TOMMY BOLIN TIMELINE
This timeline acts as a GUIDE to Tommy's career. It's a simplified version of existing versions. Tommy Bolin was a busy musician, often juggling his services between bands/projects/jams, and this timeline attempts to show some of the key moments in his short but prolific career. We appreciate that it WILL not be 100% accurate and we welcome any suggestions/corrections/changes.
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THE EARLY YEARS
Tommy Bolin joined Denny & The Triumphs in 1965 on the recommendation of Brad Miller after seeing him play with the Miserlous. They changed the name to A Patch of Blue after seeing the 1965 movie of the same name. Patch of Blue played a combination of pop, R&B, blues & jazz and, despite their young age, they opened for the likes of The Beach Boys, The Animals and Herman's Hermits. Tommy doubled up playing alongside his friend, John Bartle in The Chateaux, alternating between guitar & Hammond organ.
Tommy was fired from Patch of Blue for supposedly “playing too loud” and on Brad Miller's suggestion, decided to try his luck in the Denver music scene.
After struggling for a place to live and for a regular gig, Tommy found luck when he asked if he could jam with Crosstown Bus, a local band featuring Jeff Cook on vocals who just happened to be rehearsing as Tommy walked by. Suitably impressed, the band asked Tommy to join (at the expense of their original guitarist) and changed their name to American Standard. The band broke up in early 1968 after failing to make an impression and Tommy was approached with the offer of work in Cincinnati, where he had short stints backing Lonnie Mack and formed the short-lived band The Ginger People with keyboard player John Faris. The band soon folded and Tommy returned to Colorado.
WILL TRY AND FIND OUT ABOUT THIS PERIOD MORE, ie ANY BASSIST IN ‘THE CHATEAUX’? & NO DETAILS RE ‘THE GINGER PEOPLE’?
PATCH OF BLUE | “Midnight Hour”
Correctionville, IA, 1966
ZEPHYR | THE FIRST OF THE BIG(ish) BANDS
Tommy & John Faris jammed with David and Candy Givens’ band Brown Sugar in Boulder and with the addition of drummer Robbie Chamberlin they formed Zephyr.
Although only 17, Zephyr introduced Tommy to higher stakes, a record deal and they were booked on a national level by Barry Fey who landed them support slots with big name bands such as Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull.
The band’s self-titled first album (sometimes referred to as ‘The Bathtub Album’) was released in 1969. The band were unhappy with an unsympathetic production and were worn out by multiple takes. The band’s first personnel change came in May 1970, when Robbie Chamberlin was asked to leave, to be replaced by Bobby Berge, an old friend of Tommy’s. This line-up recorded the band's 2nd album ‘Going Back To Colorado’ in New York with legendary producer Eddie Kramer at the helm, but Kramer's pre-occupation after Jimi Hendrix's death resulted in an “unfinished” feel. With enthusiasm waning and increasing live competition between Candy and Tommy, compounded by the Given's wanting to reinstate Robbie Chamberlin over the harder hitting style of Bobby Berge, Tommy and Bobby opted to leave.
David and Candy Givens played again with Tommy, in the more relaxed guise of The Legendary 4-Nikators, playing covers shows in Boulder clubs. This lead to a brief Zephyr reunion show at Art’s Bar & Grill, Denver, on 2 May 1973.
ZEPHYR | 1970 Fillmore East (Promo)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
During the recording of ‘Going Back To Colorado’ in New York Tommy had made contact with a number of like-minded musicians who were keen on exploring the jazz-rock path being opened up by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. One of them was flautist Jeremy Steig, who persuaded Tommy to return to New York after Zephyr’s demise.
Tommy played for a month or so during 1971 in impromptu bands going under the The Jeremy Steig Group name. Alongside Steig himself, were drummers Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon, and keyboard player Jan Hammer. Some studio demos were recorded, with the track ‘Sister Andrea’ eventually being released on the first Tommy Bolin ‘From The Archives’ collection in 1996.
NOTE: THIS PERIOD IS NOT EXACT IN ANY WAY. TOMMY WAS JAMMING FREQUENTLY AND SOME OF THESE LINE-UPS ARE PURELY BASED ON POSSIBLE JAMS FROM VARIOUS BOOTLEGS FROM THIS PERIOD!
NEW YORK | 1971 JAZZ FUSION
A short glimpse of Tommy's jams with like-minded ‘FUSIONists’ from various bootlegged recordings. Exact details/line-ups are unknown, but Tommy's playing is instantly recognisable!
When Tommy returned to Boulder, he set about forming Energy (named after Jeremy Steig’s 1970 jazz-rock album). Bobby Berge was first on board, followed by Stanley Sheldon on bass and Stanley’s cousin Tom Stephenson on keyboards. Singer Gary Wilson was last to join. Energy landed residencies at clubs in Boulder, and provided backing for visiting musicians such as Albert King and Chuck Berry. Energy began recording studio demos, including “Red Skies”, which was released on “From The Archives Vol.1”. However, Wilson’s R&B / soul leanings were at odds with the band’s music and he bowed out to be replaced by Tommy’s former American Standard bandmate Jeff Cook.
