I can’t believe it is three years since I wrote the following reviews of Tommy’s two solo albums. Such a lot, both good and bad, has happened to me since that at times it seems like yesterday and at others a lifetime ago. The main thing that springs to mind today though as I partake in my annual Tommy Bolin fest is that the music you love stays with you forever, through the good and the bad. Like the best of old friends, you know they they will be there whenever you want or need them, and for that we should all be thankful ……. I know I am.
‘Teaser’ was the first of two solo offerings from Tommy Bolin and was recorded in 1975 following his departure from James Gang and just prior to his being recruited by Deep Purple to replace the Rainbow bound Ritchie Blackmore. In fact the call from Purple, allegedly instigated by David Coverdale’s eureka moment whilst listening to the Billy Cobham album Spectrum on which Bolin had guested, came before recording was completed. Hence the uncredited guest appearance by Purple bassist Glenn Hughes. Indeed the first release of the album included a sticker stating ‘The new guitarist in Deep Purple’. The close proximity of the recording and writing sessions for those two albums along with Bolin’s influence and confidence in his own ability probably explain why his only Deep Purple album ‘Come Taste The Band’ sounds more, in places, like this album than it does any other Deep Purple album.
The album kicks off with ‘The Grind’ an uptempo foot tapping feel good type of song despite the lyric which appears to be about a down and out jobless hobo unless I’m missing something. Some of the guitar work has an almost Kossoff like singing sound in parts and Jeff Porcaro provides a great drum track. Porcaro and bassist Stanley Sheldon appear on most of the tracks and provde Bolin with a a superb tight bass section which gives him plenty of space whilst filling the room with solid rhythm throughout. There really isn’t a wasted note on this album at all. ‘Homeward Strut’ follows, the first of two intrumentals on the album it features some great riffing and jazz rhythms. It has a 70s movie soundtrack feel in places and uses the synthesizer to good effect. A nice tom-tom type fade out finishes the track nicely. ‘Dreamer’ is one of the albums many highlights and showcases Bolin’s vocal talents as well as his guitar playing. Had this track been recorded by a more mainstream artist I believe it would have been hailed as a classic. For that is what it is, from the quiet piano based introduction and verse to the fully fledged vocal power of Glenn Hughes’ guest vocal during the final part of the song. It is a song that lovers of great music should hear at least once. ‘Savannah Woman’ provides a couple of surprises in the shape of the multi talented Bolin playing piano as well as guitar and a guest performer on percussion by the name of Phil Collins. It is a very jazzy track where the influence of working with Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon is very evident. The title track ‘Teaser’ closed side one in the vinyl days and featured a great tempo change. The track possibly encompasses a little bit of everything as you can hear Bolin suggest at the end of the track. Had it not already been earmarked for this album it would not have been out of place on ‘Come Taste The Band’
The original vinyl version started side two with the almost reggae like ‘People People’. Another five star classic it features the immense talents of Jan Hammer on piano, drums, synthesizer, organ and drums. There is also a great sax solo courtesy of Dave Sanborn. A highly personal totally self-penned song it almost has the feeling of a cry for help in retrospect. The second instrumental ‘Marching Powder’ follows and features a great jazz riff and melody. Like ‘Savannah Woman’ the influence of Billy Cobham is clear to hear. Despite all that it is possibly the weakest track on the album. ‘Wild Dogs’ is quite possibly the closest to an out and out rock track on the album. As well as featuring Bolin playing ARP Synthesizer the song once again showcases his above average talents as a vocalist. The track was actually played live by Deep Purple and Bolin was allowed to handle the vocals despite the presence of both David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. The album closes with ‘Lotus’ which Glenn Hughes once informed me was his favourite Bolin song. Whilst the verses are very quiet and soft to begin with they are followed by a heavy riffing chorus. Possibly the heaviest part of the album. The song also includes an almost Blackmore like blues solo and a great rock solo to fade out.
In conclusion then this is undoubtedly a very fine album well worthy of its five star rating. It is well produced and well written. Bolin knew his limits as a vocalist and never attempted to go beyond them. A mistake that many guitarists who make solo albums still don’t manage to avoid.
