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Article | Rolling Stone |
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Rolling Stone Magazine Article
Feb 26 1976

David Rensin

Los Angeles - On the cover of his first solo album, Teaser, Tommy Bolin's face is creased into a laugh that couples angelic delight and demonic perversity. Considering his career over the past few months, he has reason enough for both emotions.

When Deep Purple signed Bolin to a three-year contract as lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's replacement last August, it would have been an understatement to say that he was unfamiliar with the band. "To be honest," he said with a casual smile, "I'd never heard anything but Smoke On the Water.” Then again, he knew nothing about the James Gang when Joe Walsh recommended him for a spot in 1973.

But Bolin dismissed his odd habit: "Both groups were kind of stunned but not insulted." Bolin ignored Purple's work even after joining the band to avoid "feeling like I'm filling anyone's shoes. Purple gave me tapes but they're still wrapped up." But Purple has benefited from Bolin's ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations; seven of the ten tunes on their latest album, Come Taste the Band, were written or co-written by him. The familiar vocal gutsiness remains, but Bolin's silky guitar style - as opposed to Blackmore 's heavy-handed power riffing - has led them down softer, more melodic paths, as in Owed to G.

Onstage during their just completed Far Eastern Tour, The band appeared to enjoy the absence of the onstage animosities prevalent near the end of Blackmore's reign. In Jakarta, Indonesia, the tour was marred by the mysterious death of Patsy Collins, a roadie who was also Bolin's bodyguard. Bolin questioned labeling the death "accidental": "He fell down a locked elevator shaft in the hotel after being hit on the head. That's accidental?

But Indonesia was weird anyway. There were voodoo tents set up in the crowd against the band. I pinched a nerve in my arm and could hardly play."

Home from the tour, the 24 year old Bolin drank beer and roamed his newly leased Beverly Hills home. He was waiting until the rest of Purple returned from Europe to begin rehearsals. In the meantime there was no lack of excitement.

Along with Jeff Beck, Keith Moon, Salvador Dali and 12 roadies, Bolin was named a correspondent in Ritchie Blackmore's divorce suit against his wife, Babs. As he tugged at a single large silver hoop earring and straightened his tinted hair, Bolin conceded nothing: " I was in a drunken stupor for four days and I passed out at her place. She was always having these parties. I never fucked her or nothing."

Bolin's name has since been dropped form the suit.

Meanwhile, he's glad to be working, because unemployment is an all-too-familiar nemesis. After being booted out of high school in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1967 for refusing to cut his hair, Bolin drifted to Denver where he established a reputation for two albums with Zephyr. His next band, Energy, was often out of work because their dope-smoking audiences didn't "dance, sweat or drink." Silent spiggots and lack of firm record company interest spelt their doom, but Bolin was nonchalant. "Something," he shrugged, "always comes around."

A few months after Energy lost theirs, Bolin joined the James Gang and was working with Bill Cobham on the drummer's first solo, Spectrum. That album's jazz orientation helped Bolin continue to defy categorization.

Bolin left the James Gang ("It was no longer a learning process") in August 1974 and mostly lived off royalties until joining Purple. During that year he recorded Teaser, which Atlantic released in November on the Nemperor lable. Featuring some diverse talents as saxophonist David Sanborn, percussionist Airto (unlisted), drummers Michael Walden and Prairie Prince (of the Tubes) and keyboardist Jan Hammer, the album explores white reggae and Latin rhythms along with standard grinding rock. Most tunes were written by Bolin with either Jeff Cook or John Teasar - his regular collaborators outside Deep Purple. A single is due in February and Teaser is expected to go gold by summer.

A second Purple Tour - 32 American dates plus shows in England - began January 14th. It will be followed by another American hop beginning April 8 th, to promote Teaser. Then it's back into the studio for a second solo venture and ultimately another Purple Album.. "I have the best of both worlds. I can make money with Purple and be as artsy as I want on my own," Bolin bragged unabashedly. Then he put on another record and sank down into his thick green carpet to mull over a rock paper headline that screamed "Bolin Breaks Big."

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