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