Tommy Bolin ‘Teaser’

Posted 24 Feb 2013 in Albums of 1975, Albums of the 70s, Rock + Roll

 

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#840 in the Series) is Tommy Bolin, Teaser

Tommy Bolin, a shooting star if there ever was one. Here is an artist that crammed so much talent, inspiration, influence & music from so many different styles into one of the shortest career spans I’ve ever witnessed.

In 1968 at the tender age of 17 he began working with a band called Zephyr. By 1969 the were recording their debut album and within a year or two Zephyr were opening for the likes of Led Zeppelin.  Two albums later they drifted apart due to various reasons including  the frustration of not being able to take the band to the next level.

It was 1972, Bolin was already skilled enough to front a jazz fusion band called Energy. Working for a year or so, sticking diligently to their mantra of “The music comes first”, they were fired & kicked out of several club dates for being “too loud” or not playing the expected cover songs of the day. Eventually, unable to land a record deal & never officially releasing an album, Energy folded.

While still not a known name on the national scene, word among serious musicians was spreading about this guitarist whiz kid. In 1973, answering a call from Billy Cobham  who at the time was widely acknowledged as the premier jazz fusion drummer, Bolin was brought on board to record guitar tracks for the widely heralded & groundbreaking Spectrum album, which was Cobham’s first solo effort. It’s been mentioned that this release turned Jeff Beck’s mind around to the point that he changed musical directions in his own music, and promptly released his historical albums Blow By Blow and Wired in quick succession. Such was the influence of Tommy Bolin.

Tommy was becoming quite the hot commodity and it wasn’t long before The James Gang came along asking Tommy to join their band at the suggestion of one Joe Walsh who had since moved on to a very successful solo career before moving onto an even bigger career with The Eagles. Tommy stayed on board with The James Gang for two albums (Bang in 1973 and Miami in 1974), writing the majority of the songs for both of those albums.

With The James Gang floundering a bit past their due date at this point, Tommy left the band and for a short time did session work contributing a few guitar tracks to Canadian 70’s hard rockers Moxy on their debut album and in 1975 at the age of just 24, another groundbreaking fusion album, this time with jazz fusion drummer Alphonse Mouzon. The album with Mouzon, called Mind Transplant has been regarded as “one of the best fusion recordings of all time”.

Finally getting his own solo recording contract with Nemperor Records, Tommy set out to record his first solo album. It was during the stretch of recording his first solo album, Teaser that Bolin got a call from David Coverdale to audition for Deep Purple who were in the midst of deciding to either, disband after Ritchie Blackmore left to start up Rainbow or to carry on with a new guitarist. Bolin wasn’t familiar with Deep Purple’s music outside of their big hits, but was persuaded to audition.  After a lengthy four hour jam session Bolin was a member of Deep Purple. They took off for Munich to begin recording Come Taste The Band with Tommy once again contributing heavily in the songwriting credits.

It was in late 1975 that Bolin’s album Teaser was released almost simultaneously alongside the Deep Purple album. It’s been stated that some Deep Purple members were upset that they’d go into a record store signing session only to find Tommy Bolin promotion posters all over the record stores and not much for Deep Purple. After just one album with Deep Purple and one world tour with mixed results, Bolin left to concentrate on his solo career. Bolin was tired of being “the replacement guitarist” for successful rock bands and really wanted to focus on doing his own music.

During the early months of 1976 Tommy started forming his own band to record his 2nd album (Private Eyes) and then go out on tour to support the new album. With his second album completed by June followed by a short period of playing gigs to whip the band into touring shape, The Tommy Bolin Band set out on tour in September opening for Jeff Beck. In Miami on the night of December 3rd, Tommy Bolin played his last gig, had his picture taken with Jeff Beck backstage and went back to his hotel room where under suspicious conditions, he overdosed on a deadly cocktail of drugs. Tommy was just 25 years old.

I prefaced today’s Cool Album Of The Day with the long winded Bolin history lesson because one should have an idea of all that Tommy accomplished prior to recording this album when giving this album a listen. As varied as Tommy’s career was, it explains the wide variety of musical styles not only on Teaser but on his follow up solo album Private Eyes as well.