Cook established an excellent writing partnership with Tommy, but although he was more of a ‘rocker’ than Gary Wilson, his limited vocal range was a handicap. Nonetheless, songs written during this period eventually helped to furnish albums by The James Gang and Deep Purple, as well as Tommy’s solo albums. Various live and studio demo recordings have surfaced of the Jeff Cook line-up, featuring instrumental jams and blues / rock work-outs, with the jazz element less prominent due to the presence of the vocals. The band failed to land a record contract, exacerbating the financial difficulties that would lead to its dissolution.
In early 1973 Max Gronenthal (also known as Max Carl) was drafted in to replace Jeff Cook, but the band were on their last legs. Tom Stephenson quit to join Joe Walsh’s post James Gang band, Barnstorm, and was also replaced by the multi-talented Gronenthal, before the band folded completely.
ENERGY | ABELINE, KANSAS, 1972
A rare and raw example of the band. Audio not matched to the video.
A BIGGER ‘SPECTRUM’
In May 1973 Tommy returned to New York to help record Billy Cobham’s seminal ‘Spectrum’ album. Cobham had left The Mahavishnu Orchestra earlier in the year, coinciding with the end of Energy, and chose Tommy to play on the sessions, remembering his performances on Jeremy Steig’s 1971 New York demos.
‘Spectrum’ was a huge opportunity for Tommy to play the kind of music which was closest to his heart, and he took it with both hands. The results were stunning, bringing him to the attention of musicians worldwide. It is considered the best recorded showcase of Tommy’s playing ability. Sadly, the success of ‘Spectrum’ was not built upon. Having opened new musical territory Billy Cobham returned to working with horn sections, which lead to Tommy turning down his offer of touring the album. Tommy also wanted to put his own solo project together, and was promised the financial backing required if he accepted a one year offer to play with The James Gang, a band he reportedly disliked because of their overly commercial brand of rock.
VIDEO | BILLY COBHAM “QUADRANT 4”
From the 1973 album ‘Spectrum’. Tommy in blistering ‘echoplex’ form trading licks with Jan Hammer.
The James Gang were an Ohio based band who had achieved success in 1970-71 with guitarist / vocalist Joe Walsh at the helm. When Walsh left, they drafted in Canadian pair Roy Kenner on vocals and Domenic Troiano on guitar. Neither were considered successful replacements for Walsh and the band’s profile dropped. After two albums Troiano departed, and on Joe Walsh’s recommendation Tommy Bolin was asked to join.
Tommy's first album with the band, James Gang ‘Bang’ featured many songs from Tommy's backlog, including songs written for Energy. Tommy was given the space to perform, although always in the shadow of Joe Walsh and within the constraints of the band’s musical style. Although pleased with Tommy’s contribution, the others were dismayed at his level of substance use, which had been steadily growing since his time with Energy. Dale Peters later described it as “a horrible, unbelievable drug problem”. It was Tommy’s wish to experiment with music which caused the final fracture. After recording the album ‘Miami’, which included Energy composition ‘Red Skies’ as its most experimental piece, he unceremoniously quit the band (he simply didn't show up!) and struck out on his own for his long promised solo career.
VIDEO | JAMES GANG ‘Ride The Wind’
From the 1974 ‘Don Kirschner Rock Show’
1974 – '75 JAMS / MOUZON / FINNIGAN / TEASER
Tommy began to try and build his solo career in Boulder, while taking the opportunity to perform with musicians such as Energy bassist Stanley Sheldon, drummers Alphonse Mouzon and Carmine Appice, and Long Island rock group The Good Rats. One live Tommy Bolin and Friends performance from the Ebbet’s Field venue was released by the Tommy Bolin Archives in 1996, while a jam with Appice and The Good Rats appeared on ‘The Bottom Shelf’ in 1995. After accepting an offer from Mouzon to play on his ‘Spectrum’ influenced solo album ‘Mind Transplant’, Tommy shifted his base of operations to Los Angeles. While there he also played sessions for Dr John’s ‘Hollywood Be Thy Name’ album – which it seems were subsequently scrapped, and added lead guitar to six tracks on Canadian rock group Moxy’s eponymous debut album.
Alongside Stanley Sheldon, Tommy spent the next months recording studio demos and trying to put together a new band, which for a time was set to re-animate the Energy name. Drug and alcohol issues continued to increase and to disrupt plans, causing vocalist / keyboard player Mike Finnigan to back out of a prospective collaboration (alongside ex Captain Beyond drummer Guille Garcia and percussionist Marty Rodriguez). Although it should be stated that Finnigan himself suggested that he was fighting his own personal demons at the time.
A band was eventually finalised in January 1975, with Bolin and Sheldon joined by old Energy drummer Bobby Berge and vocalist / keyboard player Ronnie Barron, but it did not survive far beyond rehearsals and a record company audition. Other musicians to record with Tommy included ex-Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar, while jams with various artists at Glen Holly Studios were captured and later released by the TBA.
