Stanley Sheldon, interviewed by Art Connor, March 2001. Stan was a personal friend of Tommy's, played with him in ‘Energy’ and appeared on the Teaser album.
...OK, here we go! Now you and Tom Stephenson, you’re cousins right? How did the two you end up in Colorado?
Well, we met up there, we didn’t go together. We did play in an early band together. Our mothers are sisters. That’s how we’re cousins. Then we split up, and I was playing in sort of a psychedelic blues band and he was playing in more of horn-oriented band. Around here in the Midwest, there were a lot of horn bands.
Kind of on the order of Chicago and The Ides of March?
Exactly. So he was doing that for a while and he was meeting some players that I haven’t met, some people from up around Sioux City. He hadn’t met Tommy yet, but he was meeting people who knew Tommy. I, on the other hand, had befriended some other musicians that were from Colorado, here in KC in my band, and someone in Colorado needed a bass player, and I jumped at the opportunity to get anywhere from here.
So I moved to Denver, and I met these guys, and we had the piano player in common, who was moving back and forth between Kansas City and Denver, he was from KC, and he was playing in our band when he came back here. He knew the other group of guys that got me to Denver, and we had a big money backer, and that’s how I was influenced to get out there, and it was made possible, as they flew me out.
Tommy was still with Zephyr when you came out?
He was still with Zephyr, they were on the cusp, the eve of their demise. I met, or I should say I first talked to, Tommy on the phone. I moved out to Denver, and we had this mountain chalet that we were rehearsing in. Now Gerald, the singer in our band, knew Tommy because they had spent some time in Denver taking acid together and stuff like that in 1969 when Tommy first got there. (a bit of a chuckle from Stanley) He was playing with Jeff Cook and those guys in American Standard. Then after I had met Tommy, our band moved to California, the big money backer again coming into play, and he set us up on the beach right in the Pacific Palisades. We had this beautiful house and all of the instruments we wanted, but the band wasn’t really very good! (Stanley chuckles at the memory of this)
Anyway, Zephyr was doing their last show opening for Mountain at the Santa Monica Civic Center, and we actually met face to face, and he came over and started hanging out. He brought this drummer Frosty with him one day. Frosty from Lee Michaels, do you remember them? They were a duo.
I remember Lee Michaels, You Know What I Mean is a classic, a big hit single for him.
Exactly, and Frosty was a fantastic drummer. Tommy was already attracting the best musicians even back then. So he brought Frosty over and we had a three-way jam with just bass, drums and guitar in our Pacific Palisades shanty up on the bluffs in this really beautiful house. And then Tommy flew back to Denver, I stayed there in California for a couple more months, before the big money backer got sick of giving us big money, and then we went back to Colorado. We all loaded up the truck, and moved on back to Boulder.
Just like the album title, Going Back To Colorado.
Yeah, how about that! It was right after they had recorded that too. They broke up pretty much right after that album came out. Tommy had been to New York when they were doing that album, and he had met Jeremy Steig and Jan Hammer.
Now at that point, Tommy wanted to do nothing more than play with a fusion band. That’s when he met my cousin, when he was back in Boulder. Tom had played in a horn band back in Kansas with this guy John Bartle, another Sioux City friend of Tommy’s.
John’s name seems to show up intermittently and then again later on in that whole Colorado scene.
He was out there with Joe Walsh auditioning, so it was kind of like we were all drifting in and out of Boulder.
So Colorado was kind of like a melting pot back then, before everyone kind of blew out and went their separate ways.
Well, it was a real mecca for us. We thought it was great. Steve Stills was there, a lot of musicians lived there, but Stills was probably the most notorious one. I actually met his manager, and my first work in the “real show business” was with Stephen, I got to fly down to Miami of all places.
Stephen always seemed to like to record at Miami’s Criteria Studios for much of his solo stuff.
That’s right, it was at Criteria where we worked, he loved that place because Eric Clapton recorded there. He liked to do everything Eric did.
We all know of the classic lineup of Energy that included you, Tommy, your cousin Tom Stephenson, Jeff Cook, and I guess Bobby Berge, but we all want to know about the possible other members. In The Ultimate documentary, Mike Drumm says that in first version of Energy, the band was totally instrumental. Is that true from what you remember?
That is true. Now, interestingly enough, when I was still hooked up with that other band, the one with the money backer, I felt indebted to them because this guy had given us all of that money. So, when we came back to Boulder, I wanted to play with Tommy, but he hadn’t really asked me yet, but I wanted to do it. Now my cousin Tom, he had come out through a recommendation through John Bartle, and Tommy met my cousin Tom. So I was bit miffed, and I was thinking, “Damn, my own cousin! I’ve known Tommy longer than him, and he’s already playing with him!” And, they had Kenny Passarelli, who was going to be the bass player.
Wow! That is on the list of questions here, if Kenny was in the band or going to join.
