Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tommy Bolin - Teaser
I've just been informed by my "ever-right" partner here at the Ripple, the Pope, that today's review marks our 100th post (I know the counter says more, but ignore that). While maybe not worthy of a national holiday, we still thought this was a good time to thank all the waveriders out there, the bands and labels who sweat out their hearts and souls to produce the music and the readers who's words and comments make this such a fun job. We'll keep digging underneath the rocks searching for the best new, unheralded and lost classic artists we can find. Please drop us a line anytime to let us know if there's anything we could be doing to make the Ripple better, and we look forward to what the next 100 posts will bring us, and beyond.
So for our 100th post, I thought we'd go back and look at the work of a lost classic.
The world is full of great, "lost" artists. Musical geniuses who flew by too fast for the mainstream to catch up, just a fleeting burst of lightning then they were shuffled and misfiled in the archives of the past, leaving the world a bit more barren for their loss. And it's a shame, because many of these artists had such a tremendous gift to bring, yet it somehow never got heard.
And without a doubt, one guitarist who deserved to reach a larger audience was Tommy Bolin.
Just the mention of his name can provoke an extreme of reaction: On one side you'll find his devoted fans, a dedicated cult following who'll talk endlessly about the brilliance of his playing and his roll in the creation of hard rock and jazz fusion. On the other side, you'll find those who associate his name only with the demise of their favorite band, either Deep Purple or the James Gang. And then, there are those who've just never been lucky enough to hear of the guy.
So today, we'll set the record straight. There was not a guitarist who came to light in the '70's who had such a gift of tone and fluidity, or was as versatile and creative as Tommy Bolin. If history was kind, he'd be held with the same esteem as Page, mentioned with the same breath as Beck and be as revered as Clapton. Before he died, way too young at the age of 25 of a drug overdose, Bolin left behind a prodigious archive of impassioned rock and fusion that just should not be missed.
Teaser, the first of Bolin's two masterful solo albums is a recording of infinite beauty, grace and devastating power. Up until this point, Bolin's career had been one of fits and starts. Stepping in for Joe Walsh with the moribund James Gang, he couldn't save the band, even though his two Gang albums, Miami and Bang are now considered under-rated gems. And following Richie Blackmore into Deep Purple was a move destined for failure, regardless of who the guitarist was. Blackmore's fans would make sure of it, even though history has proved Bolin's one Purple album Come Taste the Band to be a rock/funk masterpiece. In truth, as talented as he was, Tommy Bolin was the wrong guitarist to have ever been brought into these bands. His style wasn't meant to be shoehorned into that of a pre-existing framework and fan base, he was a free bird, a creative whirlwind, best served flying on his own. Which is exactly what he did with Teaser.
While Bolin loved rock, and could blaze out a lead so searing it'd bring tears to your eyes, jazz/rock fusion was his first love. Let's not forget that Bolin was the guitarist on Billy Cobham's classic Spectrum album, one of the first defining moments of jazz fusion. In fact, it was Bolin's playing on Spectrum that inspired Jeff Beck to pursue fusion as his muse with his 1975 Blow by Blow. Which, by the way is the same year Teaser was released.
And on Teaser, Bolin does it all, from blazing rock, fiery jazz fusion, to rockin' blues and sentimental folk. "The Grind," starts it off with a down and dirty blues riff before dropping into a honky-tonk montage of rock and funk. Through it all, Bolin's leads cut through the mix like a surgeon's blade slicing through an organ. Nowhere will you ever hear a lead like Bolin's. His notes flow together like water pouring through Japanese ponds, blending effortlessly from one to the next. It's almost impossible to imagine what his hands looked like streaming across the fretboard to create such a magical sound. His tone is totally unique, never to be mistaken for any of the guitar God's I mentioned earlier, or any who've come since.
"Homeward Strut," is a full-on jazz fusion work out. How Bolin isn't mentioned in the same breath as Beck as the creator of fusion is a crime against humanity, but one listen to this gem will forever correct that error. Bolin is in his element here, ripping through jazz funk riffs effortlessly and joyfully. "Dreamer," slows the pace and is one of Bolin's most beautiful ballads, while "Savannah Woman," tosses some latin flavor into the mix, demonstrating Bolin's mastery of all styles and tempos. And that solo! Bring me a handkerchief, Pope, I got tears in my eyes!
The title cut "Teaser," (first video) brings the rock back on full force, by now leaving you nearly breathless with the scope of music already covered in only the first five tracks. And the album goes on from there, through the jazzy rock of "People, People," the intense fusion of "Marching Powder," the somber beauty of "Wild Dogs," (second video) until the full-on hard rock attack of the closer "Lotus." Simply put, Teaser is a stunning display of an artist at the peak of his craft, one who left us too soon. But don't take it from me, check out the videos below. I've heard some people take exception with Tommy's voice as being on the thin side, but to my ears, its perfect, a soulful, soft instrument created to bring to life the emotion in his songs.
The good news is that the Tommy Bolin archives (I believe run by his brother, correct me if I'm wrong guys) has been doing an excellent job of keeping Tommy's music alive and kicking. Seems that Bolin lived with a tape recorder permanently bolted to his side. He recorded everything except his evening prayers and the archives has been going through these amazing tapes, releasing on disc the cream of the crop, whether rare live shows, unexpected jams, recordings of his great lost band Energy or, my favorites, simple intimate moments of Tommy alone with his electric or acoustic guitar, writing and creating. Whichever mood appeals to you, do yourself a favor and click over to the archives and check it out. Some of our heroes are way too important to be lost to the passage of time.