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Tommy Bolin

It's hard to listen to the music of Tommy Bolin and not wonder what could've been if the exceptionally talented (and versatile) guitarist hadn't succumbed to a senseless drug overdose at the age of 25 -- just as his career appeared to be taking off. In a recording career that lasted only several years, Bolin not only touched upon several styles (blues-rock, ballads, fusion, funk, reggae, and heavy metal), but showed that he could master each one -- as evidenced by his two solo albums and various recordings with the likes of Zephyr, Billy Cobham, Alphonse Mouzon, the James Gang, Deep Purple, and Moxy. Born in Sioux City, IA, on August 1, 1951, Bolin tried the drums and piano as a youngster, but by the age of 13 began playing the guitar. It wasn't long before he was jamming with local rock outfits, and three years later he was expelled from school for refusing to cut his long hair. Undeterred, Bolin relocated to Denver, CO, where he formed his first real band, American Standard. By the end of the '60s, Bolin found himself in the blues-rock outfit Zephyr, led by Candy Givens.

Despite high hopes, the group was never able to translate their local success from coast to coast (despite Bolin's talents supposedly grabbing the attention of guitarists whom Zephyr opened up for -- including Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page). After a pair of albums that failed to attract a large audience, 1969's self-titled debut and 1971's Going Back to Colorado, Bolin left Zephyr. Interested in the burgeoning jazz fusion scene (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Miles Davis, etc.), Bolin formed a similarly styled outfit, Energy. But apart from live shows and demos, Energy failed to secure a recording contract. Word on Bolin's guitar ability was beginning to spread amongst musicians, however, and Mahavishnu drummer Billy Cobham invited the young guitarist to play on his solo debut, Spectrum. Issued in 1973, the album became an instant fusion classic, as Bolin's fiery guitar work lit up such tracks as the over-the-top "Quadrant Four," "Stratus," and "Red Baron." Spectrum also proved to be an important stepping stone for other guitarists (allegedly, it inspired Jeff Beck to issue such similarly styled albums as Blow by Blow and Wired), and for Bolin's career as well, as he would land gigs with such renowned hard rock acts as the James Gang and Deep Purple solely on the strength of his playing on the album.

Bolin was hired by the James Gang to get their career back on track; after founding guitarist Joe Walsh had left the group in 1971, the remaining members had seen their fortunes slowly fade. And while Bolin's arrival didn't return the group back to the top of the charts, a pair of quite underrated albums were issued, 1973's Bang and 1974's Miami, as the guitarist also sang lead for the first time on record. It was also around this time that Bolin adopted a flashy image on-stage -- complete with feather outfits, nail polish, and multi-colored hair. Shortly after the release of his second album with the James Gang, Bolin left the band, as he'd grown discontent with their musical direction. Relocating to Los Angeles, CA, Bolin supplied guitar to another fine fusion release, Mind Transplant by ex-Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon. It was also around this time that Bolin secured a solo recording contract, but a phone call from Deep Purple was just around the corner.

With the departure of Ritchie Blackmore in 1974, Deep Purple suddenly found themselves without a guitarist. When the group's singer, David Coverdale, remembered hearing impressive guitar work on the Spectrum album, Bolin was tracked down, offered a tryout, and landed the gig with Purple immediately. As a result, Bolin was often doing double-duty in recording studios -- working on both his solo debut (Teaser) in Los Angeles and his Purple debut (Come Taste the Band) in Germany. Both recordings were issued in 1975, but like the James Gang gig beforehand, Bolin's tenure with Purple was short-lived, as they split up a year later.

It was no secret amongst his friends and fellow musicians that Bolin had developed a dangerous addiction to hard drugs throughout the early to mid-'70s, which only worsened by 1976 (so much so that some wondered if he had a death wish). Bolin continued working at a breakneck pace, however, issuing his second solo outing, Private Eyes, and also guesting on the self-titled debut by Canadian Led Zeppelin clones Moxy. Sadly, Bolin was found dead from a heroin overdose on December 4, 1976, in Miami, FL (the day after opening a show for Jeff Beck), at the age of 25.

