Tommy Bolin Gets Tribute from Warren Haynes, Peter Frampton, Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather...
by Ted Drozdowski
Fitting for his status as a legendary American guitar hero, Tommy Bolin has continued to live on through his music. The latest new entry in his career – which ended via death by drug overdose on December 4, 1976, when Bolin was only 25 years old – is the just-released Great Gypsy Soul. And while the album does draw on tapes that Bolin left behind when he passed, Great Gypsy Soul puts a rare spin on the posthumous release cannon thanks to a pair of great guitar players influenced by Bolin: Gibson Les Paul Standard warrior Warren Haynes and the experimentalist/producer Greg Hampton.
The release blends unused tracks that Bolin cut for his debut solo album Teaser in July 1975 – just five months before his death (incorrect date, Tommy passed away Dec 1976 - Ed) – with newly recorded leads ‘n’ licks by a clutch of current guitar heroes including Derek Trucks, Steve Morse, Nels Cline, Peter Frampton, John Scofield, Brad Whitford, Sonny Landreth, Oz Noy, Steve Lukather and Joe Bonamassa.
Great Gypsy Soul started in 2004, when Hampton was producing the Bolin rarities collection Whips & Roses I & II. “As I cherry-picked though the live and studio recordings that became those two albums, I saw the potential for something really cohesive in the tapes that were left from the Teaser sessions – either uncompleted or alternate versions of the songs that made it to the album,” says Hampton, who first saw Bolin perform with Deep Purple during the group’s Come Taste the Band tour when he was 13.
The release of Whips & Roses sparked a revival of interest in Bolin and his legacy. After all, Bolin recorded just two solo albums before his death, although his performing history also includes a stint as the instrumental spark plug of the band Zephyr, taking over Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar seat in the original Deep Purple, bringing a dazzling level of pyrotechnics to Billy Cobham’s fusion-defining masterpiece Spectrum and live performances characterized by an artistic capacity that made him both a peer and influence to Jeff Beck.
After discussing the potential of the unearthed Teaser tapes with Bolin’s brother John, who oversees Tommy’s estate, Hampton made a call to his friend Warren Haynes.
“Warren was a fellow lifelong Tommy Bolin fan, and while I was producing Whips & Roses I’d been playing him some of the live tracks and outtakes,” Hampton explains, “but the Teaser tracks were truly special, and I knew when I suggested the idea of getting some of today’s greatest guitar players to add to them, he’d be excited.”
Warren signed on to the project immediately as co-producer and co-conspirator, and the two drafted a wishlist of guitar players they wanted to hear sparring and communing with Bolin.
“The artists we picked are all absolutely among the top three-percent of guitarists on the planet,” says Hampton. “They know how to play the notes, but also the spaces, so the album sounds really vital and alive. And they were all excited and available to do it, except for Jeff Beck, who had a schedule conflict. That was a shame because Jeff was one of the last people on the planet to hang out with Tommy. He opened for Jeff the night he died.”
Haynes adds that Great Gypsy Soul, which features Bolin playing a Gibson Explorer on its cover, is “very different from any other tribute record in the way that we took outtakes and alternate takes from the actual sessions that made up his two solo records and hand-picked the cast of players and singers to augment them.” No record labels, no corporate executives, no bean counters involved.
“Tommy gets more of the recognition he deserves in Europe and Japan,” Haynes says. “In America he’s not recognized as much partially due to the musical climate change that took place in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Like Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman and Paul Kossoff, he was just getting started. Maybe this album will help people understand what an amazing contribution he made to music in such a short time.”
In several studios across the country, Haynes and Hampton cut tracks with their handpicked coterie. “The great thing about Warren is that he has an ability to talk to any player on an equal level, regardless of genre,” says Hampton, whose résumé includes producing compelling albums for a range of performers from Alice Cooper to Dr. John, as well as his own sonically exploratory bands.
Haynes also contributes his signature heavyweight slide ‘n’ licks blend to “Teaser,” filling the spaces around Bolin’s own riffing and clarion vocals. “For me, it was just playing according to the needs of the song and what he was doing,” Haynes says. For other players, like Steve Morse, who put his own sonic whammy on “Crazed Fandango,” “it felt a little weird, like playing with a ghost. He was there, but, of course, not there to really respond, so it required a different kind of concentration than I might use on a record with my own band.”
Cut for cut, the results are both elevating and bone crunching, starting with Gibson Les Paul Custom hero Peter Frampton’s keening licks on “The Grind” and continuing through John Scofield’s funky rip through “Savannah Woman” and Brad Whitford’s vicious, snarling leap into “Wild Dogs.” Steve Lukather’s turn in “Homeward Strut” was poignant, Hampton points out, because it not only paired him with Bolin but with his fellow Toto co-founder Jeff Porcaro, who played drums on the track and who died in 1992. And “Lotus” adds Black Country Communion mates Joe Bonamassa and Glenn Hughes, who laid down their Zeppelin-informed contribution in one take, augmented later by the sonic expressionism of the great improviser Nels Cline, from Wilco.
