When did you first meet Tommy?
Tommy just appeared!
I had a band called Crosstown Bus and we were rehearsing in the basement of a dress shop in downtown Denver on a snowy winter night. I kept hearing the door upstairs rattling and went up to investigate. Standing at the door was a kid (16 at the time) with a guitar. I opened the door and he said "Hey Man can I come in and jam?" I tried to blow him off at first, we were a few years older and I assumed he was not as good as we were. But he persisted and I let him in. He plugged in and started to play and we were flabbergasted at his skill. Needless to say, the very next day we had a new guitar player in the band. That was the beginning of a relationship that continued until his untimely death.
How would you best sum up your time with Energy?
It was a period of great growth, unlimited experimentation and huge ups and downs. As a band, Tommy lifted us all up as musicians and there were no rules, no egos and no leaders. Tommy always was a positive presence never trying to tell us what to play or trying to control the band. We just all were steeped in the process of becoming what he later called his favorite band. The music we were playing was not typical of the music that other bands in Denver were playing at the time. We did what I call blues based,metal jazz fusion which was edgy in those days. Most audiences and club owners were not accustomed to hearing that. In fact, most of the clubs we played in usually had safe cover bands that played the hits of the day. Needless to say, we were fired from many of the clubs we played including some of the clubs that later payed us very well to come back! Barry Fey managed us and we were able to do a lot of opening gigs with the big artists that were coming through Denver at the time and that was a great opportunity for us to learn about stage presence, dealing with a concert crowd and compare our chops with some of the greatest players out there at the time.
We came very close to a record deal with Columbia which fell through and then Tommy got the James Gang offer so that changed the course of things radically. We continued to play as Energy whenever Tommy was off the road with them and that's where we crafted many of the songs that were later recorded by James Gang, Deep Purple and on Tommy's solo records. Most of the members of Energy would agree that Energy was a very special band and audiences were beginning to recognize that fact, as well. On a good night, Energy was as good a band as there was out there playing.
What did you think of the ‘Energy’ CD released by the Archives in 1999?
Of course, I think it falls short of capturing the very best of Energy as a band. This material was never intended for release and I think our standards would have been much higher and we could have made a really good Energy record had we been given the chance. That being said, I am glad there is something out there that documents what we were doing. Tommy never played better and with such abandon as he did with Energy. Somehow there was the right chemistry and he felt free to do whatever moved him. In my opinion, the origional Tommy guitar solo on Dreamer, that we did as a demo, was the greatest example of his brilliance as a player. He once told me that he could never recreate that solo, even on his Teaser album, and I believe that was because Energy moved him to higher creative levels because of the love and trust we had with each other.
Many see Tommy’s contributions to Billy Cobham’s Spectrum as a highpoint in his career, and obviously you were playing with him simultaneously with Energy. Do you think that around this time was his creative peak?
Well, that's a loaded question. I don't think Tommy lived to reach his creative peak. The Spectrum cd certainly was the very best Tommy guitar solo stuff ever recorded, I believe. Of course, it was done without a lot of forethought. They recorded that album over the course of two days with very little rehearsal. I have been told that Tommy was the only one at the recording session that couldn't read music and Jan Hammer had to hum or play the lines of the song to. Tommy was a quick study and I am sure he nailed it right away. What makes this recording special in my mind is the feeling of spontaneity that permeates the album. It's complicated music that feels almost improvised. Tommy was a master of staying in the moment and playing what was the perfect thing at the perfect time.
Any memorable stories you want to share of your time together with Tommy?
Many of them I can't tell!
Here are a couple... I used to work at the Denver Folklore Center which was 3 store fronts- one was a music instrument shop, another was a concert hall and the third was the record store I worked in. Well, one day Tommy was in the music instrument shop playing the guitar and in walks Gatemouth Brown the legendary Texas blues player. Now, Gate was a character and he comes in and sees this 16 year old kid playing ‘Take 5’ the Brubeck classic on GUITAR! I don't think he or anyone of us had seen anyone do that! Well, these two were drawn together like magnets and they spent most of the next few hours together trading licks, laughing and playing all kinds of music.
At one point, they would ask anyone who came in the door to make a request and they both promptly played it! Blues, Bluegrass,Rock, Jazz or Country, it didn't matter, they would just smile and start playing the song note for note. One guy even requested Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White an old chestnut of a song and they nailed it.
I guess my favorite story might be that during the time Tommy was in LA. and before he recorded the Teaser album. We used to ocasionally write songs over the phone! He in L.A. and me in Denver. Well, at that time Tommy had a rigorious schedule with rehearsals, gigs with James Gang and of course the very busy social scene with L.A. groupies and low lifes. Well, one evening we got on the phone and were kicking around what was to become the song Teaser. He would play the lick to the song and I would throw him lines. We would go back and forth hammering it out. At one point I got stuck on a line for the chorus and took a good 10 - 15 minutes to work it out. Once I did, I said " Hey T. what about this and I read him the line. There was another moment or two of silence and then I heard him snoring. He had fallen dead asleep right in the middle of our writing session! Of course, I didn't take offense and we finished the song another day but I have always wondered if I should have stuck with that line She's A Teaser and she's got no heart at all – I mean, it put him to sleep!!!!
When Tommy joined the James Gang in 1973 he took some Energy material with him which featured on James Gang Bang! in 1973. What do you think of the results?