Now check this out, I had forgotten who else was in town. Besides Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh had just moved there. Now Kenny was an old friend of Tommy’s from the American Standard days in Denver, because Kenny is from Denver. Tommy had always thought Kenny was going to play with him, because Kenny is a very good bass player.
Right, he has played with Joe Walsh, Stephen Stills, and Elton John, and so many more people.
He’s the guy that recommended me to Peter Frampton. Joe Walsh had just arrived into town and he heard about Kenny. And Tommy, he was such a generous person musically, or he liked me better or something, but he recommended Kenny to Joe! He said “Here, take my bass player, he’s the best bass player in town.”
OK, this is all before Tommy joined the James Gang, and Joe kind of returned the favor a few years later when he recommended Tommy to the James Gang.
This is way before the James Gang. This is the set up for that instrumental fusion band, before Jeff Cook was in it.
Now how did Gary Wilson come to be in the band?
Well, we were just a fusion band of just four players, me and Bobby and Tommy and Tom, and we played instrumental jazz-rock, before there was even a name or fusion was even a term. Tommy had been on that cusp of young innovators in New York, with Jeremy Steig and Jan Hammer, and that’s what he wanted to do, he wanted to play Jazz-Rock! But there came a point when we wanted a great singer if people were really going to relate to us. We were going to have to get a singer, because Tommy also had that desire to be a big rock star. He knew he couldn’t do that without a singer.
It’s funny, because on the Tribute Concert video, Gary Wilson, he was really good! I remember sending around an email, saying, “Alright, where has he been for the past twenty years, and how come he never really broke through?” No one had an answer.
Gary Wilson was a motherfucker! It’s too bad that we... (Stanley pauses here to think about his answer) It almost came down to a racial thing in the end. But not really, I think of all people musicians are the least concerned about skin color.
We loved Gary’s voice. Actually I thought he was going to be the guy to put us over, because he had such a strong voice. But as it turned out, it seemed like Gary was having a difficult time making that fusion leap. You know what I mean? He was sort of, more like a pure Marvin Gaye, kind of R&B schooled guy.
Right, and down the road when Tommy came full circle with his music and styling, it would have worked.
It could have worked at any point in time, it’s just that I don’t think any of us were flexible enough, or visionary enough to see how the pieces could work. So instead I think we opted for more of a standard kind of “Paul Rodgers” Anglo type of singer.
That’s where Jeff Cook comes in.
Yep, and that’s where Jeff came, because he had that tone with his voice. Unfortunately, he could only hit about three notes.
(Trying not laugh) OK, I wasn’t going to go there, but I thought Gary was the better singer! (both of us now laughing)
Gary was a WAY better singer!
Jeff had other qualities, the important one being his lyrics.
His lyrics and his tonal qualities were very good. He sang a couple versions of Dreamer, and OK, he didn’t have the greatest range and all, but he did have some character to his voice.
He had the heart and emotion to pull it off.
To tell you something here, I remember this kind of painful thing when we had tell Gary we were going to try some other singers. I think it hurt him a lot, and it hurt us to tell him. But, he’s a great guy. When he did come back and do that Tribute Concert, he sang his ass off!
That’s what caught me when I saw that video, when he did People, People he was smoking!
Did you ever hear the original version of Red Skies back from the day? Now, that’s an awesome track. That’s really the only track that we ever got down that I thought should be heard.
I guess because the band was a little ahead of its time, was that the reason there was never a recording contract?
Exactly, nobody knew what to do with us, they couldn’t pigeon hole us. We were playing in bars with like ten people sitting there with their mouths wide open, saying “What are they doing?!” But we were having the greatest time.
Now moving on to some other people here. Was Max G, Max Carl, Max Gronenthal — whoever he wants to be, was he ever in the band as Energy?
Oh yes! He was in the band. Max came in at a time when we were all kind of cathartic, because my cousin Tom had wanted to work his way to the top of the music business, and he was going to get there at any cost. And he left Tommy, because he saw an in with Joe Walsh, and he had to take it. I don’t hold any grudges against Tom for doing that. He just wanted to move up the ladder, and he was friends with Rocky Grace, who was the piano player in Joe’s band, and my cousin had also met him back in the horn band. He and my cousin also played together in a band called the Red Dogs.
Now this is what was to become Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm?
Exactly, so Tom sort of got in with Joe at that point. And we had just brought Max out to be our singer because we wanted to replace Jeff! But I can’t remember where we got to the point where Jeff was out, I’m blanking on that one.
(Editor’s note: At this point in the interview, Stanley and I got into a conversation about Jeff Cook. He offered to call Jeff to ask him about it and clarify what really happened, but we both decided that maybe it was better to leave it alone, since to this day Stanley feels it is still a touchy subject.)
