Munchkin dance Tommy and I used to love to do while we’d sing “we wish to represent the lollipop guild, the lollipop guild, etc.”

Then how about taking the bus, from Boulder to Denver, to a gig like the ‘Draft House’ or some place. That’s a joke in itself. Yeah we roughed it and played for peanuts, but it was so much fun playing Heavy Rock, Metal, Fusion with Tommy that nobody cared. Carrying that humor and tongue in cheek attitude to the stage, Tommy loved to spontaneously go into just about anything, be it a country ditty, a calypso bossanova beat, or mabe an old jazz standard like ‘Satin Doll’ or ‘Misty.’

Besides many great nights at Tulagi, one of my fav’s was Ebbets Field 1974, where we played “Homeward Strut” for the first time live. And as Tommy announces, “We’d like to try one we’ve never tried before, just cuz we’re so BEEPED UP!, thats radio lingo.” That was an exciting night and time period when so much was starting to happen for Tommy, and everybody was extremely happy for him.

Jumping ahead quite a bit, the prankster in Tommy surfaced when during the ‘Private Eyes’ tour, and after a Kansas City gig with Fleetwood Mac, we’re all hanging outside the hotel next to the pool after the concert, and I’m standing there looking around and feeling quite nicely I might add — yup, there’s a couple of guys from Fleetwood Mac to my right sitting next to the pool sipping some beverage and me with my Big Buzz on, I’m looking around and thinking, fuckin’ right, this is all right! Next thing, I know I’m in the fucking pool, fully clothed of course, Man, I chased Tommy all over that hotel, but never was he to be caught! Well, I laughed it off and no problem until later, in my room, I realized my tootskies were in my walletski. Oh shit! I proceeded to get drunk and unfortunately ended up doing a great ‘KEITH MOON’ impression on my hotel room!

Well, there you have some silly Tommy tidbits and as we approach the 30th anniversary of Tommy's passing, Tommys Spirit and Music are with me daily and help motivate me and keep me going! With his Broad, and Massive Spectrum of Musical Ideas and Applications, There will never ever be anyone like the GREAT TOMMY BOLIN!”

(Told to John Herdt, November 28, 2006)

Johnnie Bolin
“Tommy was home for the holidays during the winter of 1975 after coming back from the U.S. Deep Purple tour around Christmas. We lived at 1006 8th Street in Sioux City. It was snowy and cold that winter. Tommy had come home for four or five days. A non-recorded show was played at the Ozone with the Gassers. Afterward we got a little bored, we went out in my 1958 Thunderbird, which at the time was in great shape. Tommy had very little experience driving, at the age of 15 he had a ’58 Edsel that dad had given him so he and John Bartle could drive to their shows in Vermillion, SD.

So after Tommy moved to Colorado where he never drove and had not driven until the fateful night nine years later. So back in Sioux City we went to an after hours party which I drove to at a local trailer court located just outside of town. So after hours of partying Tommy took it upon himself to drive home even after I told him “You don’t drive,” to which he replied “I do now.” So Tommy takes the wheel, puts it in gear and manages to drive up the street and sidewalk through the snow. He made it at least 30-40 feet before stopping the car on top of a stop sign.

Tommy then decided his driving days were over and let me take the wheel the rest of the way. The next day when we got up, Tommy was very upset that I had let him drive when I should have known better than to let him get behind the wheel. Later when I was away my dad painted flames on the side with house paint. So much for my ’58 T-Bird that never ran the same again. Later when I sold what was left of the car the ad read “Classic ’58 T-Bird $99.00, it sold within one day.”

(Told to Trace Keane, November 22, 2006)

Buddy Miles
Drummer and vocalist for Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, solo artist.

‘Teaser’ was really a breakthrough album, especially for a lot of guitar players, because Tommy bridged the gap between rock and jazz and blues. One of the nice things about Tommy is (that) him and Jimi had so many different musical similarities, and that type of playing and those types of styles, when you’re that introverted, it makes you a master.

It was really moving for me to remember Tommy because one thing about the man, he most definitely had a charm about him, especially when it comes to ladies. It cracked me up because it was so much like Jimi, man! Me and Tommy, we used to talk about Jimi, he used to ask me, “How did you feel when you used to play with Jimi?”, and I just told him, “Man, when you’ve got a certain kind of feel, that you like playing and it’s a part of your life, regardless if it’s pop music, regardless if you’re labeled whatever, it’s always nice to play with people (who) really understand… that can play jazz, that can play fusion, that can play rhythm and blues, and Tommy was really like that.

