Tommy Bolin: Your Views (& Mine)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Siegmund, May 9, 2020.

  1. Siegmund

    Siegmund Vinyl Sceptic Thread Starter

    Britain, Europe
    Few guitarists have been more talented: few rock stars have been so unfortunate.

    Tommy Bolin was fated to replace not one but two beloved lead players in one cult band (the James Gang, where he replaced Joe Walsh) and one mega-band (Deep Purple, where he replaced Ritchie Blackmore). In both cases, he suffered from fan loyalty to the previous incumbent: replacing Blackmore was a particularly tough call.

    It didn’t help, of course, that he was strung out for most of his stint in Purple, including virtually all of their one major tour.

    Yet, he was arguably a better, certainly a more versatile guitarist than either Walsh or Blackmore. You don’t get to be a sideman to Billy Cobham unless you’re at the highest level.

    He seems to be largely forgotten now - he died early, with a fairly small discography (though decent considering how brief his time in the spotlight was). His death was certainly one of hard rock/fusion’s greatest tragedies. If he was still alive today, I think he’d still be playing some sort of fusion.

    Would be interested to hear others’ views on him.....
  2. Harp Of Glass

    Harp Of Glass Forum Resident

    I have Private Eyes which I like a lot.
    I have three Zephyr cds- Zephyr, Going Back To Colorado and Live @ Art's Bar And Grill. I think Zephyr can be an aquired taste because Candy Givens' vocals are a bit hard to tolerate but overall the music is good and I like the three Zephyr records I have.
    Siegmund likes this.
  3. PacificOceanBlue

    PacificOceanBlue Forum Resident

    The Southwest
    Tommy was a tremendous talent, not only a supreme guitarist, but a very skilled songwriter.

    Replacing Joe Walsh and Ritchie Blackmore were arguably insurmountable tasks (although he wasn't the first guy to replace Walsh -- James Gang was already transitioning into a different band). Not only did he replace two very well-known musicians, but he was expected to contribute a significant amount of songwriting to both James Gang and Deep Purple. As such, it wasn't as simple as filling in for a guitarist where the transition was somewhat seamless (e.g. Ronnie Wood replacing Mick Taylor), the sound of those bands were going to be very different because of what was expected from Bolin as a writer. I never thought it was strictly about audiences not willing to accept Tommy, rather he was part of a bigger change to both bands that their respective audiences weren't prepared for.

    He died so young that he never was able to really establish himself or his music for longevity. As great as Band, Miami and Come Taste The Band are, none of those albums ever generated lasting hit material or FM radio staples by either the James Gang or Deep Purple. Furthermore, as great as Teaser and Private Eyes are, neither album produced songs that resonated with the public long-term.

    Fortunately his wonderful work with Zephyr, Energy, Cobham, Mouzon, James Gang, Deep Purple and his solo albums have mostly remained in print or has been relatively easy to acquire over the years for discovery.
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  4. pscreed

    pscreed Upstanding Member

    I’m a fan. His best work in my ears was Spectrum with Cobham and his first solo album Teaser. There’s no way to compare him to Walsh or Blackmore, he wasn’t here long enough sadly. I wish we would have heard more of him.

    I like his work with Purple, different but in a good way. He was a talented guy.

    As a technician no way he was in the same league as Blackmore though. That’s OK he still made a couple good records with the Purps.

    He did leave a good legacy but left us too soon.
  5. steve phillips

    steve phillips Forum Resident

    I like Tommy Bolin a lot. I love the 2 albums he did with The James Gang. I will also say that Come Taste The Band is nearly
    a masterpiece in my opinion. I like the solo things he has done although I'm not all that familiar with it. Having said that, I can't
    bring myself to get on board with your statement here, although you did say "arguably."
  6. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    I did several shows with him in April 1976 at the La Paloma Theater. I was out in the truck recording the shows for radio, and we had no video feeds in those days, so I didn't see much during the shows.

    However, I did see that he was the last to leave the venue. We had torn down and loaded all the sound gear and were just about to leave when he came upstairs from the dressing rooms. He was being propped up by two women, and didn't seem to be able to walk on his own.

    I remember thinking he didn't seem long for this world. Sadly, he wasn't.
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  7. Fischman

    Fischman RockMonster, ClassicalMaster, and JazzMeister

    I like Joe Walsh, but anybody with ears should know that Bolin was an upgrade at the guitar position in The James Gang.

    His Private Eyes is also testament to his greatness.

    When we talk about guitarists with an expressive style all their own, Tommy should always be in the discussion. Add in his phenomenal technical ability and you've easily got one of the all time greats.

    I agree, more versatile and technically better than Blackmore as well. Any preference for Blackmore is based purely on style.