Teaser was very much a guitarist’s album but it ventured much deeper than that, displaying such various styles as hard rock, funk, jazz fusion, Latin rhythms, reggae, ballads & instrumentals. I personally think that because Tommy’s music touched on so many styles, it was hard to pigeon hole him into any one genre and as such, the general buying public wasn’t quite sure what to make of him & his music.

Tommy had a lot of amazing talent on board to help him record his debut album. The long list of players include Stanley Sheldon on bass, Jeff Porcaro on drums, Narada Michael Walden on drums, David Sanborn on saxophone, Prairie Prince on drums, Phil Collins on percussion, Jan Hammer, Glenn Hughes on backing vocals, and several others.

Starting off with “The Grind”, Bolin sets the pace with a fierce rocker and lyrics about the roaming, hard life of a musician just trying to get by with making his music. A fat, meaty rock riff, some great slide guitar and a choir of background vocals make for a very good start.

“Homeward Strut,”  an instrumental featuring a fusion, funky rhythm, very similar to something Jeff Beck would play on Wired. Trippy keyboard sounds, cross panning between the guitar riffs (making a great headphone experience), more of the trademark Bolin slide guitar and a Latin styled percussion outro make this a very interesting listen.

One of the highlights from the album, Dreamer is a beautiful ballad, highlighting Tommy’s rich, warm vocals. It’s a song about venturing out and finding your own way in the world and leaving the comforts (and constrictions) of staying in your hometown behind. Or maybe it’s about a lover that has grown apart and has chosen to move on. Beautiful piano pieces mixed in at the right time in the song and it’s just a very heartfelt song. The final verse is sung by Tommy’s close friend and Deep Purple compatriot, Glenn Hughes although it is uncredited on the album.

“Savannah Woman” sports a Latin groove and features Tommy’s Wes Montgomery or George Benson octave guitar influences. A beautiful song that’s very much a different feel than the hard rock & jazz fusion instrumentals previously featured. It comes as a tasteful change of pace.

Then it’s back to the hard rock riffing with the title cut “Teaser,” featuring a solid, repeating guitar riff, more slide guitar and cross panning (again, another great headphone listening experience), the song breaks down into a very jammy, heavy guitar solo before returning to the chorus and another drumming outro that devolves into a drumming pattern that ends with the drummer just dropping his drum sticks and letting them fall to the floor while the recorder captures it all on tape.

“People, People” is next, starting out with a hint of reggae rhythm, killer saxophone fills courtesy of David Sanborn, a slice of Latin percussion and a bit of excellent keyboard work by Jan Hammer. It’s a very uplifting song that is so different from anything else on the album.

From there, the album goes back to the jazzy, hard rocking riffing instrumentals with “Marching Powder”. The saxophone takes the main theme into a spacey little synthesizer bit by Jan Hammer before  a fusion percussion rhythm leading into a Bolin solo. Again very reminiscent of something Jeff Beck would do on his Wired album.

“Wild Dogs” is another ballad type of song, again about the roaming lifestyle of a full-time musician missing goals and missing home. Midway through, the song slows to a halt and Tommy whispers “Hear ’em howl” before tearing into yet another melodic guitar solo leading the song to its fading conclusion. Another headphone song, it’s a good way to hear the overdubbed trade offs of the guitar solos as the song rides out to its conclusion.

“Lotus” starting out as a smoky, phased guitar ballad, it morphs itself through tension & volume. Eventually reaching a spacey vibe, from there you float off into a Hendrix world that melts into a short fusion jam before the fade out.

The album peaked at only 96 in the Billboard Top 200 Album chart but has since gone on to be a must have classic of sorts among those that are aware of Tommy or those that have learned about Tommy since his death. His influence is still strongly felt among the guitar community to this day.

In 2008 Dean Guitars introduced a limited edition signature Tommy Bolin “Teaser” guitar, and Hartman Pedals recently started manufacturing a Tommy Bolin signature fuzz pedal. Several “Tribute” albums have been released, and every year in Sioux City, Iowa there is an annual Tommy Bolin Fest that features a weekend of music dedicated to all things Tommy Bolin.