That’s why I said he and Jimi were like in each other’s schools, because they had so many natural similarities. That commands itself, when you can find a guy like that to fuse it and everything. Tommy… look, in those days I guess I was really really lucky as a drummer, to have been able to play with those guys, because he reminded me so much of Jimi, but in his own way.

Sometimes some of the stuff Tommy would play — it was sick! I asked him, “What do you think about when you play?” Tommy would just get up there like it was effortless. One of the things that I always admired about Tommy is like the first band that he was in where we really knew each other was Brooklyn’s Dreams, and he was in this band with Billy Cobham and the Brecker Brothers, and he broke a lot of ground, he really really did.

Also I had a conversation with John McLaughlin recently and he was talking about Tommy. I asked him what he remembered, and he said, “Look, I even learned a lot of structures and stuff (from him),” Because I mean Tommy was… he was a natural gas, man. I mean this guy was really something else, because see, he could play flavors — like his way of playing blues was different than anybody else that I’ve heard.

Of course his jazz chops was really… ya know, he was a bopster! I asked him “Are you still be-boppin’ or are you re-boppin’?”, and he looked at me and said, “Hey, I gotta have mine, man.” The only other guy that’s living that I can say reminded me so much of Tommy, is Larry Coryell. They just had chops, chops, chops.”

(Buddy Miles talking about Tommy Bolin at the 2000 Sioux City Bolin Fest, courtesy of David Polhemus)

John Bartle
Guitarist and vocalist for DVC, Chill Factor and Tommy Bolin Live at the Jet Bar.

In or about 1965-66 Tommy and I had both been tossed from Central High School for hair length, so we would fill our days with guitar playing and general mischief. One day we were riding around in our 1937 Plymouth that we had purchased for $7.50 apiece and as we were crossing a bridge over Perry Creek in Sioux City when we noticed these beautiful 10 foot high marijuana plants growing. We pulled over to harvest our great find and had to break the plants in half to fit them in the car. Putting our heads together we decided to cure it with a bottle of Chianti. We put it into the oven to dry our harvest out… enter Rich Bolin Tommy’s dad and he immediately said “What the hell is that smell?” Now Rich worked in the packing house, so how he could smell that burning hemp I’ll never understand, but we claimed we had burned a pizza. He left to pick up Barb and we started to have a little smoke. I still have the headache to this day”.

(Told to Trace Keane 11-22-06)

Kenny Passarelli
Bassist for Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm, Steven Stills, Elton John, Hall and Oates and many more.

I met Tommy Bolin in 1967. He was 16 and I thought he had run away from home. It was in Denver at a space behind a restaurant called ‘Los Panchos.’ The son of the owner was the promoter. It was pre-love in time in Denver and local guys, drug dealers, were putting on small gigs, San Francisco style. I remember this kid with big baggy pants playing a Les Paul Jr. he might have borrowed. He looked 12, but played like I had only heard one other guy: Jimi Hendrix. He was sweet and innocent. Very friendly kid, no ego. He just wanted to jam.

I was in a local band called the ‘Beast’. We had been playing around Colorado for just a few months, we might of played at that gig. Tommy would sit in with us any time we played in Boulder where he moved to. Tommy came on to the Denver-Boulder scene like a fresh prodigy, Hendrix style, but with something else. We became fast friends and promised some day to be in a group together. Every time he showed up he would blow people away. He developed fans right away. To the Hill scene, hippies from everywhere in Boulder, Tommy was the new guitar hero.

David and Candy Givens started a group called ‘Zephyr’ soon after, and I remember seeing them showcase for Barry Fey, big time promoter, the Bill Graham of Colorado. Barry signed them and they got a deal with ABC records. Tommy was on his way!!! Their sound was really great and Tommy was doing things with the Echoplex that only he coud do. We saw each other in 1969, Tommy was always playing and listening to jazz. He loved Bird [saxophonist Charlie Parker]. I had left the Beast and was now playing in a power trio called Conal Implosion. We were both on the road and we saw each other when we were in Boulder at the same time.