Cline and Hampton are Great Gypsy Soul’s true secret weapons. Most of their contributions appear on disc two, a bonus CD that stretches Bolin’s original tracks to the interstellar regions – which is exactly where experimenters Cline and Hampton do their most-inspired playing.
“Some of the most relaxed and organic performances on the album are on the second disc,” Hampton explains. “On ‘Flying Fingers,’ it’s Oz Noy and Nels doing some of the coolest soundscaping I’ve ever heard, and it locks perfectly with Tommy’s original conception. And the rest of the disc is ‘Marching Bag’ broken into four movements, blending amazing team-ups of guitarists with Bolin’s tracks. Hampton, Cline, John Scofield, slidemen Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks, Lukather, Frampton, Haynes, Noy, Bonamassa, Whitford and Morse all play a role in the various combinations.
“For people who’ve never heard Tommy,” Hampton says, “this is going to be an eye-opener.”
Great Gypsy Soul
Tommy Bolin & Friends
Reviewed by Dale Burtenshaw
I’ve got to honest on this one, the pre-release hype had me apprehensive to say the least – a group of stellar musicians (Jeff Beck mentioned as a possible contributor) playing alongside Bolin using master tapes 36 years after his death – um, really? This had the hallmark of turning into a potentially embarrassing ‘karaoke’ affair, one of those cringe-worthy tribute CDs that more often than not take away from the artist’s reputation as opposed to enhancing it!
OK, so Beck didn’t make it, but the featured musicians certainly were of stellar proportion and the results in parts, surprisingly (to me at least), very good.
The first disc finds the guest musicians adding parts to what is pretty much the original Teaser album with a couple of extra outtakes. It kicks of with a frantic version of The Grind featuring Peter Frampton. Songs like this and Wild Dogs (with Brad Whitford) arguably work best, as the original versions featured Tommy multi-layering his solo spots, so that on the new versions we get the the guests weaving in and out alongside Tommy’s original parts. Because I am so familiar with the originals, it took a few listens to re-adjust to the new takes on what is very familiar material.
Highlights include John Scofield’s playing on Savannah Woman, a very funky Steve Lukather on Homeward Strut and Steve Morse in blistering form on Crazed Fandango. All songs retain Bolin’s original vocals with the exception of People People, which features an almost crooning, performance by, man-of-the-moment, Miles Kennedy – not my favourite, but interesting all the same.
Personally, I would have preferred a more ‘reggae’ take on People People and as much as I love Glenn Hughe’s voice, I think he overstays his welcome toward the end of Lotus.
Disc 2 is where it really starts happening for me. It comprises of Flying Fingers‚ and four versions of Marching Bag (Marching Powder in all but name). Again, on paper it doesn’t look good – four versions of the same song? But it’s on these more improvisational tracks that the project really comes to life. Thankfully all of the musicians compliment each track perfectly as opposed to trying to steal the show, plus it has had the added benefit of introducing me to the work of Nels Cline and Oz Noy.
The tracks sound natural and unforced and apart from some wonderful playing - it sounds like everyone was having fun! These tracks sound like it was all of the musicians, past and present, playing as one, so on that note, I think the project works.
Obviously there will be a lot of sceptics out there, but I for one think Great Gypsy Soul is a worthwhile inclusion to my Bolin collection – Disk 2 alone justifies the purchase.
Embarrasment well and truly averted!
Great Gypsy Soul
Tommy Bolin & Friends
Reviewed by Pete Francis, Blues Rock Review
Tommy Bolin is one of those prodigious players who won’t stand with Page or Beck (with whom he played his final show) in terms of popularity or sainthood. Instead, his legacy as a guitar player’s player places him alongside other lesser known aces like Shawn Lane and Rory Gallagher. Bolin’s playing is unmistakably American. It features riff-oriented tunes with biting slide work, ripping solos and sing-along hooks. His blues-rock work would sound perfectly natural on, among other things, the Dazed and Confused film soundtrack. His playing not always displayed electric fortitude as many of his tunes lean on the melodically pensive side, thus revealing his jazz influences. Both of these identities are explored on the punchy Great Gypsy Soul, a tribute album featuring some of nastiest players in the world.
Great Gypsy Soul is produced by Greg Hampton and superman himself, Warren Haynes. Using outtakes from Bolin’s solo debut Teaser, released in 1975 (Bolin would be dead a year later), players like Haynes, Peter Frampton, Derek Trucks, Brad Whitford, Sonny Landreth, Joe Bonamassa, and John Scofield create a seamless patchwork including Bolin’s original vocals and playing. The standout tracks are Teaser (with Haynes), Savannah Woman (with John Scofield), Smooth Fandango (with Derek Trucks), and Lotus (with Joe Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes, and Nels Cline). The second bonus disc features work by all of the guests in a four piece rock opus entitled Marching Bag.
