A Purple Problem
Deep Purple have always been my favourite default band. Since I first heard ‘Made In Japan’ and in particular ‘Stange Kind of Woman,’ I was hooked. I was quite young at the time and living in ‘isolated’ New Zealand, didn't really follow what was happening musically. I only became aware of Tommy Bolin when I saw the ‘new boy’ credited on ‘Come Taste the Band’ (CTTB). Alongside ‘Teaser’ & ‘Private Eyes,’ CTTB is one of my all time favourite releases, still is to this day, particularly in it's recently released extended glory. The subsequent release of ‘Days May Come’ (DMC) further proved to me what a brilliant choice Tommy was to replace Ritchie, no easy feat! However, the resulting world tour managed to pretty much destroy all of the initial potential that Mk 4 displayed.
I've heard MANY live tapes over the years (thanks Pascal) and cringe at a lot of what I heard. Yes, there were flashes of sheer brilliance, Some of the ‘Long Beach’ material was fantastic, their version of ‘Stormbringer’ surpassing Mk 3 by a country mile. One of my favourite tapes was the Miami gig (wish I still had that one!), and by all accounts (according to ‘Classic Rock’ scribe, Geoff Barton) the Houston gig was up there. There were obviously good patches during the NZ and Australian gigs, but, I'm sorry, the solo Tommy attempted at Western Springs in Auckland was NOTHING compared to what he was capable of. Despite the final Liverpool gig being universally panned over the years, I don't actually think it's too bad, well, not radically different from the others.
REVERT TO TYPE
Simon Robinson's liner notes on ‘DMC’ indicate that after the initial creative jamming, the band chose to revert to type in regard to the actual concert material much to Tommy's apparent dismay. It seemed that the life was been sucked out of the what was potentially a new and exciting era. As the Purple ‘juggernaut’ lumbered across the planet, rumours quickly began to circulate that not all was well. Deep Purple were like a BRAND, they began to morph into a heavy rock stereotype – a ‘machine’. There were of course the extended obligatory solos which tended to slow down any momentum the band had gained. There was the blatant posturing, the histrionic vocals (screaming/shieking) were often out of key and the song selections, were at times, baffling. Of course Purple had to play some of the old hits, but the butchering of ‘Highway Star’ on ‘Last Concert in Japan’ (LCIJ) makes me cringe just thinking of it – not to mention Glenn's take on ‘Georgia On My Mind’ during ‘Smoke’.
OUT OF CONTROL VOCALS
Tommy has taken the brunt of the blame for Mk 4's inconsistent performance, and yes, his lifestyle choices (along with Glenn) were having a detrimental effect on the band and the musical output. But I think it's unfair to single him out. Without the restraining (arguably ‘controlling’) presence of Ritchie, David Coverdale's and Glenn Hughes' vocal performances suffered. We all know the on-going battle for vocal rites between the two, but on many occasions they are simply shreiking and killing any subtelties that existed in the song's original form. They both had and still have AMAZING voices, but to hear them waste their tremendous talents was a real shame – in my view, much of the vocals were WAY below par.
The song selection will always polarise opinion. Being one of the biggest bands on the planet, they simply HAD to play certain material. Let's face it ‘Smoke’ was never NOT going to included, it was and still is one of rocks most iconic riffs. Personally I think they should've kicked off with ‘Comin Home’ – start with a new belter from the new look band. As much as I like ‘Burn’ I think ‘Comin Home’ would've shown real intent to move forward. It's a shame ‘Drifter’ wasn't a regular as they did a pretty good live rendition (Go to sound bytes on this site and hear a snippet from an Australian gig). ‘Wild Dogs’ was, for me, one of the highlights and funnily enough Tommy's dulcit (sometimes a bit off key) tones were a welcome change to the ‘shriek fest’ created by messers Hughes and Coverdale. I was surprised how much Jon dominated on the live version of ‘Homeward Strut’ and I MUCH prefer Tommy's original version compared to the ‘Purplelised’ format. It's no secret that Glenn was fighting his own personal demons at the time and his substance abuse was taking its toll on performances (and as much as I always be a huge fan), his total destruction of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ was simply... AWFUL! The aforementioned butchering of ‘Highway Star’represented Mk 4 at its live worst – stylistically it simply didn't suit the band, and Coverdale's “She's got big tits and everything’ is so bad it's almost funny!