I had met Stephen Stills in the spring of 1969. I almost joined Crosby Stills Nash and Young for Woodstock but had hepetitis and was out for about 6 months. When I got well I left to Vancover, B.C. to play in a band called Django. Tommy kept in touch with me. Django came close to getting a deal but failed at the last minute. I came back to Denver with my tail between my legs and went back to the University of Denver, which I had left in 1967. Tommy was in Boulder living with his girlfriend Karen, this was 1970 or 1971. He laughed at me when I told him I quit playing and I was going to be a lawyer like my dad wanted me to be. I remember him saying to me, “You could be a great musician instead of a lousy lawyer!”. But he said go for it. I remember just putting my bass in the corner of the room and not touching it until Tommy called me to play with him in Boulder with the jazz flute player Jeremy Steig. As usual Tommy was right.

After some blotter acid and a couple of gigs with Tommy I agreed to go to New York City with Tommy over my spring break from school. Tommy was really into Coltrane and Bird. Tommy was going fusion. We played the Café a Go Go, opening for the Tony Williams Lifetime. Miles Davis came to the gig. Jeremy was on flute, electric flute through a bunch of effects pedals. Tommy played a Les Paul guitar with Echoplex and Marshall amp. I was on Fender bass, Eddie Gomez, Bill Evan’s bass player, was on upright bass thru a Marshall. Alphonse Mouzon on drums and Jan Hammer on electric piano. Outstanding group. Total Acid Jazz. Tommy blew everybody away!! We played for a couple of days. Tommy stayed in New York City and I went back to finish the school year. Tommy Bolin had changed my life again. The first time when I heard him play and became friends. And now I left D.U. after spring term and never looked back.

Thanks to Tommy Bolin. I had met John Hammond, Jr. at the Café a Go Go gig and was asked to go on tour with him in the summer. Tommy and I stayed in touch I went back to Canada to work with a band who was doing television work after my summer tour with John Hammond, Jr. Again me and Tommy in a group did not happen, I was a little spooked about New York City. Tommy and I stayed in touch while I was back in Vancouver.

I got a call from Tommy in 1971, he said that Joe Walsh was living in Nederland, west of Boulder, and that Joe had quit the James Gang and was looking for a bass player for his new group Barnstorm. Tommy told Joe about me and gave him my number. Again Tommy helped me, he helped me without thinking of himself. It was about music and friendship. Barnstorm was constant touring in 1971 and 1972, but I saw Tommy when I was back in Boulder. We were doing 150 gigs that year!! Tommy was with his girlfriend Karen Ulibarri and seemed happy, but he was searching always practicing.

I went on to play on Stephen Stills’ solo album ‘Stephen Stills”’ (featuring Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Ringo Starr) and with his gand Manassas. Then I played with Elton John 1975 and 1976. I saw Tommy the fall of 1976. He was not the same guy. He seemed distant and unhappy. He had broken up with Karen and was not that same friendly happy guy. I knew he was stoned but so was everybody. I never got the feeling he was on his way out. He had a solo deal and everything he wanted. Ego, drugs loneliness, who knows. I cried when I heard of his passing. Tommy Bolin changed my life. He helped me and I will never forget him. I miss him”.

(Told to John Herdt, November 14, 2006)

Johnny Wells
Drummer and childhood friend of Tommy.

“I have one recollection of Tommy that I love to tell over and over. Why? Cause it makes me laugh so hard I cry everytime I tell it or think of it. A long time ago in Sioux City when we were all kids, Tommy too. Saturday Mornings meant congregating downtown and invading all the department and dime stores to see what was new in the record bins. Everyone would go through the 45’s and pick out what songs they were going to take to their bands and learn. I always had money cause that day I had to pay my paper route account , so I would be loaded with maybe 5 or 10 bucks. So if someone didn’t have the coin to buy a record, we all shared. Then we would exchange the wax to who ever was interested. You always got your record back if you purchased it, so it was a nifty way to stay tight. I still have all my 45’s, and I am trying to think what ones I loaned to Tommy. I know one for sure was Lovin’ Spoonful (Summer in the City). But anyway, my funny story is this…

One morning we were all parading down the street next to Kresge's department store. If I remember correctly, it was me, Tommy, Tom Eglin, Mike Williams and some others. All of a sudden Tommy stopped dead in his tracks and started to stare at the top of this building. There was nothing there of course but blue sky, but he stayed staring without saying one word. We all of course did exactly what he was doing in complete silence. Before you know it there was a crowd of people looking to see what we were looking at, and still not a word. Even the cars driving by were rubbernecking. Then Tommy just quietly turned and walked off and we followed. Then about that time Bata the cop come to see what the heck was going on, so we all ran in different directions laughing our butts off. Next time we saw Bata he would just shake his head and grin. He got a kick out of us, plus Tommy was related to him I think. I just think it sums up what kind of wit Tommy had. He was not a troublemaker, just fun to be around”.