Bill Harper, Seattle, Washington, USA

Track listing

  1. “The Grind” (Bolin/Cook/Sheldon/Tesar) – 3:29
  2. “Homeward Strut” (Bolin) – 3:57
  3. “Dreamer” (Cook) – 5:09
  4. “Savannah Woman” (Bolin/Cook) – 2:47
  5. “Teaser” (Bolin/Cook) – 4:26
  6. “People, People” (Bolin) – 4:56
  7. “Marching Powder” (Bolin) – 4:14
  8. “Wild Dogs” (Bolin/Tesar) – 4:40
  9. “Lotus” (Bolin/Tesar) – 3:57

Personnel

  • Tommy Bolin – Guitar, Lead Vocals
  • Stanley Sheldon – Bass (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)
  • Paul Stallworth – Bass (4, 8, 9)
  • Dave Foster – Piano/Synthesizer (1, 2, 3)
  • Jan Hammer – Synthesizer (6, 7), drums (6)
  • Ron Fransen – Piano (9)
  • David Sanborn – Saxophone (6, 7)
  • Jeff Porcaro – Drums (1, 2, 3, 5)
  • Prairie Prince – Drums (4,8)
  • Michael Walden – Drums (7)
  • Bobbie Berge – Drums (9)
  • Phil Collins – Percussion (4)
  • Sammy Figueroa – Percussion (6, 7)
  • Rafael Cruz – Percussion (6, 7)
  • Dave Brown – Background vocals (1)
  • Lee Kiefer – Background vocals (1)

Related Links

Listen to the album in its entirety below. This is a playlist with all nine tracks.

Posted by Larry Carta

5 Comments

  1. Ed de Freitas (26 Feb 2013, 23:11)
    Reply

    Bill; an outstanding write up on Tommy Bolin. I remember back in like 72 or so, listening to Zephyr, and being intrigued by the guitar. Then in 74 or 75, Come Taste The Band comes out; I was upset that Ritchie was gone, but what a pleasure that Tommy stepped in and made that album so good. I have an anthology with all of Tommy’s stuff, with a nice booklet. Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge, was the keyboard player on that last tour. But anyway, great write up, glad to see people keeping his work out there for others to get introduced to.

  2. Bill (28 Feb 2013, 23:06)
    Reply

    Ed, thank you for the kind words! Very much appreciate that!

  3. J!m (11 Mar 2013, 8:45)
    Reply

    Great review/history lesson, Bill! I was a late musical bloomer and have nothing more than a cursory knowledge of Bolin, but, this article convinced me to get to know him and his music better! And I think that is what this site is for. Peace…

  4. O.G. Hippiechick (11 Mar 2013, 14:11)
    Reply

    I was lucky enough to have seen Tommy Bolin here in L.A. during the warmup shows. Then, I was an aspiring 16 year old guitar player, and totally dug Tommy Bolin, Ronnie Montrose, Jeff Beck, Wishbone Ash and Steely Dan. I wanted to play like that!

    I wore the grooves out of my Teaser and Private Eyes albums, and searched for years for replacements. I finally found CD reissues; both solo albums, the Geffen retrospective, and From The Archives. I burn them, torrent them…anything to turn the world onto Tommy Bolin.

    This is a great article about Tommy by the way. Thanks! It takes me back to high school, and now I’m whipping out those CDs to listen to again.

    I know another musical genius that died too early that you could write about too! Kevin Gilbert. Without Kevin and a few friends who got together to jam on Tuesday nights, none of us would know who Cheryl Crow is. (Although knowing Kevin’s history, I’ll never listen to another Crow tune again! I’d be happy to gift you some tunes to get to know his music.

  5. Bill (02 Apr 2013, 20:06)
    Reply

    Jim, if this article helped expose you to Tommy’s music, then my job is done! Pretty sure you will find plenty of his music enjoyable to you.

    O.G. Hippiechick (love that name, BTW!) you have listed some wonderful influences! I’m sure our music collections contain a lot of the same music. So jealous of you, as I was never fortunate to actually see Tommy perform. That has always bugged me. Will consider your request for Kevin Gilbert. Agree, he left us way too soon.

    Thank you both for your kind words…



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