Stanley Sheldon was offered a place in Peter Frampton’s touring band and two weeks later Tommy’s biggest break presented itself when he was asked to audition for Deep Purple. This coincided with a solo deal arriving from Nemperor Records, given to him on condition that he sang the material. An agreement was put in place for Tommy to both be a member of Deep Purple and have his solo career run in parallel.
VIDEO | DR JOHN, ‘Hollywood Be Thy Name’
1974 Demo, including Stanley Sheldon
Tommy’s debut solo album ‘Teaser’ was recorded in New York and LA. Writing sessions, with Jeff Cook and long-time lyricist John Tesar, were done over the phone, although some of the material dated back as far as 1972. In New York his fusion contacts such as Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden joined the sessions, along with Stanley Sheldon, who at the time was involved in the mixing of the soon to be stratospheric ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ album. Although the sessions were successful, Hammer noted that there was “a drug fog descending.” Other musicians included; David Sandborn, Phil Collins, Jeff Porcaro, Prairie Prince, Paul Stallworth, Bobby Berge, Ron Franson, David Foster, Sammy Figueroa & Rafael Cruz. Glenn Hughes sang the final verse of ‘Dreamer’, but wasn't credited due to contractual reasons. The album's release coincided with Tommy's tenour with Deep Purple and their ‘Come Taste The Band’ album, and was therefore compromised in regards to publicity.
‘PEOPLE, PEOPLE’ TOMMY BOLIN
A popular choice from ‘Teaser’
COME TASTE THE PURPLE
Deep Purple Mk 4 is perhaps the most frustrating incarnation of the band. Together for less than a year, they quickly produced a wonderfully energetic studio album that opened up all sorts of new horizons, then imploded during their one and only World tour.
Considering the magnitude of the shock of Ritchie Blackmore’s departure in April 1975, the band were very quickly on the case to find a replacement. American guitarist Tommy Bolin took the role in June 1975 after having connected musically during his first audition. The renewed vigour carried over into the rehearsal studio in July (recordings of which survived and were later released as ‘Days May Come’), through to the resulting ‘Come Taste The Band’ album, which showcased Bolin’s tremendous writing and playing, especially his unerring gift for welding together rock, jazz, and funk.
The album received a mixed critical reception, but the opportunity to drive it home to Deep Purple fans worldwide was sadly blown when the band went on the road later in the year. Controlling Glenn Hughes’ growing cocaine habit was problem enough, but it was multiplied when Bolin’s previously hidden heroin use manifested itself.
Although a lot of the new album featured successfully in the new live set, incongruous islands of older Mk2 and Mk3 material caused friction in the band, being fundamentally unsuited to the unsympathetically loose performances foisted upon them at times by Hughes and Bolin. Outside these areas, on some nights the band would really steam through ‘Come Taste’ highlights, only to lose the thread a couple of shows later. The band crashed to a halt at the end of the UK tour, following a traumatic show at the Liverpool Empire on March 15th 1976. The only people who weren’t officially told about the split were Glenn and Tommy.
‘Wild Dogs’ Deep Purple
Japan, 1975. Tommy on lead vocal duties. Audio from ‘Last Concert In Japan’ (not matched to video).
PRIVATE EYES / TOMMY BOLIN BAND
After Deep Purple's final Liverpool gig 25th March, 1976, Tommy returned to the States to promote ‘Teaser’ and record his 2nd solo album.
The Tommy Bolin Band debut concert was, La Polama Theatre, Encinitas and emphasises Tommy wanting a ‘band’ scenario with him allowing fellow musicians their time in the limelight, with Narada Michael Walden singing his own composition ‘Delightful’ and Mark Stein singing, ‘I Fell In Love’. After a well received My Father's Place performance, Walden left the band after a disastrous Bottom Line gig, where a ‘compromised’ Bolin reportedly fell off the stage and abused his label's (Nemperor) executives.
Bolin was fortunate to seal a recording contract with the prestigious ‘Colombia’ label. ‘Private Eyes’ was less eclectic than ‘Teaser’, but as Jeff Cook later remarked, was more focused on his songwriting skills. The nucleus of musicians included Tommy (guitar and vocals), Reggie McBride (bass), Bobby Berge (drums), Norma Jean Bell (sax) and Mark Stein (keyboards).
Tommy hit the road to promote the album with various line-up changes. Berge and McBride were replaced by Johnnie Bolin and Jimmy Haslip and in turn replaced by Mark Craney and Max Carl. Reviews of the performances were mixed, it's no secret that Tommy's personal troubles (he was breaking up with his long term girlfriend), substance abuse and apparent lack of proper management were taking its toll. Again mixed performances ensued, but prospects were looking promising with a series of concerts supporting Jeff Beck were announced. Unfortunately, Tommy's last performance (supporting Beck on the 3rd December 1976, Jai Alai Fronton, Miami) featured a fantastic closing version of ‘Post Toastee’ – a song warning of the pitfalls of drug abuse... tragically, Tommy died hours after the gig.
One of ‘Private Eyes' mellower moments, showcasing Tommy's songwriting skills
We strongly recommend you check out RL Schwinden's Mr Zero page for some great Tommy Info