In the years following his death, musicians continued to name-check Bolin as an influence, while a career-spanning box set saw the light of day in 1989, The Ultimate, and seven years later, a collection of rarities/outtakes, From the Archives, Vol. 1. Bolin's brother, Johnnie Bolin, began issuing a steady stream of archival releases, via the Tommy Bolin Archives Inc. label, and launched an official website in his brother's memory, The '90s also saw the emergence of annual Tommy Bolin tribute concerts -- featuring performances of musicians who played alongside the late guitarist 20 years earlier, as well as such classic rock acts as Black Oak Arkansas. 2008 was a busy year for new Bolin-related releases, as Friday Music issued an exhaustive three-disc set of rarities, The Ultimate: Redux, Dean Guitars issued a Tommy Bolin Teaser Tribute Guitar, and a book was released that chronicled Tommy's entire life, Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Tommy Bolin Fest - August 8, 2015, Ickey Nickle Bar, Sioux City, IA. There will also be fan jams on 8/6 & 8/7 at the Rodeway Inn, where most guests for the fest stay!!
I grew up in Iowa, but ironically I heard Tommy Bolin for the first time when I was stationed in West Germany in the mid 70's. I was a big fan as soon as I heard him. He died shortly after I had the pleasure of hearing him.
all Tommy Bolin fans go to youtube and type in ''Tommy BOLIN flying fingers'' Jeff Beck was inspired by Tommy and said'' the man was innocent to a fault'' ... if u like flying fingers let me know i know more ...
Never really got into Tommy Bolin my mistake so sad he died so young
A promising career and possible legacy cut short by the powders that be in the music industry. Such a waste.
Teaser nothing better
You know that this fellow loved life, it is so sad he has been gone ,but if you are listening to this music he will always be .thanks tommy
I grew up with Tommy's music , I am from Sioux City ,Ia and there will never be another like him , he is with the likes of Jimmy Paige AWESOME
Other than the Purple stuff, most don't realize all the bands he was involved with. Love to play Billy Cobham's Spectrum record for my friends and have them think it's Jeff Beck on guitar.
i got turned on too Tommy Bolin in the 70's what an awsome guitarist and musician you are not forgotten
Post Toastee..... excellent jam!!!!
I am new to Pandora, and I am happy to see how many others feel about Tommy's music!!!! I grew up listening to his music along with Jef Beck and Steve Rays - anyhoo, makes me happy to know others enjoy quality rock rif's and, btw- R I P Mr. Johnny Winters, after decades of master piece Rock and Roll, you will be missed
amazing man
Dreamer I know what your thinking...
Brilliant guitarist - If you know fretwork the solo on Lotus will make your hair stand on end! Then again it is so good that you could be a visitor from another planet with no idea of what a guitar is and it would blow you away. There are many great guitarists who have passed before their time but outside of Jimi and Duane Allman I can't think of anyone I miss more than Tommy. Think of Jeff Beck with a dash of Roy Buchanan and you might come close.
Oriental Sky (Lotus) instrumental , on Definitive Teasers, is one of the greatest tracks ever. Stunning!!
One of the most underrated musicians ever!
Still loving Tommy after all these years. I just got on Pandora for the first time and here I am listening to him at work.
I love to play Tommy Bolin to my friends, and watch their reaction It's like a huge discovery! Whoa jk, what the hell is this? Fantastic!
There will never be another Tommy Bolin. Long live all of his songs. Memories last forever..
God! What if?.....
Master of frets & hot licks, whoa !
Bring it on Youngblood Wannabes, if ya can do Tommy Bolin, ur on ur way 2 da big time deal of success
As much as I love Deep Purple, I still consider Come taste the Band, the record Tommy Bolin played guitar on, my favorite through and through. Still the only version of Deep purple I ever got to see.
The one bad thing about Pandora..... y o u can't have more than a 100 stations.... . . w h a t the @#&* is up with that.......I have to get rid of people like Tommy Bolin cause I have all of his work on vinl
He was one hell of a talent and I still playTeaser on regular rotation. It seems that the very best of the guitar wizards by by the way of drugs....suc h a shame because it robbed the world of a endless great work from a young man who was more creative with each passing day. I will be a Tommy Bolin fan until my days have all passed...... . T O M M Y BOLIN IS AN AXE VICTIM
undisputed! I was just a kid in '83 when i was turned on to the greatest axeman of all time--many thanks to my music mentors...I' v e worn out at least a half-dozen each of private eyes and teasers, and theyre gettin hard to find--cd versions suck...long live vinyl! And long live the legend of tommy mother-f**ki n children and grandchildre n WILL know this man also. It is our duty to keep HIS name alive...carr y on, Mr. Bolin, it is truly an honor to know you through your art. r i p.
He didn't die of an overdose, he was murdered
Hello again. Love all of Tommy's tunes
It wasn't heroin that killed Tommy Bolin. If it was not outright murder, then it was booze and pills, not heroin. I tend to lean toward the outright murder theory, myself. Listen to such songs as People, People and Brother, Brother, and you tell me if he wasn't felling threatened. Not every rock star dies of an heroin overdose.
Shake the devil. What a cool riff. So are Marching powder, Homeward strut, Owe'd to 'G', etc. What a GREAT TALENT at such a young age.
Here 'em howl! If Tommy's music doesn't stir you soul check your pulse.
i wich he was still here
black sabith his brother still plays with them thry ar so allsem
i was born in sioux city iowa iv heard tommy play he was a good player and singer whats more importend he was my best freand i miss him so much i love tommie
Tommy Bodacious Bolin!!!!!!!
One of my Top 3 Guitarist of all time. Have most of his stuff on vinyl and cd's. Got to see him with Deep Purple in Feb of 76 at the Miami Jai Lai Fronton where sadly I saw the final performance of his young life. He was definitely one of the Greatest Guitar Players Ever!
Sioux City bred, corn fed Iowa guitar boy!
TB is one of the best all time. How ese could Deep Purple replace Richie Blackmore.. Dealer is a great song
one of the best!!!!
Amazing player! He was taken much too too young!
I discovered his work on vinyl "Spectrum" with Billy Cobham back when I was about 15 in 1976. Got the cassette IN ABOUT '79, and looked for the CD for about 10 years. Wore that CD out aNd now I have 2 copies on vinyl again. His work is AWESOME! Tommy, I hope you are still shredding up there Bro!
Got them all and have listened too many times to remember, but I never fail to be dazzeled. Teaser and Come Taste the Band are 2 of my all time favorite to listen to on vinyl. Alexis is one of the prettiest songs ever. A cautionary tale of what could heve been. Rock on tommy wherever you are. God bless your Bro for findig and releasing some gems. Rock on.
way ahead of his time
maxineromero 1 0
Tommy is the greatest wish he hadn't left us so soon. The Teaser is a fave Cd, Alexis is the best song ever(The Ultimate)!
Got to see Tommy LIVE in Dallas, it was GREATNESS!!!
The very best there ever was, will or ever will be.
doo doo doo i remember
One of my favorite Deep Purple albums is "Come Taste the Band". Just love the songs on it. Was lucky enough to see Deep Purple with Bolin on guitar on FEb 18, 1976 w/ Nazareth opening. Great show. Got to see him one other time opening for Sanatana. Incredible to think the number of records this guy played on.
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