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Maybe Before You Were Happy: Tommy Bolin’s Teaser

November 21, 2015

Tommy Bolin - Teaser (1975)

 

The way it was told to me by my late 70s rock mentor Rick, Tommy Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple – after having previously replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang – and found himself regularly booed by misguided audiences during Purple’s subsequent tour.  This led to Bolin’s falling into a deeply depressed, drug-addled state.  Tommy’s sad decline culminated in his selling a bunch of guitars to buy a homemade model volcano-size mountain of cocaine and trying to snort it all at once in an attempt at either self-medication or escape, resulting in his heartbreaking death at the height of his creative prime.  I’ve since learned that, while sorta kinda truthy in a very broad sense, Rick’s poignant tale was not especially factual on the specifics.

Brother, brother, help me please,

I’m as lonely as I can be.

All my friends are scaring me,

But if you forget me then I will leave.*

Precisely accurate or not however, Rick’s version of the Tommy Bolin story imprinted strongly on me at that impressionable age and continues to inform my sense of the ill-fated artist to this day.  My perception of the abstract “Tommy” is as a uniquely talented and sensitive young man, gifted beyond his years but too fragile to deal with the tensions, temptations, and fickle winds of stardom.  This trickles over into how I experience his music, although there may be something of a chicken-or-egg conundrum here.  I hear world-weary sensitivity and stoic acquiescence in Tommy’s solo output, but whether this flows from or independently reinforces my view of the man himself is unclear.

Sister, sister, what can I do?

I’m in love with tootsie too.

Please excuse me if I am low,

But me feelings just have to show.*

Tommy’s first solo album Teaser, released in 1975, was the first Tommy Bolin I heard.  I bought the LP in ’79 under the influence of Rick’s effusive praise for Tommy’s guitar skills.  I liked the album immediately, though true to my then form I was especially drawn to the meaty riffs in songs “The Grind,” and “Teaser.”  The funky six-string fireworks in instrumentals “Homeward Strut” and “Marching Powder” alsoTommy Bolin floated my teenage boat, as did what I would have described at the time as the “with feeling” soloing in “Wild Dogs” and “Lotus.”  Back then it was always all about the hard-rocking electric guitar for me and Teaser most definitely did not disappoint on that front even as it surreptitiously expanded the self-imposed boundaries of my musical tastes to insinuate a little jazzy funk fusion.  (I note here that among the many amazing players contributing their talents to this LP were Jan Hammer and David Sanborn on a pair of songs!)

In the intervening years, I have grown to appreciate the beauty of Teaser beyond the guitar brilliance it most certainly retains in its grooves.  I’ve become captivated by Tommy’s singing, which I’d describe as youthful and heartfelt, but with a superimposed stoicism.  This carries over into the songwriting, with Bolin credited on eight of the LP’s nine tunes.  These are certainly not happy songs, but neither are they maudlin or mournful.  The lyrics and vocals are awash with emotion, but it is a muted display.  Whether standing aside to let an unrequited soulmate depart guilt-free in “Dreamer,” conveying inner isolation in “Wild Dogs,” or voicing the lonely struggle to catch a break in “The Grind,” the overall tone seems to be one of accepting one’s own shitty fate while seeking to protect others from any corollary discomfort.  This perceived sense of a need to suck it up to ensure his own troubles engender no distress for others fits perfectly into my vision of Tommy the man as sensitive, tragic, and ultimately overwhelmed by silent suffering.

Mother, mother, so good to me,

Praying just so I can be.

My father, my father, my only one,

I hope you’re proud of this your son.*

My favorite song on the album is “Savannah Woman,” a Caribbean-tinged slow burner with multi-tracked guitar, a simple but spot-on tropical rhythm backing, and that quietly blue, restrained vocal style.  Whoever made the decision to fade out the song at 2’44” in the midst of an extended master class in sultry guitar however is doomed to suffer my eternal disdain; another five minutes at the end would still have been three minutes too little.

People, people, hold my hand.

Where in the hell is this promised land?

Float right past me, oh I like your style.

Seek it, seek it, seek it, seek it, you’re here for a while.*

Savannah Woman:

===================================

My wife was recently able to come to Egypt to be with me for a few weeks.  It was wonderful.  She’s concerned about me, says situation and harbored frustration is causing me to give in too much to inner hermit tendencies and to become unhealthily isolated.  She hopes circumstances will evolve to allow her to come permanently next year.  She loves me, wants to take care of me.  For my part, I am where I am, doing what I’m doing.  I wish she wouldn’t worry so much.  I love her too.