Aside from being outstanding tracks, these tunes encompass the spectrum that Bolin’s playing transcended. Teaser is a straightforward, good time rocker with an air of nostalgia around it. It makes you want to cruise around in a Camaro and sneak away with the girl next door. Haynes’ bottleneck work flows smoothly with the groovy saunter that was laid down nearly forty years ago.Savannah Woman with Scofield is a sultry, latin-infused jazz tune. Scofield runs his fingers across this tune with expertise and flavor. Savannah Woman proves why “Sco” is a card-carrying member of the elite club for those to have played on at least three Miles Davis albums. Smooth Fandango is an instrumental that weaves its way from checkpoint to checkpoint. Although a terrible cliché, Trucks’ playing truly needs no introduction. His scorching slide work shrieks against a jazz-fusion backdrop that features angular, Monkesque drums and piano work. An incredibly complex texture is built as Trucks’ raga influence climbs with American guitar grooves, dissonant harmonies, 70’s AM radio synth, and a bebop foundation. Lotus is a bittersweet and ambient piece with reggae impressions that explodes during its raw and turbulent chorus. It grows the whole time, blossoming into a showcase of tone and chops. Bonamassa is a monster. Glenn Hughes, who was in Deep Purple with Bolin post Machine Head and is in Black Country Communion with Bonamassa, wails throughout. And Nels Cline proves that he is tremendously underrated as a balls-out player due to his sometimes subdued and marvelous work in Wilco. Clines belongs here.
Great Gypsy Soul is billed not as a tribute album per se, but rather as “Tommy Bolin and Friends.” This makes sense, as the album sounds less like a tribute album than it does a party. Bolin’s songs are rare in the sense that they would sound just as meaningful if played in a club or in an arena. This is a testament to the colors touched upon by his diverse “friends.” Tommy Bolin died young and left so many without an opportunity to hear him play his (too) few songs. But decades later, Great Gypsy Soul verifies that his playing still comes to life, and as evident by this album and the great performances on it, can inspire life too.
“TOMMY BOLIN WAS MY FRIEND AND GUITAR HERO... I WAS HONORED TO HAVE MADE MUSIC WITH THE MAN... HE LIVES AND PLAYS ON IN OUR HEARTS!”
Prairie (Wild Dog) Prince
"Tommy Bolin was one the guys that early on opened the doors and defined the sound of Jazz Rock, only when I got envolved in this tribute record I realized how important he was and still is to the guitar world!"
"Having the opportunity to sing over the original multitrack of Dreamer was a huge honor. I feel equally as honored to perform on a record that includes some of my favorite artists in the world. This was a great experience."
“It was surreal to me, being in that darkened studio, having Warren and Greg tell me where to play with phrases like, "You just start to solo after Tommy plays that riff..." I loved Tommy Bolin since I heard him play on the Zephyr band recording in the 60's! It was weird to be playing along with his old takes on this tribute album, but I sure am glad they had the patience to hook me up to play on this. They made it easy, whereas it could have been a real headscratcher for me to figure what to play without their guidance. Can't wait to hear the whole thing!”
"I was very honored to be asked to play on this tribute for a few reasons. One, Tommy was way ahead of his time as a player – I am a fan of his hybrid playing and Billy Cobham's Spectrum was a big influence on me as a guitar player and the whole genre of fusion in the 70's. Also, because the track I played was with my dear departed brother Jeff Porcaro on drums which made this a wonderful yet surreal experience that touched my heart. I am thankful that I was asked and it brought so many memories in so many ways. God Bless Tommy and Jeff, and many thanks To Greg and Warren for asking me to be a small part of this history"
"Tommy Bolin's guitar playing was so ahead of its time that we are now just feeling the significance of it. I am honored to be on this record with my friend and fellow band mate Glenn Hughes. This session will go down as one of my all time favorites! Thanks Warren and Greg for inviting me!"
"Tommy Bolin. He blew me away when I heard the first Zephyr album way back whenever it was released. His wild-but-under-control playing and mad Echoplex exploits were already in evidence! Then (of course) he shredded fusioneers' minds on Billy Cobham's Spectrum album he had jazzbos the world over running to acquire cranked-out tone, sexy vibrato, and rock 'n roll excitement. All that was so long ago... And then Tommy was gone. It's hard to believe that these tracks have emerged now, that a bunch of us got to jam with him decades later. What a universe! Check it out!"
"Tommy was, and will always be a very special person who touched our lives on his brief time on our Planet. It was very surreal to sing Lotus, and write and sing Sugar Shack on this remarkable Tribute to my late Brother... Tommy's presence was in the room, his love will shine forever, there is no brighter Star in the Sky”
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