At any rate, Jeff was out and Max has just arrived here, he was another one of these guys from back home, he’s from Nebraska. Funny, his dad sold John Deere farm vehicles and my dad sold International Harvester equipment, so we had a lot in common that way, and he loved R&B too, and he could sing his ass off as you know. But he came out, Tom had left to go play with Joe, and we were just trying to keep Energy together. Max came in, we were together at least six to eight months, maybe even a year. We recorded some songs Tommy and Max had written together.
...Now Archie Shelby and Jeremy Steig had to be somewhat involved here somewhere.
Archie is from Sioux City, old friend of Tommy’s, he probably had known him from high school. He was there for a while.
Now the legend goes Tommy “stole” the name Energy from Jeremy.
That’s correct! When we were first putting Energy together, that’s when Tommy had been in New York with Jeremy, and they did gigs back in Boulder even before my cousin got here, just like months before. Jeremy and Tommy and Kenny Passarelli played fusion gigs together.
This was all in the time span of 1971 to 1973?
Yes, absolutely. And maybe even late 1970 when Tommy and I were first rubbing shoulders.
Jim has a cassette recording of an FM broadcast entitled “Live In The Rockies.” The lineup is supposedly you, Tommy, Marty Rodriguez, Guille Garcia, and David Sanchez. It was broadcast in 1973, do you know anything about this performance? Only Jim Wilson could find this one!
Well, I remember when those guys were here, when they came to Denver and Boulder... I don’t remember that particular gig. I know we did do a few gigs, but mostly I remember Tommy and I were still searching for that singer. And Mike Finnigan, you know who Mike is?
Yes, very famous keyboard player with a lot of big name acts.
Yeah, and probably the greatest white blues singer on the planet.
He did some great work with CSN, and again that whole Denver-Stephen Stills connection.
Mike is kind of like an icon from back here in Kansas. He’s on such a high pedestal here, he had a band called Mike Finnigan and the Surfs for years. They were just so far ahead of their time, and Mike, he’s a black man in a white man’s body. Coming straight out of the black Baptist church and pumping that awesome B3 Hammond organ, and he is just a monster. He used to hang out with Mavis Staples, and people like that, and nobody really knows about it. He was Etta James’ musical director. Mike has deep, deep blues roots. In fact the horn bands thought he sounded too black, so he had to leave town. (laughing)
I think many of us found out about him through CSN.
Yes, he has been working with Stills and CSN for a long time. But anyway, Mike was out there when Tommy and I were trying to assemble a band with Marty Rodriguez on drums and Guille Garcia on percussion. Guille was Joe Walsh’s conga player, that’s where Tommy met him. Tommy was really getting into rhythms at this point. So we had two drummers, and a conga player, and Archie was playing bongos or something.
Sounds like you would have given bands like the Allman Brothers and War a good run for the money with the two drummers and percussion line up. Maybe even more along the lines of Santana.
We were getting into the Latin thing way before it got in vogue. Now look at me, that is all I play. I’m so enamored with the Latin beat, I’m moving to Miami.
We’ll definitely get more into that, but staying with Jim’s questions for now — he has an early version of the Tommy Bolin Band, probably late 1974 or early 1975, that consists of you, Tommy, Ronnie Barron and Terry Reid! There was at least one gig, Alphonse Mouzon was rumored to have played drums, although Alphonse claims to have never heard or been a part of this, what can you shed on this mystery band? And, there is a half song entitled Daddy Was a Jockey floating around, that is supposedly this lineup, what do you think or what do you know about this?
Now, that sounds like something Jeff wrote, Daddy Was a Jockey, And He Taught Me How to Ride. That was Jeff Cook, I think. I don’t think it’s the guys you just mentioned. That’s an old blues standard. God, I had forgotten about all of these players that Tommy was starting to attract! You’re really tweaking my memory here!
Well good! That’s what we want to do! (laughing)
I’m remembering things I haven’t remembered in over twenty years. Now you mentioned Alphonse Mouzon. At this time Tommy was starting to attract all of these incredible players. Alphonse was Larry Coryell’s drummer and that’s how Tommy met him. Tommy and Larry were becoming friends. Tommy and I were flying back and forth from LA to Denver all the time, because Barry Fey was helping us out and giving us money so we could get out there and look for players. We brought Mike Finnigan back, and we did that thing with Marty Rodriguez and those guys. Obviously we must have done some gigs somewhere. I only remember doing an audition rehearsal. Now getting back to Alphonse, we made tapes in LA at Tommy’s friend Phillip’s house.
Would that be Glen Holly Studios? What became known as the “Cucumber Jam”? Probably sometime in early 1975.