WORST PURPLE ALBUM
Now, this IS going to p@#s off alot of people, but hey, I'm being honest here, haha. As Glenn Hughes openly states, ‘Last Concert in Japan’ (LCIJ) should NEVER have been released. It's so poorly performed, and doctored, one questions why it was even considered for release - UUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMM, MONEY! Unfortunately it was my first introduction to Mk 4 live and I was gobsmacked. Apparently the band were hammered beforehand, Tommy's playing was hampered by his injured arm, and to add insult to injury, whoever pieced the material together gave us awful snippets of things like ‘Woman from Tokyo’. Thank god for the subsequent release of ‘This Time Around’ which although far from flawless, at least gave a better representation of what they were capable of.
BLACKMORE VERSUS BOLIN
Replacing Blackmore was never going to be easy and there will naturally always be comparisons. One thing that annoys me is those on either side of the fence who rates one above the other. The two guitarists had a totally different feel and style and personally, I think it's churlish to say one is better than the other. I personally prefer Tommy's overall style of playing, but I think Blackmore was better technically, let's face it, he was certainly far more disciplined and consistent than Tommy's days in Purple. In my mind Tommy was more the consummate musician, he had more strings in his bow, and as Jon Lord commented, he certainly injected new life into a tired band.
PURPLE OR NOT PURPLE
This one always p@#ses me off! Even band members question whether CTTB is a true Purple album – OF COURSE IT BLOODY IS! Just because Ritchie was no longer in the band doesn't mean it wasn't still Purple. It's ironic that CTTB is revered more nowadays than upon it's release, I think it was very contemporary and ahead of it's time. It was made early on in the life of Mk 4 and the playing and material is sublime. It shows the band in a very creative mode, they weren't just churning out the expected lumbering riffs, they were still rocking hard but with a real sense of funk and swing. Plus they were prepared to try out new styles. I think it was a marvellous progression from where they left off with ‘Burn’ and ‘Stormbringer’. I think that the band's biggest mistake was that they didn't embrace the initial excitement and creativity, but instead decided to fall back on the safe, tried and tested’ approach.
Personally I think that Deep Purple were pretty much a spent force when Tommy joined. His flame shone briefly with them, certainly enough to ignite some much needed fire in the band and, in my mind, one of the best Purple albums ever released. Mk 4 didn't work for many reasons and I always think it unfair to point the finger at Tommy. Yes, he was a rather naughty boy at times, but I will always marvel at the moments of sheer BRILLIANCE displayed by Mk 4. When they were bad they were horrid, but when they were good, WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
TOMMY BOLIN MEMORIAL FUND
I agree with most of this Dave and I knew both Glenn and Tommy at that period of time. I saw the band twice in Dallas and Houston and they were absolutely brilliant both shows so I know what they were capable of. Unfortunately the Budokan video was very unfortunate. Tommy had injured his arm and the band were drunk on pina coladas and they were not in top form. Glenn cannot watch the video and said it should have never been released but the Deep Purple corporate machine I guess felt otherwise. The CD is much better but the video was bad timing and unfortunate. Glenn and Tommy already had plans for the next album which I heard them discussing in the dressing room at a signing appearance in Dallas and so I know both of them wanted the band to continue with them writing most of the songs. It would have been interesting to hear what they would have come up with if given the opportunity but of course it was not to be. Who knows what would have happened if they could have survived the English tour and stepped away from purple and sobered up and then carried on in a new light but we unfortunately will never know...
Glenn and Tommy were not even informed that the band has broken up and they were never informed of this by Deep Purple but by other sources later. They were still planning on the next album after the English your was over. Plus Deep Purple didn't have the courtesy to send Tommy his gold album from CTTB. He had to ask them for it!
Lynn Everett response below (after ‘A Purple problem’)
“I saw the band twice in Dallas and Houston and they were absolutely brilliant both shows so I know what they were capable of” ... More responses below...
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Dave made true statements over there. His opinion is very close to mine. I never saw the Mark IV live (I was a 4 years old kid when they splitted) but my sentiment about the rollercoaster that Purple became in their final chapter with Tommy makes me wonder how far they would go if they stayed together. maybe Tommy was still alive, maybe he would be gone later...the fact is the impact that CTTB made in my life was huge and his legacy is maybe small but survived to all trends and bs that rock music gone through in the last 40 years
Renato F Palhano
While I've never cared for the old "so and so is the best guitar player ever." I WILL say that I would put Tommy Bolin's chops and varied styles of guitar playing up against anyone, including the lauded Hendrix. That's just my opinion, though:)
This is a regular opinion piece. It is purely MY OWN VIEWS and many will disagree with me, but that's OK, as responses and open debate are always a healthy thing. If anyone is offended by what I say, I apologise, but I just want to encourage a good healthy Tommy dialogue. Please share your views by contacting us via email or by posting on our Facebook page. ALL comments welcome!