(Told to John Herdt, November 11, 2006)

Mark Stein
Keyboards and vocals with the Vanilla Fudge and the Tommy Bolin Band.

“This may border on the ridiculous, but I recall being on the road somewhere in New England with Tommy and Jimmy Haslip, and it was the wee hours of the morning. We had all been out drinking and carrying on in the hotel lobby — we were like a bunch of high school kids…

I used to do a wild boar call, I mean it was totally realistic and it would freak everybody out. Tommy and Jimmy both would laugh so hard they almost pissed their pants! So Jimmy and I were on the second floor looking down at Tommy who was really drunk, and I disguised a bunch of tied-together scarves over the balcony that Tommy grabbed and started swinging back and forth while I was doing the wild boar call — remember it was maybe 4:00 in the morning and quiet as a church mouse.

So the call really echoed throughout the hallways, and there was Tommy hysterical laughing and swinging on the lower lobby while Jimmy and I were carrying on screaming and laughing like mad-men. Anyway, I don’t recall security or anyone trying to stop us — probably were afraid to deal with three lunatics. We soon burned ourselves out and went to bed, but man that was a great time… I miss him…”

(Told to John Herdt, December 2, 2006)

Patty Stein
Wife of Tommy Bolin Band keyboardist Mark Stein.

“I remember Tommy was always so kind to our son Rich, and Rich loved him too. They seemed to have a special connection. It was Tommy’s birthday one year and we bought him a diamond star stud earring as a gift. We were in a limo going to a gig and Tommy had Rich on his lap entertaining him. I gave the earring to our son to give to him, and when Tommy opened it he loved it and said “Thank you,” and Rich said “A star for a star,” which was unbelievable as he was only about 10 years old then. I thought “Wow!! how true.” Rich still tells that story to people because he remembered it made Tommy so happy, and after Tommy passed Tommy’s mom Barbara sent me one of Tommy’s necklaces to give to Rich and he still treasures it. We loved & miss Tommy, he was one of the good guys”.

(Told to John Herdt, November 17, 2006)

Mike Reininger
Drummer for and owner of Reininger Music.

“It was late fall 1971 when I first saw Tommy Bolin play with Energy. We thought we were going to see Zephyr at Massari gym at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, Colorado that night. I was with my bandmates, Mike Short (bass) and Steve Channel (guitar). I was new at the band scene and just starting out down the music road. I was 15 years old. My only musical influence at this time was my older brother’s (Blaine of Tuxedo Moon) crowd of hippie folk rockers dressed in overalls. I was looking for a new direction and found it that night. Tommy Bolin, what a cool looking dude. Long ass hair to his ass. Black leather jacket…a new attitude I hadn’t ever seen before.

As the opening bands played we thought it a good time to go outside and enjoy the herbal essence of the time (marijuana…exhibit A). We had some good shit with a very strong odor. Tommy smelled it and invited himself over to our circle of friends. He was too cool for us dweebs, we weren’t worthy. We were all amazed at this guy. Way too cool for school. We talked and I learned Tommy had jammed with my older brother in Manitou Springs. I was star struck by Tommy and it is still the same vibe today. He was the direction I was looking for musically. The show was special, none of us had ever heard anything like Tommy Bolin.

It was the first time I heard an echoplex. (we called it the Bolin Box before we knew it’s real name) Tommy was on fire that night. It was a very early Energy gig and they were out to impress. They did!! No one wanted the show to end, even after the lights came on the crowd yelled for more. From that show I feel I got my calling in life, to be a musician. Thanks Tommy Bolin for showing me the way to this cool life I have. I am grateful for his influence on me. I cherish the memories of all the times I saw him play. He was special”.

(Told to John Herdt, November 26, 2006)

Roger Rothwell
Lifelong guitarist friend of Tommy, Tommy Bolin Live at the Jet Bar.

“I bought this real worn 13 zipper black leather jacket at the Sioux City Goodwill for a half a buck, and it was a shade too small for me so I layed it on Johnnie Bolin, and the next time I see it, it’s on tour with the James Gang, showing up in promo pics and when they played in Sioux City. Sure enough, Tommys wearing it. When I pimped him about the jacket he gives me a pair of snakeskin boots to make everything even. Oh, I don’t think Johnnie got anything, but that what brothers are for, right? Anyway the Goodwill jacket made the big time…”

(Told to John Herdt, November 24, 2006)

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.