That was at Glen Holly Studios, with Alphonse, Tommy and I. I had an acetate of that, but I lost it over the years. But there is a copy that is still out there, I think Willy Dixon had a copy of it. 1975 sounds about right, because it was just before I joined Peter. It was Tommy and I, Bobby and Alphonse Mouzon. And, at the same time we had met Ronnie Barron. Ronnie was good friend of Dr. John. Now this is reminding me of another thing. Tommy had taken me into a session with Dr. John with him. I got to play bass. I still have a cassette of it. It’s me, Tommy, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), and Danny Kootch of all people.
(As I just about choke on my wine, and damn near dropped the phone!) You know what? I don’t think there may be a clean copy of that around.
Nobody has a copy of this?
Nope, not a good quality copy that I’m aware of.
You know, I’ve been carrying this old cassette around for years and years. It’s OK, there are people out there that would probably love to hear it.
You know the story about that? Dr. John wiped all of those tracks clean, never used them.
Yeah, he never ended up using any of those tracks. But we did couple versions of an interesting song called Hollywood Be Thy Name, that was a take on the Lord’s Prayer. A couple of other funky things we put down. Alphonse was the drummer on that session.
Really! I don’t know if many people know that.
We were playing some funky grooves. This was the first time where I was really feeling like, “Hey, I’m playing with these funky motherfuckers!” Tommy got me there, and I was hanging with all these guys. Even Danny Kootch, you know, you have to respect that guy, and we became pretty good friends later when I was playing with Waddy Wachtel and that clique from California, but that was after Peter.
One of the things I really wanted to ask you about was Tommy’s involvement with the James Gang. That part of Tommy’s story has always been a bit hazy. It seems at that time everyone was trying real hard to make Energy work. Now we know Joe Walsh recommended him for the gig. They did two really good albums together with Tommy using songs he wrote or co-wrote for Energy, and they did a few cross-country tours, then suddenly Tommy leaves. Even after all of this time, Jim Fox and Dale Peters are very quiet on this part of their history. Can you fill in any of the missing pieces of the story?
There really is no story in regard to the James Gang and Energy. When Tommy was asked to join The James Gang, Energy was already about to break up, and this was the “last straw.” Tommy and I always knew we would get back together at a later date, which we did with the “Tommy Bolin and Friends” shows about a year later. Also, when Tommy had fulfilled his contractual obligations with the James Gang, he returned to Boulder; and to back track to what we just talked about, this is when Marty Rodriguez, Guille Garcia, Mike Finnigan, Tommy, and I tried to form a new band.
Finnigan could not commit for he was receiving a rather high salary, at least by our standards anyway, from Dave Mason and the Melons out in LA. It was at precisely this time, December 1974, that Tommy and I, and our girlfriends (who was to become my future ex-wife) Karen and Judy, made the move to LA, with some financial help from Barry Fey. About three months later, I was auditioning for Peter and Tommy was auditioning for Purple. I think I got the first call, with Tommy close on my heels.
Speaking of the “Tommy Bolin and Friends” gigs of June 1974, were there any other shows or just the Ebbetts Field performances?
I think they are the only ones we did, the Ebbetts Field shows.
You gotta love Frampton Comes Alive.
There you go! Now, after Energy, and all of the music and musicians we just talked about, how the hell did you meet Peter Frampton? I mean his music was so different.
Well, let’s go back to Kenny Passarelli for a minute, remember I told you he recommended me? This was about the time Steve Stills and Joe Walsh were doing a double bill together, and Kenny was playing with both of them. Kenny was getting all of the work! Then Elton John asked him to play with him! Kenny was just out there.
I guess it was like, “Hey, share the wealth!”
Yeah, I remember the day I heard, I was sitting with my friend Ricky Fataar who is a drummer I had met through Tommy. We were out at Brothers Studio in Santa Monica, do you know about that period?
I can’t really say I know the whole story.
That’s just another period Tommy was recording some stuff that would eventually go on the Teaser album. We did some early versions of songs that Ricky and Tommy and I recorded. Now all of this happened on an exploratory foray out to LA before we actually moved there in December of 1974. It must have been early-to-mid 1974. I’m blanking on this a bit. But Tommy had befriended Ricky Fataar who was another Walsh alumnus and they set up a date to record. It was just the three of us on the basics, and someone, I am not sure who it was, overdubbed the keyboard parts.
The legend about those sessions is that Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys is on those tracks.
Carl Wilson was merely an observer, from what I can recall. The track I remember most vividly working on was “Wild Dogs.” Ricky has since turned into a great producer, as we can see and hear through his great work with Bonnie Raitt. You know, Grammys and everything. Anyway, that is how that all happened at Brothers, as far as my memory serves. Ricky, Tommy, and I developed a pretty strong relationship, and had we not secured our positions with Frampton and Purple we probably would have tried to do something with Ricky. He’s great guy, I’d like to talk to him sometime soon just to say “Hi.” OK, I think I strayed off there. Getting back to Kenny, it was right at that point, that he got the gig with Elton, and Peter was just starting to bubble under with his solo project.
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