Thanks to the Tommy Bolin Archives there are numerous collections of out-takes and alternative versions of these songs available. Most recenty in the two ‘Whips & Roses’ collections. Whilst they are great albums in their own right it is still worth tracking down an original copy. It is a timeless classic and still sounds as fresh and exciting as when I bought it during my school lunch break far more years ago than I care to remember.
This is a very different album to its predecessor. Firstly it should really have been credited to The Tommy Bolin Band for that is what they were as Tommy himself pointed out on the album sleeve. Whilst ‘Teaser’ featured five drummers, three keyboard players and two bass players ‘Private Eyes’ has the same players on all tracks Reggie McBride on Bass, Mark Stein on Keyboards, Bobbye Hall on percussion, Bobby Berge on drums and perhaps most significantly Norma Jean Bell on sax. The only addition to this being a guest appearance on one track by drummer Carmine Appice.
If I had to pick one side of a vinyl album as all I could keep from my collection it would quite possibly be side one of ‘Private Eyes’. From the opening thud of the drums on the first track ‘Bustin Out For Rosey’ right through to the dying notes of ‘Post Toastee’ not a single second is wasted and a whole spectrum of musical styles is encompassed. I’m not going to try and break the album down note for note but anyone who shares my tastes should check this album out. ‘Bustin’ Out For Rosey’ also features Bolin playing piano as well as handling guitar and vocal duties. The second track ‘Sweet Burgundy’ has for some reason always been a favourite of mine and features a great guitar and sax solo during the second part of the song. Norma Jean Bell’s sax playing is probably the main difference between this album and ‘Teaser’. Whereas the earlier album only featured sax on two tracks it is very prominent throughout on ‘Private Eyes’. In places it is almost more significant than the guitar. The lengthy ‘Post Toastee’ completes side one and it is an injustice to refer to it as a song. It features more styles and moods than many an entire album and is an absolute audible joy. A heavy bass style riff gives way after about two and a half minutes to pure Billy Cobhamesque jazz and a great solo. Then a little later the sax takes it right down to a wistful little melody before the heavy riffing comes back in. One thing you could never accuse Bolin of was hogging the limelight. He allowed the musicians to play and gave them their own space for improvisation. Both Bell’s sax and McBride’s bass being featured heavily. If you are ever buying new hi-fi equipment use this track to test it before buying!
‘Shake The Devil’ kicks off side two for those still playing the vinyl version and begins almost like a mini ‘Post Toastee’ reprise until it veers off into a kind of faster heavier version of Free. Bolin had obviously picked up a few heavier rock tips during his time in Deep Purple and although this album is as far removed from a Deep Purple album as you could imagine it features some of Bolin’s heaviest playing. Similar comments also apply to ‘Someday Will Bring Our Love Home’ on which Carmine Appice guests at the drumstool as once again the British rock influence is evident without compromising the jazz fusion soul funk type feel of the album as a whole. Again the track has a Free feel in places. Bolin was obviously quite aware of Free and Kossoff as his band played the Free track ‘Walk In My Shadow’ during the live set. A version of which can be heard on the Tommy Bolin Archives released album ‘Tommy Bolin & Friends Live at Ebbets Field 1974’. ‘Hello Again’ and ‘Gypsy Soul’ are both gentle laid back singer/songwriter type songs which are not unlike the tracks Bolin sang with James Gang (Spanish Lover and Alexis). The album closes with ‘ You Told Me That You Loved Me’ a track which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Bolin’s Purple album ‘Come Taste The Band’.
Most Bolin fans will tell you that ‘Teaser’ was the better of his two solo albums and the ratings on here will probably bear that out. Whilst I rate them both as 5 star classics I have a preference for this one. I don’t know why, its just the feel of it. It includes a bit of everything and is probably one of my most played albums. When I gave in and bought a CD player, this was one of the first albums I bought on CD and I can’t see me ever tiring of it.
Now, thirty one years to the day since Tommy Bolin’s tragic death I will play it again as I always do on this day and raise a glass to Tommy Bolin for giving me an album that has become more than just music but a lifelong companion.