My beloved walking up the ramp to the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut - Luxor, Egypt, November 2015

My beloved walking up the ramp to the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut – Luxor, Egypt, November 2015

 

* all quoted lyrics from the Bolin-penned song “People, People.”

From → Family, Music

18 Comments
  1. Great post! I love this album; I have his two solo albums…I think there were only two while he was alive. Glad to see it getting some love this morning.

    I have a couple really interesting Deep Purple discs, which are compilations of rehearsals with Tommy when he first joined up. Just loose jams really and very few songs, but the liner notes are very interesting. Tommy was very frustrated in Purple at times. There was also a disastrous show in Japan, where Tommy was shooting up and hit a nerve or something and his left arm just went numb. Everybody panicked and they managed to get him in good enough shape to play the gig even though he didn’t have feeling in his fretting hand. And that was the show that was recorded and eventually released as Last Concert in Japan, which further led to people tending to look down at that period of Deep Purple.

    • Can’t have been easy to plug into what seems to have been a quite dysfunctional Purple at the time even as he faced his own demons. I only picked up my own copy of Come Taste the Band a few years ago and have yet to give it real attention, a failure even I don’t understand given my love for Tommy and the other two Coverdale-era Purple studio albums. Thanks for the comment and amplification on Tommy’s story, Mike. Nice to hear of others loving Teaser as I do. (I do dig Private Eyes also!)

      • In some moods Come Taste … can be my fave Purple album. Really like it.

      • Interesting you didn’t enjoy CTTB so far, but do give it another shot! For some reason I just love it.

  2. I echo Mike’s thoughts on this. Great album! Love love love it.

    Coincidentally, only yesterday I got hold of an old Guitar World transcription of Savannah Woman. So I’m going to be giving that a bash on the guitar soon. Wish me luck!

    • Good luck on the Savannah Woman bash! Here’s hoping you can someday do it near sundown somewhere in the vicinity of a palm tree and with a warm tropical breeze blowing. I fully support your three-timing Teaser-loving lifestyle choice.

  3. ‘Sorta kinda truthy’ ? that’ll do me just fine.

    I’ve never owned Teaser actually, in fact the only Bolin I have is on Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ and Purple’s ‘Come Taste the Band’ … not a bad pair at all.

    • Agree enthusiastically on the Billy Cobham; it’s a great album and Tommy’s contributions are fantastic there. I need to delve more deeply into ‘Come Taste the Band.’ ‘Teaser’ really is a wonderful, moving album. I suspect you’d not regret a decision to own it.

  4. Anyway, you’re not unhealthily isolated – you’ve got us!

    • And I am sincerely “chuffed” about that (as some of you all say). I did attempt the argument that I was actually practicing a healthy brand of isolation but she wasn’t buying it.

  5. ‘Spectrum’ is my only Bolin too. Fabulous.
    [This, in italics:]
    “World-weary sensitivity and stoic acquiescence”

    I wonder how you came up with that pithy phrase.

    • Probably not a very satisfactory answer, but it just seemed right for how I experienced Teaser. I did write the post right after listening to the album on the treadmill, an activity during which I tend to be at my most contemplative. The phrase just generally reflects the sense that kept coming to me as I listened and thought and listened and thought…

      I will admit that your comment spooked me a little. I immediately hit the googles to ensure I hadn’t unknowingly or subconsciously plagiarized it, luckily with negative results.

      • Sorry about the unintentional spooking! What I incompetently aimed to float was how that phrase seemed to match the inner state you alluded to for yourself. Sort of how the music choice, creative process and personal reflection all kind of merged. It was potent.

  6. I’m afraid I’m a Mark II devotee and rebuke all previous and subsequent line-ups (shoot me!). Bolin’s amazing talents were wasted, and I hear that he couldn’t even promote Teaser because of his obligations to the Purps.
    Any favourite Deep Purple album?

    • Consider yourself shot!

      Not exactly a unique choice, but I think Machine Head is probably my favorite, but I have no qualms about placing Deep Purple from Mark I, Mark III’s Burn, and Now What?! from whatever Mark we’re on now right up there near it. I wish I could rate Bolin’s Purple participation in the same vicinity but Come Taste the Band just hasn’t really moved me yet…

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