Tommy Bolin Interview
June 28th 1975

A curious marriage of convenience. That is how the link between American lead guitarist Tommy Bolin and British speed rock band Deep Purple might appear to the casual observer. For Tommy has never seen Deep Purple perform, nor has he heard their records. Furthermore, he won't be playing any gigs with them this side of Christmas. He'll also spend much of the year packing his pick around America, touring with his own band. This would never have done in the early days of rock, when a musician virtually had to sign in blood and give over his goods, chattels and wife to join a group. But Tommy, with the light laughter of a musician waking up at 9 am in Los Angeles, explained all this week. The man who sparked the James Gang and went on to surprise jazz-rock aficionados with his remarkable playing on Billy Cobham's 'Spectrum' album, on cuts like the hair-raising 'Quadrant 4', will be recording with Purple while getting into their music. And the freedom of the arrangement means that Tommy will be able to go off and do his own things, while Purple get the services of one of the best young guitarists to emerge in a long time.

Despite his reputation and the amount of work he's put in, Tommy is only 23. And asked aboiut such subjects as study and lessons, he gives an amused drawl. "I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know one scale from another!" How did Mr. Bolin meet up with Jon Lord and his particular gang?

"I met Ritchie Blackmore about two weeks ago and he recommended me to the band (1). The thing is I've never really listened to a lot of Deep Purple records, but when I joined the James Gang it was a step forward, and Deep Purple are all amazing players, and it's another step for me. Ian Paice is an amazing drummer and I have all the respect in the world for Jon Lord. I think I will be bringing out my own individuality with the band and bring some things out in them. The LP we're making will surprise a lot of people. We start recording on August 3rd in Munich.

Before this came up I signed a deal with Nat Weiss who manages John McLaughlin, so I shall be doing my own LP in two weeks time with Mike Finnegen singing, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Stanley Sheldon on bass and Lenny White on drums (2). I can exploit my own personal ideas and work with Purple too.

No, I'm not worried about joining an English band. We all get along really well. The only complicated part is the business side. As far as the playing is concerned it works out extremely well. We first played together in LA. I guess they were kinda doing auditions, and they tried Clem Clempson, all kinds of people. I went down there, wth no sleep from the night before, and thought 'well if it happens it happens'.

What happens with The James Gang in the meantime? "They've got a new singer called Bubba, or something, and a new guitar player - I can't remember the names. I left them about a year ago and spent a long time trying to put my own band together. I auditioned tons of people, and the only people I dug were Stanley, who is now with Peter Frampton, and Finnegan. I offered them money and it got to be like bidding for a racehorse. But we're all collaborating on my new LP."

How did Tommy come to work with Billy Cobham on 'Spectrum'?

"It was really weird. I did sessions with Billy some time ago. They were like demos - this was before Mahavishnu. They were instrumentals, and he dug the way I played (3). Then he called me up out of the blue six months later. I was starving to death at the time. That album halped me a lot. That's how Ritchie first heard about me and why he called me up. 'Spectrum' to me was a kind of new music that could ave had a wide appeal. It was not as complicated as the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But after that he turned right about and went back to a jazz thing with horns.

I also did the 'Mind Transplant' album with Alphonse Mouzon. I really like the LP but every tune is about a minute too long. I think the rivalry between Cobham and Mouzon is really funny but personally I like Billy's drumming more. They play very similarly. But Alphonse has an amazing ego in the first place, and Billy plays with more sensitivity. He'd play a country and western tune if you asked him, but Alphonse is more a lead player.

We did a Dr. John LP together but it never got released - I don't know why. I heard he went back and recorded it again but it was a beautiful LP, away from all that New Orleans stuff."

Did Tommy feel the team-up with Purple would be productive?

"Oh yeah. What's good for Purple is good for me. I'll be able to do things that satisfy them and me. If there are things I want to play that don't fit Purple, I can play them on my own LPs. My first solo album should be out in September. There's no title yet, but it'll probably be under my name. It all depends on how it goes. I'm doing a couple of instrumental cuts. With the James Gang it got kinda tedious, playing the same things every night, and there was never and close communciation between us, on stage or off, and people in the audience could feel that."

When will Tommy make his live debut in front of British fans?

"The first concert won't be before Christmas (4). We won't play at all before Christmas. I'm recording my LP, flying to Munich to do the Purple LP, and then I go to LA and go out on the road with my band. Confusing isn't it? But things are working out very smoothly. I'm sleeping at nights now. Still sleeping in the days too!"

Tommy gave a sleepy chuckle, but was happy to continue rapping despite the mounting phone bill.

"I've never been to Europe and love performing. It makes me play better. So I'm very much looking forward to coming over."

How long had Tommy been playing his superior brand of geetar?

"Well I'm 23 and I've been playing for ten years. The first band I was in (and here the phone crackled a bit but it sounded like Benny And The Triumphs)... and if you print that I'll kill you! I've just accepted the fact that things take time, and you go step by step. There's light at the end of the tunnel and all of the group are looking at the same light. I want the band to sound as powerful as the old Purple but fresh. We've been jamming a lot, on all kinds of tunes, even 'Lullaby Of Birdland', just to familiarise ourselves with each other."

Interview printed in Melody Maker, June 28. 1975.

Comments [1] Although Ritchie told Tommy he'd mention his name to them, Deep Purple and their roadies say he never did so. [2] Only Hammer and Sheldon appeared on the final album, Hammer on only one cut. [3] Be nice to hear the demos some day! [4] The plans were changed and Deep Purple hit the road sooner than originally planned in November 1975.

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