I don't think anyone would argue that the best of the two James Gang albums he did with them was BANG. He was still playing and experimenting with slide, feedback and ecoplex a lot. These things became his trademarks, as a player. We had written several songs that ended up on that album. Must Be Love - which was the first single and the only song we wrote to get Top 40 play. I about died when I saw it climbing the charts at KIMN, the Denver station that I had listened to growing up! That song was a send up that I wrote because Tommy always carried a picture of Elvis in his wallet. Not pictures of girls, a picture of Elvis!! So Must Be Love was written to be sort of a Elvis style stutter vocal and Roy nailed it.
Alexis was another song on that cd that I believe was the first time Tommy sang on an album. That song has resonated so much with people over the years and I am really suprised someone hasn't covered it. I truly hope that someday an artist will record that song and make it a hit. As an aside, the lyrics of that song I wrote so many years ago came TRUE! I moved to the South, married a girl younger than myself and of course, we named our first child ALEXIS! Had to do it!
Were you surprised when he took the Deep Purple gig?
Yes and No... on one hand it was a great opportunity to join a World Class International Rock Band and it payed well. On the other hand Ritchie Blackmore was considered a Guitar God and I can't imagine how hard it must have been to stand before an audience everynight that was constantly judging you against their guitar hero. That took Giant Balls and Tommy did it.
We will never know the toll it took on him. It threw this young, kind and gentle kid into a huge sea of hustlers, money grabbers, dealers, whores, liars, snarky press people, questionable legal arrangements, and the kind of false glamour rock star crap that helped take him down.
What did you think of David Coverdale’s reworking of Lady Luck, featured on 1975’s Come Taste the Band by Deep Purple? (Lady Luck, an established song on Energy’s set-list)
Well, again it was good and it was bad. Who wouldn't want writing credit on a Deep Purple album. They were huge and the upside potential was great, However, Coverdale just made up the lyrics rather than getting a copy of what I had written. The song origionally was about someone from the Tobacco Road kind of life pleading with Lady Luck to give him a break. It was meant to be a John Steinbeck kinda rock song. However, changing the lyrics sorta sucked the life out of the song, to me.
Did you have much contact with Tommy after Energy and were there plans for you to co-write songs for future projects?
We wrote all the time and planned on doing so forever. I had less and less face time with him as he was so busy with JG, DP, solo gigs, recording and all. However, as a friend, he was true blue. We always got together when he was in town. We talked on the phone and we were close even though he was slipping more and more into the addiction. I have no doubt that were he alive today, I would still be banging out lyrics for him.
How did you find out about Tommy’s passing?
I first heard the news on the radio and very shortly thereafter from other members of Energy. I remember, I called my Father and he came to get me and we drove to a park and I just cried on his shoulder for hours. My Mother passed away when I was 8 and this hit me just as hard. It is hard to explain but when you collaborate with someone on a creative level, you become like soul mates. Almost closer than family because you don't get to choose your family but you do get to choose who you work with. We had the ability to communicate on a very deep level. He knew what I was trying to say lyrically and could speak the same language with the music. That is rare and precious! I have never been able to cowrite with another person. I have been in the music business for 30+ years now and believe me I have tried. It defies descritption. You just resonate with someone or you don't. It can't be forced.
I was finally able to do some collaborating by singing on an album with the INCREDIBLE Allen Toussaint. We made a record called the Rhythm & Groove Club which featured many of Allen's lesser known New Orleans R & B songs. It was very freeing working with someone of that caliber again. I thought about Tommy a lot during those sessions and he had the same kind of natural gift for creativity that Toussaint clearly possesses, as well.
Given that’s it’s 36 years since his passing, are you surprised at the current level of interest in Tommy’s career?
Surprised NO! He deserves it and plenty of people like Johnny Bolin, Greg Hampton, Warren Haynes and others are seeing to that!!! He was a great musician and should be remembered for the very small body of work he left behind. That takes work and commitment to nuture the opportunities and sieze the chances to spread the word. Have you seen the Japaneese version of the Great Gypsy Soul ? It's a beautiful piece and it appears someone over there loves Tommy, too. So I am not suprised, I am PLEASED! Again, I believe at some point someone will cover Dreamer, Alexis or one of those songs and it will reignight interest all over again in these songs. For God's sake, Motley Crue recorded Teaser and released it about 8 times on different cds. That tells me the music is durable and with Warren cutting it again, it leaves no doubt that it is!!
Any one moment come to mind when Tommy's name comes up?
Oh, it comes up every day, in one way or another. However, I can tell you it always comes up when I count my blessings! He came along out of the blue and lifted up our lives. He was a great musician but more than that he was a real quality human being. Giving, kind, humble, fearless, caring... extraordinary in many ways. He was a teacher to me on a lot of levels and I treasure every moment that I spent with him. What a gift to be able to have known and worked with such a pure talent and gifted human.
Favorite piece of work you collaborated on?
There are so many that I love. Here's my short list Dreamer, Alexis, Gypsy Soul, Sweet Burgandy. These showed the other side of Tommy. The softer and sensitive side as a player.
Of course, Teaser, The Grind, Must Be Love as Rockers. Here are two I WISH I had written - Savannah Woman (When will John Tesar finally get credit on an album for this?) and Post Toastee (I should have thought of that, I was doing it at the time! ) :)
Interview with Jeff Cook, June 2012.
Jeff was a close friend of Tommy Bolin. He was vocalist with Energy and co-wrote many songs with him, including, ‘Dreamer’ & ‘Alexis’
Below graphics are from a Slideshow I created and feature a closeup of Jeff's snakeskin boots from the days
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