    And very versatile, too. More than just a rocker, I think his finest work was in the fusion realm, especially on Billy Cobham's Spectrum. That is a truly killer guitar performance right there.
  8. PacificOceanBlue

    PacificOceanBlue Forum Resident

    The Southwest
    Tommy played on more progressive albums (i.e. Cobham and Mouzon), but I am not prepared to say he was an upgrade. Walsh was a tremendous guitarist, one of the best of his generation.
  9. steve phillips

    steve phillips Forum Resident

    I agree, plus his songwriting was off the charts. He created art with his songs.
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  10. PacificOceanBlue

    PacificOceanBlue Forum Resident

    The Southwest
    Joe is one of the most underrated songwriters in rock. Tommy wrote some great songs, not doubt about it, but just look at the songs Walsh wrote and developed outside of the James Gang on his first three solo albums. Not to take anything away from Tommy, but I would argue Joe was at another level.
  11. Fischman

    Fischman RockMonster, ClassicalMaster, and JazzMeister

    Joe is a great songwriter. And of course he can sing as well. And yes, he is a mighty fine guitarist as it's pretty easy to say Joe is in another class as an all around musician...

    ....but when speaking purely of fretboard mastery and unique style on the six string, Tommy is in a whole other class there.
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  12. brownsound2112

    brownsound2112 Forum Resident

    One of the all time greats. Come Taste The Band is my favourite Purple record - and I do consider it a Purple record.

    Hugely versatile - love his playing with Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon and Private Eyes and Teaser are classics.

    He looks cool as well...
  13. Michael

    Michael I LOVE WIDE S-T-E-R-E-O!

    I do love him in Zephyr! fondly remember the debut on FM radio many years ago...
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  14. texquad

    texquad Forum Resident

    Home of The Alamo
    Lots of love for Tommy but not in the same league as Joe or Ritchie.
  15. Alex D

    Alex D Forum Resident

    Tommy had it all: looks, talent, etc.

    A supreme shame he left this world at such a young age.
    Siegmund likes this.
  16. Barnabas Collins

    Barnabas Collins Forum Resident

    Great player. It's a damn shame he died so young. That Billy Cobham album is sensational and needs to be discovered by those who admire Tommy's playing. I've actually never heard his work with James Gang, but I guess I need to rectify that.
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  17. pscreed

    pscreed Upstanding Member

    POB I agree with you 1000% and I kind of feel sorry for folks that only know Walsh from his novelty songs (a direction I wish he had never headed in - but you gotta get paid for your work at some point).

    His songwriting and records in the Brit-rock influenced hard rock/pastoral vein made believers out of a lot of fans including me, you, and Pete Townsend among others... we talk about “under rated” sometimes here on the boards. There should be a picture in the dictionary for that term of Joe.

    Not to take anything away from the OP’s thread about Bolin - he never would have been called up if he couldn’t do the job.

    I just got sidetracked on the Walsh thing.
    Last edited: May 9, 2020
  18. Jgirar01

    Jgirar01 Forum Resident

    Dallas, Texas
    Always been one of my favorites. Growing up in Denver gave me the chance to see him a few times including at a small club called Ebbets Field. Have most of the live shows the Bolin site put out including that show at Ebbets that I saw. He was a great guitarist to see live. Also love the Spectrum album he played on. Will always be one of my favorites and Teaser will always be a top 10.
  19. Vaughan

    Vaughan Forum Resident

    Essex, UK
    Bolin was one of the greats. However, his extremely small discography as a solo artist hides his talents somewhat.

    That said, he was unfortunately a flawed individual who gave it all up for a drug addiction. A terrible waste of talent.

    His two solo albums, Teaser and Private Eyes are fine, if a bit heavy handed production wise. Along with these, Come taste the Band stands testament to his playing and influence.

    Is he forgotten? Well, he was in the light for too short a time.
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  20. The Lone Cadaver

    The Lone Cadaver Forum Resident

    Sorry, Joe and Ritchie are miles better guitarists and far better songwriters.
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  21. Yawndave

    Yawndave Forum Resident

    Santa Clara CA
    I remember picking up James Gang's Miami after not hearing from them in awhile and wondering "Who is this Tommy Bolin guy?" Then I saw he was in Deep Purple too! Well it wasn't too long before I went out and got Teaser and Private Eyes. Wild Dogs is an absolute favorite.
  22. Jgirar01

    Jgirar01 Forum Resident

    Dallas, Texas
    James Gang Bang is a must listen!
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  23. Elmer McMuffin

    Elmer McMuffin Well-Known Member

    I'd have to agree. Always been fond of Come Taste the Band and I've got Private Eyes and Teaser. Some great songs on the former and one or two decent tunes on the latter two. Tommy's soloing on CTTB is often just repetitive noodling I personally think. Maybe he thought that's what the music demanded, but he's not telling a story, not building tension, just repeating a refrain - often far too many times. If he is technically a more fluent guitarist than Walsh or Blackmore, I don't think he's remotely as expressive.
    Finch Platte and unclefred like this.
  24. Zoot Marimba

    Zoot Marimba And I’m The Critic Of The Group

    Amazing talent that we lost far too soon. And a strong writer, good singer too. He could do it all-he could play funky, could go jazzy, could go heavy, could go bluesy. Sad that drugs got the better of him.:(
  25. Zoot Marimba

    Zoot Marimba And I’m The Critic Of The Group

    And “Alexis” is one of my favorite James Gang tunes.
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